Louisville officer federally charged for hitting kneeling protester with riot stick during Breonna Taylor demonstrations

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — A Louisville police officer has been charged with violating federal law for striking a protester in the back of the head with a riot stick last May during the Breonna Taylor demonstrations.

Cory P. Evans is accused in court records of violating the protester's constitutional rights on May 31, 2020. Evans, in his capacity as an officer, prosecutors write, "struck M.C. in the back of the head with a riot stick while M.C. was kneeling with hands in the air, surrendering for arrest."

The protester, identified as M.C., received injuries from the incident, the court filing said.

Louisville Metro Police Department did not immediately answer questions from the Courier Journal, which is part of the USA TODAY Network, about Evans' status with the department.

Brian Butler, the attorney representing Evans, declined to comment when reached by email Wednesday. The case has been assigned to U.S. District Court Judge Rebecca Grady Jennings.

According to city salary data, Evans has been employed with the city since 2014 when he was a police recruit. Prosecutors allege Evans "willfully deprived" the protester of the right of unreasonable seizure, which includes freedom from "unreasonable force by a law enforcement officer."

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Evans, the court records state, was acting under "color of law."

The U.S. Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division can charge individuals under nine Title 18 civil rights statutes, including deprivation of rights under the color of law.

That makes it a crime for anyone acting on behalf of the law, including police officers or other public officials, to deprive someone of Constitutional rights.

This is not the first time Evans has been accused of attacking a citizen.

In 2018, Evans was caught on camera repeatedly punching Jarrus Ransom, a Black man, after he was pulled from his car during a traffic stop. Ransom's mug shot from Metro Corrections showed him in a neck brace and with a swollen eye.

Ransom sued the city and Evans along with officers Kyle Carroll and Sarah Nicolas in August 2019 for what he called a "vicious assault" and attempts to "conceal the truth."

That lawsuit has since been moved to the federal courts in the Western District of Kentucky. The city has been dismissed from the case, but Evans and the other officers remain defendants, according to court records.

Evans ultimately was cleared by then-Chief Steve Conrad in December 2019 of policy violations for being discourteous and using excessive force. He did not face any disciplinary action from that case.

All the charges against Ransom from the traffic stop were either dropped or otherwise disposed of outside of court.

The FBI is investigating multiple other LMPD officers, The Courier Journal has previously reported.

Officer Dusten Dean is under federal investigation for shooting pepperballs at TV reporter Katilin Rust and cameraman James Dobson on May 29. Rust told The Courier Journal she had been interviewed by the FBI regarding the incident.

Additionally, Chief Erika Shield told Louisville Metro Council members last weekthat the FBI is looking into claims that two officers threw drinks at people in the West End.

"Everything I've gotten to date has largely been hearsay," Shields said at a Public Safety Committee meeting. "My sense is it will be another black eye to the department, and it's going to show some very, very poor judgment by a select few individuals on this department."

Additionally, the FBI is continuing to investigate the March 13, 2020, death of Taylor at her South Louisville apartment. The FBI has not provided a timeline as to when that case may conclude.

Her death, as well as the death of George Floyd, galvanized a summer of racial justice protests and support for the Black Lives Matter movement.

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The charges against Evans come less than two months after the U.S. Department of Justice announced it has launched a wide-ranging patterns and practices investigation into LMPD.

Attorney General Merrick Garland said the investigation will examine if the department used unreasonable force on protesters, engaged in unconstitutional searches and seizures and discriminated against people based on race.

Three Columbus, Ohio, police officers, including a training officer who was a member of the city's Community Safety Advisory Commission, will also face misdemeanor charges in connection with their actions during racial injustice protests last summer.

Follow Darcy Costello on Twitter @dctello.

Contributing: Bethany Bruner, The Columbus Dispatch

This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: Breonna Taylor demonstrations: Officer charged for striking protester