Feds charge Louisville police officer accused of striking kneeling protester with riot baton

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A Louisville police officer violated federal law when he hit a kneeling demonstrator in the head with a riot baton during a Breonna Taylor protest, prosecutors said.

Cory P. Evans, an officer with the Louisville Metropolitan Police Department, was indicted Wednesday on a charge of deprivation of rights under color of law for his actions May 31, 2020, according to court papers filed in U.S. District Court’s Western District of Kentucky.

“Cory P. Evans, while acting under color of law, willfully deprived arrestee M.C. of the right, secured and protected by the Constitution and laws of the United States, to be free of an unreasonable seizure, which includes the right to be free from the use of unreasonable force by a law enforcement officer,” court documents said.

The court added that Evans “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 offense resulted in bodily injury to M.C."

Evans’ attorney, Brian Butler, declined comment to comment Thursday.

Evans was served with pre-termination paperwork Thursday, Louisville police said. Department officials declined to answer what prompted the move against him. However, police released 37 pages of Evans' personnel history. Those files show a mixed record.

Evans was promoted to officer in March 2015.

He was commended for bravery and going beyond the call of duty multiple times, including receiving a commendation letter from his police chief for loading a wounded shooting victim into an armored vehicle during a May 28, 2020, protest. Emergency medical personnel could not otherwise reach the shooting victim because of a hostile crowd, records said.

In March 2020, he was lauded for keeping a woman calm who had jumped from a rail yard bridge into water. He first located her, then while speaking to her from a flood wall, ordered her to swim to the wall and hold on until firefighters rescued her.

However, he was also investigated and at times, found to have violated department policy and procedures. Records show in September 2015 Evans failed to activate video in an incident in which he fatally shot a pit bull. He was exonerated in an excessive force investigation for a December 2018 incident. Those records were partially redacted.

However, Evans was found to have crashed into another vehicle during a November 2019 pursuit in which he failed to use "due regard," files said.

The May 31, 2020, incident that led to his federal indictment was not listed in Evans' personnel records police provided.

Evans’ indictment marks the first against a Louisville police officer since the city saw a wave of protests stemming back more than a year, according to NBC affiliate WAVE of Louisville. The May 31 demonstration was in response to Taylor’s death, the outlet reported.

Taylor, 26, was shot in her home on March 13, 2020, after Louisville police officers executed a no-knock warrant at her residence. During the early morning raid, Taylor was killed by police in a shooting. Officers opened fire after Taylor’s boyfriend, believing an intruder was attempting to break in, fired a gun toward the door.

The botched raid targeted Taylor’s ex-boyfriend, a convicted drug dealer. That man, Jamarcus Glover, has said Taylor had no involvement in the drug trade.

Evans was not part of the raid.

The Louisville Courier-Journal reported Evans, who makes nearly $60,000 annually, has faced complaints of using excessive force before. In 2018, he was accused of repeatedly punching a motorist following a traffic stop, according to the newspaper. The driver sued the city, Evans and two other officers. Evans was cleared by his then-police chief of using excessive force, and was not disciplined. However, he and the other officers remain defendants in the lawsuit, the Courier-Journal reported.

Antonio Planas

Antonio Planas is a breaking news reporter for NBC News Digital.