A former LMPD officer who pleaded guilty to striking a kneeling, surrendering protester in the back of the head head with a riot stick was sentenced to two years in federal prison on Tuesday.
Cory Evans, 34, was sentenced to two years in prison and two years of supervised release by U.S. District Court Judge Rebecca Grady Jennings on Tuesday. In August, he pleaded guilty to using unreasonable force against an arrestee during a Louisville protest on May 31, 2020 when he struck a surrendering protester with his baton as the man knelt and raised his hands in the air near the intersection of Brook Street and Broadway.
“Former officer Evans abused his authority by violently retaliating against a surrendering arrestee who had been exercising his First Amendment rights during a demonstration in Louisville, during the racial justice demonstrations in the Spring of 2020,” said Kristen Clarke, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, in a statement. “The Justice Department will continue to hold accountable officers who violate their oath and the Constitution.”
When the incident happened, Evans was working as part of LMPD’s Special Response Team — the unit within LMPD tasked with responding to civil unrest. He retired from LMPD last year.
In an interview with WAVE News that aired on Tuesday, Evans pushed back against criticism of his actions, saying the protester was not hit out of malice but rather concern for his safety.
Evans suggested that surrendering protesters might not actually be surrendering. He added that he did not trust protesters to “do the right thing,” saying protesters had been responsible for violence during the unrest.
According to court documents, federal prosecutors had pushed for a heavier sentence, asking for Evans to be incarcerated for four years for striking the protester.
Prosecutors wrote that Evans initially lied to his supervising sergeant, saying that the protester hit their head after they were trying to escape by climbing a fence and Evans pulled them down. That narrative made it into the sergeant’s use of force report. The only recommendation made to Evans as a result of that use of force report was that he activate his body camera, which he had failed to do.
It was only when the protester — identified only by the initials “M.C.” in court documents — came forward to LMPD with a complaint, that the department’s Professional Standards Unit reviewed body camera footage from other officers present that showed Evans striking the protester with a riot stick as they surrendered.
“The specific circumstances of Defendant Evans’ crime necessitate an adequate sentence of imprisonment. Officers are taught to avoid blows to the head unless involved in a lethal force situation,” prosecutors wrote in a sentencing memorandum in November.
As a result of the incident, prosecutors said the protester required three staples in his head. Additionally, they said, the protester lost hearing in an ear for the week, continued to have impaired hearing for months and also suffered dizziness and nausea they attributed to the injury for weeks.
Evans’ attorney, Brian Butler, had asked for leniency, requesting in a November sentencing memorandum that his client be sentenced to three years of probation with one year of home detention. In the memorandum, Butler cited Evans’ military service and struggles with mental health issues stemming from combat he experienced in Afghanistan that were exacerbated by the unrest in Louisville.
Butler wrote that Evans characterized the initial days of protest in Louisville in 2020 as “more intense and more stressful” than his time in Afghanistan with the U.S. Army Special Forces.
A number of letters supporting Evans, including some from LMPD officers, were attached to Butler’s request.
The arrested protester was initially charged with unlawful assembly, violating the city’s curfew and rioting in the first degree. However, those charges were dismissed and the record expunged.
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