Plea Agreements Avert Trial For 26 Breonna Taylor Protesters

More than two dozen people arrested for blocking Louisville’s Second Street Bridge during the 2020 Breonna Taylor protests have accepted a plea deal, the Jefferson County Attorney’s Office said Wednesday, averting a trial that was scheduled to begin next month.

Under the plea agreements, the 26 protesters charged with obstructing a highway will have their charges dismissed following the completion of 20 hours of community service. After the charges are dismissed, they can have the charges expunged from their record.

Ted Shouse, an attorney for several of the people arrested during the June 29, 2020 blocking of the Second Street Bridge, told LEO that the decision showed that the County Attorney’s Office acknowledged that the protesters should not be labeled criminals for taking part in a peaceful protest.

“The defendants were standing up for what they believed in. They were willing to go to jail — and in fact did go to jail,” Shouse said. “What this settlement does… I think it acknowledges that they should not be branded with criminal convictions for the rest of their lives.”

The charge the Second Street Bridge protesters faced — obstructing a highway — is a Class B misdemeanor punishable by a maximum of 90 days in jail and a fine of up to $250. 

According to the County Attorney’s Office, a group of “approximately 44 people” were arrested on obstructing a highway and disorderly conduct charges connected to the blocking of the bridge. The County Attorney’s Office said the disorderly conduct charges were previously dismissed.

Out of approximately 1,000 cases related to 2020’s protests, the Jefferson County Attorney’s Office said it estimates that 52 remain open. Of those remaining cases, 27 have active bench warrants after defendants failed to appear to court dates.

“We have reviewed protest-related cases in a consistent and professional manner, working as we do every day to ensure that every member of the community is treated fairly before the law,” said Jefferson County Attorney Mike O’Connell in a statement. “We believe this was a just offer in recognition that the actions of these individuals could have placed members of our community, including themselves, in danger.”

The County Attorney’s Office said it dismissed most protest cases, but moved forward on prosecuting cases that involved violence, destruction of property and the blocking of roads.

So far, only one case has made it to trial: The case of a protester arrested during a July 2020 protest in NuLu who was charged with obstructing a highway and unlawful assembly. That case was dismissed abruptly after one day of trial last fall after the County Attorney’s office said “there was relevant video evidence that was inadvertently not turned over” to the defense. Shouse, who represents several of the Second Street Bridge protesters and is also running for Circuit Court Judge, represented the defendant in the NuLu protest trial.

Calls in the community for charges against protesters to be dropped intensified following the announcement in August that four current and former Louisville police officers were being federally charged in connection to Breonna Taylor’s killing.

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