Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer, the Public Works Department and Louisville Metro Police have issued apologies for the way crews handled the property of protesters when their encampment in Jefferson Square Park was cleared last weekend following a fatal shooting.
Tyler Gerth, 27, was struck by a bullet allegedly fired by a man who had been asked to leave the encampment. Louisville Metro Police have charged 24-year-old Steven Nelson Lopez with murder and reckless endangerment.
Following the shooting, authorities removed tents, sound systems and personal possessions using a backhoe and trucks, then dumped everything at the bulk waste drop-off center around 636 Meriwether Avenue.
Protesters claim the police used the shooting as a pretext to clear the camp. But Interim Police Chief Robert Schroeder said it was not their intention to damage property. Clearing the park was necessary to protect public safety, Schroeder said.
“I know that this has caused great concern and anger, but it simply had to be done given that we had a homicide in the park,” Schroeder said. “The tents and supplies that had taken over the park created a situation that could no longer be safely handled.”
Thomas Williams, 54, lost his heart pressure and diabetes medication. Others lost their wallets, car keys, tents, bags and other personal belongings. Williams is a protester, is homeless and has been staying at the encampment for the last three weeks.
“Well, by the time I came back here, 2 o’ clock in the morning, my belongings were gone and I guess the officers had taken it and threw it in the dumpster,” he said. “I also lost a tent and a pair of shoes. That’s a lot, that’s all I had.”
Following the shooting around 9 p.m. Saturday, police declared the encampment at Jefferson Square Park a crime scene. Louisville Metro Police Department cleared the camp of people. Later that night, city officials came in and cleared the park of protesters’ belongings.
Michelle Bryant, a cook who has been serving food at the protests, lost a grill and other belongings Saturday night. She said police threw away donations of food and water. Others say they lost wallets, IDs, cellphones and car keys, in addition to camping gear.
“And what they did last night, was told us to leave the scene of a crime. And we came back this morning and they wiped everything out,” Bryant said.
Cherrie Vaughn volunteered to go down to the bulk waste depot Sunday morning to recover peoples’ belongings. She said volunteers had until 5 p.m. to salvage as much as they could before the depot closed. Afterwards, they brought what they could back to Jefferson Square Park for people to sift through.
Thanks to the volunteers, Williams was able to retrieve a bag with his medications.
“And even though it was all messed up and everything, zipper torn up and everything, I spotted my bag of medicine so I grabbed them out of there,” Williams said.
David Mour, an attorney who has been present at demonstrations and represents protesters, said protesters were not given a fair warning before their belongings were removed.
It made sense for police to clear the park after declaring it a crime scene, he said. And if police needed to remove property for evidence, that would have made sense, too. But Mour said the mass removal of property was not called for.
“It was absolutely not necessary and I think it was not only a violation of civil rights, but of basic human rights,” Mour said.
On Sunday, Mayor Greg Fischer, the Public Works Department and Interim Police Chief Robert Schroeder all apologized for the way belongings were handled.
Fischer said it was a miscommunication with Public Works that led to what happened.
Demonstrators who lost property can file a claim for reimbursement. In order to be reimbursed, Metro government requires picture evidence and two estimates from “reputable business firms” that perform repair work.