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Jefferson County Attorney Mike O’Connell dropped felony rioting charges against state Rep. Attica Scott and 17 other protesters who were arrested during demonstrations in downtown Louisville.

In an unusual move, O’Connell gave opening comments ahead of hearing the defendants’ pleas. He said some protesters destroyed city property that night, including throwing a flare into a public library. He also told the courtroom that it would be unjust to proceed with the riot charges without clear-cut evidence, and that he plans to review the remaining misdemeanor charges, but needs more time

Despite their recent arrests, Scott and the others are among the first of more than 700 protesters to be arraigned since demonstrations began in late May. O’Connell didn’t say why their cases were heard more promptly, amid a backlog of tens of thousands of court cases.

Louisville Metro Police arrested Scott and the others as they walked toward a church ahead of a curfew in Louisville during a protest for racial justice two weeks ago. In the days since, Scott has said the arrests were political retaliation for her involvement in protests and a pending lawsuit against Louisville Metro Police

O’Connell said he recognized the protests’ focus on civil rights and dismantling systemic racism.

“These demonstrations are understandable as our society needs to be more just and equitable,” O’Connell said in a prepared statement.

Attorney Ted Shouse, who is representing all 18 protesters arraigned Tuesday, said he was disappointed that O’Connell didn’t go further and say the charges were inappropriate. 

“He seemed to say to me that he didn’t think he could make it, he didn’t think he could prove his case,” Shouse said. “That’s not the same as saying he thinks these women were illegally charged or unlawfully charged.”

Following the arraignment, Rep. Scott and others were greeted with cheers as they left the courthouse. 

Surrounded by media and protesters after the hearing, Scott said she and the others will continue to fight the remaining misdemeanor charges, which include failure to disperse and unlawful assembly.

She also said that protests and their fight for racial justice will continue. Scott is a sponsor of Breonna’s Law, an attempt to ban no-knock warrants and enact other police reforms statewide.

“What we know is that we will continue fighting for justice for Breonna Taylor. We will turn our protest into policy with Breonna’s Law,” Scott told the crowd.

Protest organizer Shameka Parrish-Wright was also arrested that night. She said dropping the felony charges was a step in the right direction, but she would like to see all of the other arrested protesters receive similar treatment.  

“But we still think all of those charges should have been dropped for everyone that day and that’s what we are going to continue to fight for,” Parrish-Wright said. 

Another group of high-profile arrests — the 87 protesters arrested for the sit-in on Attorney General Daniel Cameron’s lawn in July — are set to be arraigned later this week. Scott and the other 17 demonstrators are due back in court in November to face the remaining misdemeanor charges.

This story has been updated.

Ryan Van Velzer is WFPL's Energy and Environment Reporter.
Jacob Ryan is a reporter for the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.