Denorver “Dee” Garrett returned to Jefferson Square Park on Monday, his left eye nearly swollen shut from where the officers struck him over the weekend, to demand justice.
Garrett, 29, said that what happened to him the day before is indicative of the way police treat Louisville’s Black and Brown community all of the time. Now he wants justice and accountability — not just for himself, but for people unnecessarily harmed at the hands of police.
“It hurt because we pay them to protect us. I could have been another George Floyd,” Garrett said in an interview with WFPL. “They slammed me, and all I remember is an officer struck me, and I’m telling them, ‘Y’all gonna let this officer punch me?’ He kept striking me and striking and striking me.”
Louisville Metro Police arrested Garrett on Sunday on charges of disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. Garrett said he had been standing in the crosswalk near Jefferson Square Park holding a large wooden cross with his fist raised in the air.
Police told him he was under arrest after he returned to the sidewalk. Multiple people recorded the interaction as Garrett stood still, his arms behind his back, while officers tried to put handcuffs on him. An officer can be heard telling him, “Don’t flex on me,” before an officer swept at his legs and forced him to the ground. That officer then struck him in the face with a closed fist at least four times as several others held him down, telling him to put his hands behind his back.
LMPD’s police report from the incident stated Garrett was in the street for at least a half hour before his arrest. Because he was causing a “disturbance,” they placed him under arrest, according to the citation.
Police said Garrett resisted putting his hands behind his back and disobeyed officers’ instructions to place his hands behind his back once on the ground. As a result, police said they struck him two to three times in the face, despite evidence showing he was struck at least four times.
LMPD has so far not released the officer’s name. In a statement, LMPD Chief Erika Shields said the officer who struck Garrett and the on-scene supervisor will face an internal investigation under the LMPD’s Professional Standards Unit, which looks into violations of department policies.
Shields said the officer’s behavior “raises serious questions and is not consistent with LMPD training.” Shields didn’t address the nearly half-dozen other officers who participated in the arrest.
Garrett’s attorney, David Mour, said Monday the officer who punched Garrett should be arrested and criminally charged, and all of the other superior officers on scene should be disciplined for allowing it to happen.
Last December, Metro Council passed rules saying police should act to prevent or stop any other officer, regardless of rank, from using “unlawful, unnecessary, or excessive force.”
“You know, to me, a police officer assaulting a man like that is bad, but worse than that is the other police officers who are there and let it go on,” Mour said.
Garrett said he is also considering suing LMPD for their conduct.
Garrett, who is biracial, has been a prominent figure at protests since around the time they began in Louisville last May. He’s known in part for the large wooden cross he carries to protests; he told WFPL last month he carries the cross to help remind America that Jesus stood up for the poor, the weak and those who could not stand up for themselves.
Garret said it’s the fourth time police have arrested him in connection with protests. In one arrest report, police said Garrett damaged a car while protesters were blocking traffic, “took a fighter’s stance” and strangled someone police described as the victim. Garrett disputes that and said he was choked, and acting in self-defense.
“If we don’t rebuild the system, the things they have built, it’s going to keep going the same way it’s going,” Garrett said.
On Monday, he said he feels that officers have targeted him because of his role in the protests. He believes the latest arrest was an attempt to have his bond revoked so he could be thrown back in jail for a previous protest-related arrest.
“They know who I am, everybody knows who I am, I’m the guy who carries the cross,” he said. “It wasn’t no miscommunication, they were coming to hurt me.”
Still, Garrett remained undeterred. Echoing the words of his friend Travis Nagdy, a fellow protester who was murdered in November, Garrett said he plans to “just keep going, that’s all I’m going to say. Just keep going.”
Racial justice organizer and mayoral candidate Shameka Parrish-Wright said Garrett’s arrest is yet another example of LMPD not following their own procedures.
“And they didn’t even care that they were being recorded. And you didn’t see any of those officers trying to stop that officer from punching Dee Garrett over and over again,” Parrish-Wright said.
Democratic state representatives Joni Jenkins and Morgan McGarvey issued a joint statement condemning the LMPD officer’s actions. They also called on the General Assembly to grant subpoena power to Metro Louisville’s Civilian Review and Accountability Board, after an effort last legislative session failed.
Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer called the LMPD officer’s actions “frustrating” and “disappointing,” but he also said he doesn’t want the “media to blow this up bigger than what it is.”
“So much of this is about training, following the training, being able to have a clear mind when situations are ramped up like this,” he told reporters after an unrelated event. “So it’s just good training and police officers following that, and if they don’t, they are held accountable.”