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UPDATE: First trial of a Louisville racial justice protester underway

A protester arrested during a demonstration in Louisville’s NuLu neighborhood last July became the first to get a jury trial Monday afternoon.

Shajuandi Barrow, 35, looked on in Jefferson Circuit Court while her lawyer, Ted Shouse, and attorneys for Jefferson County went through the jury selection process and gave their opening statements. Barrow was one of 76 people arrested at a block party-style protest on E. Main Street that featured tables, tents, music, art and a trampoline. Protesters also handed out flyers demanding NuLu business owners hire more Black residents and carry more Black-owned products.

Shouse said Barrow’s trial could impact other pending cases related to last year’s racial justice protests, which sprang up in response to the police killing of Breonna Taylor. Another protester arrested at the NuLu demonstration could also face trial this week.

Many other protesters arrested last year in Louisville had their charges dismissed. Out of more than 1,000 protest-related arrests made between May 2020 and May 2021, nearly 60% were dismissed, according to the Courier-Journal.

The demonstrators arrested at the NuLu protest were charged with the same three misdemeanor charges: obstructing a highway, disorderly conduct and unlawful assembly. Prosecutors dropped the disorderly conduct charge against Barrow right before the trial started.

Day 1: Jury selection and opening statements begin

Prosecutors for the Jefferson County Attorney’s Office are arguing that Barrow was part of an unlawful assembly that constructed barriers along East Main Street, using items including mattresses, fencing and 55-gallon drums filled with water.

In his opening argument, staff attorney Matthew Kinney said the trial is about “freedom.”

“Our freedom to travel the roads of Jefferson County, our freedom to enjoy the roads that we pay taxes for,” Kinney said. “On July 24, Ms. Barrow and others took that freedom away from us.”

In Barrow’s arrest report, police said the protest was causing a disturbance.

“This unlawful assembly caused alarm and annoyance to the businesses in the area,” the report said. “Several 9-1-1 calls were made due to the actions of the crowd.”

Shouse, Barrow’s attorney, however, argued that Louisville Metro Police officers created a generic narrative to charge protesters before any arrests were even made.

He played a video for the jury taken from an officer’s body camera. It appeared to show an officer saying he was creating a “generic narrative” and telling other officers “everybody can copy it.”

“They created a template and they applied it to Ms. Barrow,” he said.

The video showed Barrow told police she was there with a relative. She said she saw that relative talking to a police officer and was walking up to them to see what was going on when she was arrested.

Lawyers spent much of Monday afternoon questioning potential jurors for the trial. Six were ultimately selected to move forward.

Before the jury selection process began, lawyers for the county and Barrow argued preliminary motions. Both parties agreed to drop the disorderly conduct charge against Barrow, but they disagreed on whether the jury would get to know what the NuLu protest was about.

Kinney asked Judge Julie Kaelin to prevent any mention of the focus of the July 2020 protest: racial justice and police accountability. He said it would be prejudicial to the jury.

“It would only serve to divert the jury’s attention from the facts that are relevant as to whether Ms. Barrow is guilty or innocent of the charges,” Kinney said. “It doesn’t make any fact in controversy more or less likely.”

Shouse argued that preventing lawyers or witnesses from discussing what the protest was about would prevent him from placing the alleged crime within context, and it would be confusing to the jury.

“In the video, there will be a dozen officers and the jury will wonder ‘Why are there so many officers on East Main Street,’” he said. “How am I supposed to talk about this incident without saying the protest was against the police killing of Breonna Taylor?”

Kaelin agreed to let Barrow discuss why she attended the protest, but not to talk more broadly about why others attended.

The second day of the trial is scheduled to begin Tuesday at 9 a.m.

This story has been updated to include details from the trial, including its location.

Roberto Roldan is the City Politics and Government Reporter for WFPL. Email Roberto at rroldan@lpm.org.

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