Suspect charged in shootings of 2 police officers during protests over Breonna Taylor case

Hours after a Kentucky grand jury brought no charges against Louisville, Ky., police for the killing of Breonna Taylor and protesters took to the streets, authorities said two officers had been shot Wednesday night during the demonstrations.

Officers are both expected to survive, with 1 recovering in hospital after undergoing surgery

Police move after an officer was shot on Wednesday in Louisville, Ky., amid protests over the single criminal charge in the death of Breonna Taylor. (John Minchillo/The Associated Press)

Hours after a Kentucky grand jury brought no charges against Louisville, Ky., police for the killing of Breonna Taylor and protesters took to the streets, authorities said two officers had been shot Wednesday night during the demonstrations expressing anger over the deaths of Black people at the hands of police.

Several shots rang out as protesters in downtown Louisville tried to avoid police blockades, moving down an alleyway as officers lobbed pepper balls. People covered their ears, ran away and frantically looked for places to hide. Police with long guns swarmed the area, then officers in riot gear and military-style vehicles blocked off roadways.

Police Chief Robert Schroeder said Larynzo Johnson, 26, had been charged with two counts of assault in the first degree and 14 counts of wanton endangerment in connection with the shootings.

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer on Thursday morning said the two officers are doing well. Fischer said one officer was shot in the abdomen and recovering in hospital after undergoing surgery, while the other officer was treated and released with a leg wound.

WATCH | Moments of chaos as demonstrators react to what sounds like gunfire:

Sounds of possible gunfire in Louisville, Ky.

2 years ago
Duration 1:37
Police react after what sounds like gunfire erupts during protests in Louisville, Ky., Wednesday night after the attorney general announces no officers will be charged in Breonna Taylor's death.

Fischer acknowledged the feelings of those upset by the grand jury's announcement but condemned the violence.

"The question obviously is, what do we do with this pain? There is no one answer, no easy answer to that question, but I do know this: Violence is not the answer. Destruction is not the answer," said Fischer. "Public safety and the work for racial equity and justice can and must co-exist."

A curfew will remain in place for at least the next two nights, officials said.

A police statement early Thursday said 127 people were arrested. Some were arrested after damaging businesses and more were detained after jumping on city vehicles being used as barricades. Later, protesters who refused orders to disperse were arrested for curfew and unlawful assembly violations.

Officers in riot gear fired flashbangs and a few small fires burned in a square that's been at the centre of protests, but it had largely cleared out ahead of a nighttime curfew and demonstrators marched through other parts of downtown Louisville. Dozens of patrol cars blocked the city's major thoroughfare and more police arrived after the officers were shot.

Speaking from the Senate floor in Washington, Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky praised State Attorney General Daniel Cameron's "painstaking pursuit of facts and justice" in investigating Taylor's death and condemned the "lawlessness" seen Wednesday night.

"Peaceful protests honour the memory of Breonna Taylor. Peaceful protests move us toward justice," said McConnell.

"Trying to gun down law enforcement officers who are bravely serving their community is the kind of despicable cowardice that must be met with the full force of the law," he added.

Protests, some violence in other cities

Protests quickly erupted elsewhere: Demonstrators marched through the streets of New York, Chicago, Washington, Atlanta and Philadelphia. Packed into a New York City plaza, protesters chanted, "Say her name, Breonna Taylor," before marching in the street in downtown Brooklyn, past onlookers and honking cars. 

Police in Seattle made 13 arrests as authorities said people smashed windows and spray-painted buildings. Seattle police say multiple officers were injured Wednesday night and one was hit in the head with a baseball bat, cracking his helmet.

A Portland, Ore., police officer extinguishes the flames of a molotov cocktail during unrest that followed the grand jury decision in Louisville's Breonna Taylor case, as demonstrations broke out in several U.S. cities. (Mathieu Lewis-Rolland/Reuters)

In Minnesota, several hundred demonstrators rallied late Wednesday at the state capitol in St. Paul before marching onto an interstate.

In Denver, police say a man was detained Wednesday night after driving his car through a group of people protesting.

Back in Louisville, as television cameras broadcast the scene live, a protester pointed at an officer and shouted: "Say her name!" An Associated Press reporter saw National Guard members and armoured military vehicles in downtown Louisville.

Protesters chant near police in Louisville. (Darron Cummings/The Associated Press)

"Yes, it's a bit extreme right now," said Dekevion Gause, who sat beside a park memorial to Taylor made of flowers, paintings, and tiny grave markers representing Black people killed by police. "But it's a volcano built up and now it's exploded."

Gause said all of the officers involved in the March 13 raid on Taylor's home should have been charged with manslaughter.

"It's kind of a slap in the face," he said of the grand jury's decision.

Gause gathered with dozens in Jefferson Square Park, dubbed "Injustice Square" by protesters who made it their impromptu hub during months of demonstrations.

This photo provided by Louisville Police dept. shows Larynzo Johnson. Johnson was charged with two counts of assault on a police officer and multiple charges of wanton endangerment of police officers. (Louisville Police/AP)

People huddled around a single speaker Wednesday to listen as prosecutors announced that fired police officer Brett Hankinson had been charged with wanton endangerment for firing into the homes of Taylor's neighbours.

Decision 'outrageous and offensive': family lawyer

A grand jury brought no charges for killing Taylor, who was shot multiple times by police who burst into her home March 13 during a drug raid gone wrong. While there were no drugs in Taylor's apartment, her boyfriend shot and wounded a police officer. Cameron said the officers' shots that killed Taylor were fired in self-defence.

Upon hearing the news, many gathered in the square began to cry, expressing confusion and sorrow. Others exclaimed they had seen this coming.

WATCH | Kentucky attorney general discusses evidence in shooting:

The attorney general lays out the evidence in the Breonna Taylor shooting

2 years ago
Duration 2:20
Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron lays out some of the evidence in the fatal shooting of Breonna Taylor, after a grand jury indicts one of three officers involved.

After the announcement, Ben Crump, a lawyer for Taylor's family, denounced the decision as "outrageous and offensive."

Jefferson Square became the epicentre of Louisville residents' outrage over the killing of Taylor, who became a national symbol of racial injustice much like George Floyd, the Black man who died under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer.

Cameron, a Republican and Kentucky's first Black attorney general, insisted prosecutors had followed the law even though "my heart breaks for Miss Taylor."

"Criminal law is not meant to respond to every sorrow and grief," Cameron said after the charges were announced.

With files from CBC News and Reuters