LMPD :: Louisville Metro Police Department

LMPD officer exonerated for repeatedly punching protester during arrest at Jefferson Square Park


A Louisville Metro Police officer who was captured on video punching a man several times in the face while he was protesting at Jefferson Square Park last April has been cleared of wrongdoing in an internal investigation by the department.

Officer Aaron Ambers was investigated for possible violations of department policies involving de-escalation and use of physical force in the April 18, 2021, arrest of Denorver Garrett.

In a memo sent to Ambers on March 28, Chief Erika Shields told the officer he had been exonerated and would not face any disciplinary action for hitting Garrett four times in the head and face.

However, Shields also wrote that while officers involved in the arrest did not violate policy, their actions were "not reflective of the extensive de-escalation training the department has received" and they "could have made better decisions."

"They accomplished nothing other than to play into the hands of an attention seeking individual, who has a documented history of violence and is a registered sex offender," Shields wrote in a March 18 memo released to the media on Thursday.

She noted that current police policy does not distinguish between open hand and closed hand strikes, allowing investigators to be "more subjective" in deciding whether there has been a use of force violation. Shields ordered that current de-escalation and use of force polices be reviewed.

Three sergeants involved in the arrest will receive formal counseling on the importance of de-escalation and "the totality of the impact of their decision making," Shields wrote.

Sgt. Lisa Nagle was exonerated on a possible violation of the department's officer intervention policy.

Video of officers arresting Garrett was captured by Jaime Hendricks and shared to social media by Riotheart, a member of the 502LiveStreamers independent media collective.

As Hendricks' 85-second clip begins, one officer can be heard telling Garrett, "You're under arrest."

An onlooker can be heard asking police, "What did he do?"

Garrett was charged with second-degree disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. Garrett's arrest report said "he was causing a disturbance to the public and causing a safety issue to motorists."

Shields wrote that Garrett was "repeatedly standing in the roadway and yelling at motorists" and that officers had "prior knowledge" of Garrett and "understood that arresting him had the potential of being volatile."

She noted the "primary goal" was to get Garrett out of the street.

Body cam video shows Garrett was not compliant and went from passive to active resistance, leading officers to take him to the ground, Sheilds wrote.

Ambers "landed several head strikes" in order to get Garrett to release one of his hands to be handcuffed, she said. The chief said Ambers told investigators he was concerned Garrett may be holding a weapon.

In an interview with investigators, Ambers said, "my thought process is he's either gonna get up to fight or he's gonna get up to run.

"... I was trying to limit his movement as much as possible 'cause I did not know his intentions and my fear was that they were not good against us."

Allen Mangenello, LMPD defensive tactics trainer, told investigators Ambers hadn't had a lot of training at since he graduated the police academy.

"So people are gonna naturally resort to what's naturally instinctive, which is to throw strikes in order to get the person to comply or try to listen to their commands," he said.

In her letter, Shields wrote LMPD Academy staff should immediately develop mandatory ongoing Jiu-Jitsu curriculum for all sworn individuals who are serving in a patrol capacity or assigned to any formation of a Tactical team.

"As law enforcement agencies we are expecting employees to use 'appropriate force' in highly charged incidents but give them a few hours of training once a year (if that)," she wrote. "It is unrealistic to think that they are going to be successful; better training, regardless of cost, must be prioritized."

Garrett, according to Shields had for months been "positioning to get arrested" and officers played into his hands.

"...to lay the blame solely on Officer Ambers' shoulders misses the mark," she wrote. "As a department, we strive to do better and recognize that there were multiple factors which contributed to this incident and need addressing."

Hendricks' video of the arrest shows an officer standing behind Garrett and holding his hands together while two other officers watch within arm's reach. Someone can be heard in the video saying, "Don't flex on me, man. Don't flex on me," and the officer behind Garrett then reaches for a pair of handcuffs on his belt.

As the officer works to get a cuff around one of Garrett's hands, someone can be heard in the video saying, "Stop flexing on me."

Someone responds, "I'm not flexing. I'm not doing nothing." Garrett's face is turned away from the camera and obscured by a pole during this portion of the video.

In Garrett's arrest report, police said he "resisted the officers movements to put his hands together close enough to put handcuffs on. He was given loud verbal commands to stop resisting and place his hands behind his back which he did not follow."

In Hendricks' video of the arrest, the officer appears to secure a cuff around one of Garrett's hands, and Garrett moves slightly. Someone then yells, "Stop," to which Garrett can be heard and seen replying, "I'm not doing nothing."

A second officer then appears to put his hands on Garrett as the officer who was first behind him puts an arm over his chest. Someone can be heard saying, "Bring your hands together - now."

Video then shows an officer putting a leg in between Garrett's legs. Garrett takes a step back, and officers begin trying to force him to the ground. An onlooking officer who was standing in front of Garret and blocking the camera's view of the interaction steps forward and joins the two other officers in attempting to restrain Garrett.

As Garrett is being forced to the ground, video shows the officer who was originally attempting to put the handcuffs on him throwing his first punch to Garrett's face. Video shows the officer throw at least three more punches to Garrett's face while he and other officers force him to the ground.

One officer can be heard in the video yelling, "Put your hands behind your back and stop resisting - now."

As summary of the internal investigation said that the strikes to Garrett's head "were successful in gaining compliance."

Video shows Garrett stop moving and the officers put him in handcuffs. As the officers pick Garrett up off the ground and lead him away from Jefferson Square Park, someone can be heard on video telling the officers they "broke his glasses."

"He was standing on the sidewalk," someone can be heard yelling at the officers leading Garrett away. "Why did y'all have to pull up and do that?"