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House Committee Advances Bill That Would Let AG Pursue Protest-Related Charges

Ryan Van Velzer

A Republican-led state House committee approved a bill Wednesday that would allow Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron to intervene in local cases involving protest-related charges. Supporters say it expands resources to local prosecutors. Opponents say it’s aimed at quashing the right to nonviolent protest.

The bill grants the attorney general’s office the power to initiate charges or intervene in cases involving alleged rioting, unlawful assembly, failure to disperse and a number of other charges that have been brought against protesters participating in demonstrations for racial justice in 2020. 

Some people have faced these charges for protesting in front of Cameron’s house over his handling of the Breonna Taylor case.

“It seems to me that this is designed as a response to the lawful and permissible social protest movements that occurred in Jefferson County last year, in response to the killing of Breonna Taylor,” Louisville attorney Ted Shouse told the committee. Shouse has represented many protesters who have faced the charges in question, and most of them have been dropped.

Shouse said the bill could allow Cameron to renew pursuit of these charges, including the case against Democratic state Rep. Attica Scott and her daughter Ashanti Scott. Attica Scott, the state’s only Black female lawmaker, was arrested with her daughter while they were trying to get into a church that was offering shelter to protestors as curfew fell in September of 2020. She was among the members of the House judiciary committee considering the bill.

Her daughter Ashanti Scott testified Wednesday that she feared losing her college scholarships when the felony rioting charges were brought against her. 

“I think that the county attorney made the correct decision in dropping these charges for myself and the others that were a part of our group. And I think it would be a bad thing to allow the attorney general to come in and bring these charges up again,” she said. 

Staff for the attorney general’s office spoke in support of the bill and said they did not plan to use the new power to pursue charges against Scott or her daughter.

“We would never go back and recharge Representative Scott,” said Amy Burke, who heads up the criminal branch of the attorney general’s office. “That’s not going to happen.”

Burke said the attorney general’s office did not ask for those specific powers to be added but that the office supports the bill. She said the measure could be useful when there is a question of jurisdictional lines. 

Rep. McKenzie Cantrell (D-Louisville) called the measure “disturbing” in explaining her “no” vote.

“I am appalled,” she said. “This is the most shameful thing I’ve seen here.”

Bill sponsor Rep. John Blanton (R-Salyersville) said the measure is meant to “provide relief” to local prosecutors who feel “stuck in the mud,” but did not clarify what he meant.

The measure passed 11-5. It would need passage by the full House before moving onto to state Senate for consideration.

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