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DOJ: Louisville police engaged in pattern of violating constitutional and civil rights

“The LMPD conduct has undermined the public safety mission and strained the relationship with the community they are meant to protect and serve,” U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said


U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland speaks during a press conference at Louisville Metro Hall in Louisville.

AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley

By Taylor Six and Tessa Duvall
Lexington Herald-Leader

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Nearly three years after Breonna Taylor was shot and killed by Louisville police, the U.S. Department of Justice says it found probable cause to believe the Louisville Metro Police Department has violated federal law and the Constitution.

During a press conference Wednesday in Louisville, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland announced that a DOJ investigation revealed that LMPD and Louisville Metro Government violated the First and Fourth Amendments, the Civil Rights act of 1964, the Safe Streets Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

This announcement is a result of a two-year investigation following the fatal police shooting of Taylor, a 26-year-old Black woman and emergency room technician.

The report’s findings also came just days before the three-year anniversary of Taylor’s March 13, 2020, death.

[REPORT: Investigation of the Louisville Metro Police Department and Louisville Metro Government]

The investigation found LMPD uses excessive force, conducts searches through unlawful stops, unlawfully arrests people of color, executes no-knock warrants unlawfully, violates protected speech and discriminates against those with behavioral health disabilities. They also found LMPD has deficiencies in investigating domestic violence and sexual assault cases.

“The LMPD conduct has undermined the public safety mission and strained the relationship with the community they are meant to protect and serve,” Garland said.

Garland gave examples of LMPD officers throwing drinks at pedestrians from their cars, insulting people with disabilities, and calling Black people “monkeys,” “animals,” and “boy.”

“This erodes community trust necessary for effective policing,” he said.

Garland announced the investigation’s launch in April 2021. He said shortly thereafter, an “LMPD leader” told the DOJ that “Breonna Taylor was a symptom of problems (LMPD) we have had for years.”

“This report bears that out,” Garland said.

He and Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta announced an agreement was signed with LMPD and Louisville Metro, which is a “framework” that outlines 36 remedial measures that “comply with the constitution and rebuilds with the community.”

“Entering this agreement is a critical step forward that shows the LMPD’s commitment to moving expeditiously to remedy these reforms,” Gupta said.

The DOJ said it would enter into a consent decree with LMPD, and the department would have to work with the DOJ to improve on the department’s issues.

DOJ: LMPD fueled ‘distrust’ in law enforcement

The DOJ released its report Wednesday after inspecting thousands of documents and thousands of hours of body-worn camera, according to Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke.

Clarke said this investigation was not to uncover isolated incidents, but systemic patterns and practices of the agencies.

Specifically, this report found that LMPD served overly broad warrants and sought loose connections to individuals to be able to investigate them.

It also found Louisville police would deploy Tasers on those who “posed no threat on (police) or others,” and they selectively targeted Black residents with unlawful policing.

Clarke said LMPD disproportionately stopped Black drivers for minor offenses. Black drivers were four times as likely to be cited for tinted windows compared to white drivers, five times as likely to be cited for improper tags and two times as likely to be cited for broken headlights., according to the report.

Black residents were deemed 50% more likely to be searched as a result of these citations, according to the report. Black residents were found to be disproportionately charged for misdemeanor offenses such as loitering at four times the rate of white residents, and littering at three times the rate of white people.

“This fuels distrust and impedes confidence on law enforcement’s operations,” Clarke said. “LMPD responds aggressively to people criticizing police in day-to-day police encounters and lawful demonstrations before and after the racial justice protests took place in 2020.”

Clarke said it is these interactions that lead some members of the public to have a skepticism with police, and left feeling that “any encounter threatens them to be unfairly victimized.”

“As we embark on this new path towards reform, hear us loudly and clearly that the Department of Justice will stand with you every step of the way,” Clarke said.

Louisville mayor: Findings are a ‘betrayal of the public’s trust’

Louisville Mayor Craig Greenberg, who is only months into his first term in office, said there are “infuriating examples of abuse cited in this report – particularly cases against Black and brown members of our community, and women and children, abuses by the same people who were supposed to protect them.”

He called the report’s findings “unacceptable,” “inexcusable” and a “betrayal of the public’s trust.”

But Greenberg also acknowledged that the findings of the report won’t be a surprise to many in the community who have long spoken up about the issues plaguing LMPD.

“This is confirmation of complaints made from residents about law enforcement — sometimes for years,” Greenberg said. “They felt dismissed or devalued and now the U.S. Department of Justice is saying, ‘Yes, in many cases you were right and you deserve better.’ That is a powerful thing.”

On the other hand he said he felt there would be people who will look at the report with eagerness to minimize or dismiss it.

“They’ll say, it’s all politics, or that you could find examples like this in any city,” the mayor said. “No. This is not about politics, or other places. This is about Louisville. This is about our city, our neighbors and how we serve them.“We will not make excuses. We will make changes. We will make progress – continued progress – towards improvement and reform, towards making sure that LMPD delivers services that respect the Constitution, increased trust and promote public safety and officer safety.”

LMPD Chief Jacquelyn Gwinn-Villaroel called the report “an extremely challenging and pivotal point for our city, our department and for our officers.”

She promised the department would “not falter” in its efforts to improve.

In a statement from Ben Crump, the attorney who represented Taylor’s family, he said the family of Breonna Taylor is encouraged by the findings released today by Attorney General Merrick Garland and the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division which revealed a pattern of biased policing and a long list of constitutional violations by the Louisville Metro Police Department.

“These findings, and LMPD’s expected cooperation with the DOJ’s recommended remedial measures, will help protect the citizens of Louisville and shape its culture of policing,” Crump said. “It’s steps like these, and involvement of the Attorney General and the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, that will move our nation forward and prevent future tragedies like the one that took the life of Breonna Taylor and the countless others who have been killed unnecessarily by law enforcement.”

4 police officers face federal charges related to fatal shooting

In August 2022, four former Louisville police officers were arrested for their roles in a botched attempted search warrant execution at Taylor’s apartment that resulted in her death.

Kelly Goodlett, Joshua Jaynes, Kyle Meany and Brett Hankison face federal charges, Garland announced previously. The officers were charged with civil rights offenses, unconstitutional use of force, obstruction and conspiracy, Garland said.

Court records indicate Goodlett was charged with conspiracy. She pleaded guilty to the charges shortly after she was charged. Conspiracy charges against Jaynes, another former detective, were also mentioned in the court record. He was fired from the position in 2021.

Jaynes and Meany have their next court appearance scheduled for 3 p.m. May 24, according to court documents. On February 23, a trial date was set for Hankison, to take place on October 30. The trial is scheduled to take three weeks, court documents state.

According to court documents,Goodlett and Jaynes knowingly falsified an affidavit to get a search warrant for Breonna Taylor’s home where she was killed when police executing the search warrant fired 32 total shots. Officers fired after Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, fired at them with a legally-owned gun because he thought they were intruders breaking into Taylor’s apartment.

Walker was awarded a $2 million settlement with the city of Louisville in November 2022, according to the Associated Press.

The court record alleges that both Goodlett and Jaynes put false and misleading information in the affidavit in order to get the warrant. The warrant was one of five obtained by investigators who were looking into potential drug trafficking in Louisville, according to the DOJ. The primary target of the investigation was Jamarcus Glover, a man who had been previously arrested for committing drug offenses.

Police documents that alleged Taylor was connected to drug crimes of her ex-boyfriend, Glover, were obtained by media outlets. In the documents, police outlined their case for executing a no-knock warrant at Taylor’s apartment, citing jailhouse phone calls and other surveillance tying her to Glover and suspected drug activity.

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