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More Than a Year After Officers Killed Breonna Taylor, DOJ Announces Civil Rights Probe of Louisville Police


Breonna Taylor

More than a year after police killed Breonna Taylor during the botched execution of a search warrant, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland announced on Monday that the Justice Department will investigate whether the Louisville Metro Police Department “engages in a pattern or practice of violations of the Constitution or federal law.”

The Justice Department announced a similar investigation against Minneapolis police last Wednesday, following Derek Chauvin’s convictions for murdering George Floyd.

In 1994, some three years after the Rodney King riots, Congress gave the Justice Department the power to launch civil investigations into local police departments. Known as pattern-or-practice investigations, such probes can lead to court-ordered consent decrees or agreed-upon reforms.

Garland announced that the latest will look into whether Louisville authorities regularly use unreasonable force against peaceful protesters; engage in unconstitutional stops, searches and seizures; unlawfully execute search warrants on private homes; fail to provide public services that comply with the American with Disabilities Act, or engage in discrimination on the basis of race.

Noting that Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo pledged to support the Justice Department’s investigation, Garland indicated Louisville Police Chief Erika Shields and Mayor Greg Fischer responded similarly.

“They too have pledge their support and cooperation,” Garland announced, specifying that the investigation will also look into Louisville/Jefferson County Metro Government. “Louisville has already taken some steps towards reform through its settlement with a family of Brianna Taylor, as well as through other measures. We commend those measures, and our investigation will take them into account.”

If they cannot reach an agreement, Garland noted, the Department of Justice could file a lawsuit seeking court-mandated intervention.

From the press release:

The investigation will include a comprehensive review of LMPD policies, training, and supervision, as well as LMPD’s systems of accountability, including misconduct complaint intake, investigation, review, disposition, and discipline.

Louisville police leadership welcomed the DOJ probe in a press conference Monday.

“I can’t say that I was entirely surprised,” said Louisville Police Chief Erika Shields. “I think that as someone who truly believes in police reform, and doing things differently, which will only help us as a profession in the long run, I think it’s a good thing. I think that it’s necessary because police reform quite honestly is needed in near every agency across the country, and if us, at Louisville, LMPD, are going to be one of the flagship departments for change, then bring it on. We’re going to deliver.”

Police opened fire at Taylor’s apartment when they tried to execute a search warrant after midnight on March 13, 2020 in connection to a drug investigation into her ex-boyfriend Jamarcus Glover. Taylor’s then-boyfriend Kenneth Walker opened fire. Walker said he did not know this was law enforcement outside of the apartment. Several officers fired back. Myles Cosgrove, who allegedly fired the fatal round, was terminated from the police department. Then-Louisville interim police chief Yvette Gentry asserted he failed to accurately evaluate the threat, and—considering that he fired in three different directions—did not identify a particular target. Only officer Brett Hankison was charged in connection with that night, for allegedly shooting into a neighboring, occupied apartment.

Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron (R) said that officers were justified in returning fire because Walker fired first, wounding Sgt. Jon Mattingly, the third member of the police who shot back. Several members of the grand jury that reviewed the case said, however, that they were not allowed to consider any more charges except the ones against Hankison.

Update – 6:32 p.m.: We added information from Louisville police’s response to the DOJ probe.

[Image via Ben Crump]

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