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Louisville police routinely violate civil rights, U.S. Attorney General says

Police in Louisville have for years disrespected the people they are sworn to respect through discrimination, failed leadership and biased practices, according to a scathing report from the U.S. Department of Justice.

The 90-page report released Wednesday details a list of issues federal investigators uncovered during a two-year investigation of LMPD that began in April 2021, a year after the police killing of Breonna Taylor and in the wake of protests that followed.

Garland was in Louisville Wednesday to announce the findings of the investigation.

He said the DOJ and city officials have agreed to work toward a consent decree to usher in future identified reforms. City officials signed an agreement in principle committing Louisville to work with DOJ officials, community members, police officials and other stakeholders to address the issues investigators identified, Garland said. He said the agreement permits the DOJ to negotiate a legally binding consent decree with an independent monitor.

The investigation aimed to determine if LMPD engages in a pattern or practice of violating the Constitution or federal law. Investigators found the police did just that.

Investigators said in their report that police in Louisville have practiced “an aggressive style of policing that it deploys selectively, especially against Black people, but also against vulnerable people throughout the city.”

Among the findings:

  • “LMPD uses excessive force, including unjustified neck restraints and the unreasonable use of police dogs and tasers.
  • LMPD conducts searches based on invalid warrants.
  • LMPD unlawfully executes search warrants without knocking and announcing.
  • LMPD unlawfully stops, searches, detains, and arrests people during street enforcement activities, including traffic and pedestrian stops.
  • LMPD unlawfully discriminates against Black people in its enforcement activities.
  • LMPD violates the rights of people engaged in protected speech critical of policing.
  • Louisville Metro and LMPD discriminate against people with behavioral health disabilities when responding to them in crisis.”

The police department’s response to domestic violence and sexual assault, including allegations against LMPD officers, is deficient and raises “serious concerns” about whether the agency engages in gender bias in providing police service to women, the report found.

Officer misconduct goes unnoticed, leadership is inadequate and the result is an erosion in community trust, the report states.

The findings are based on police data, documents, thousands of hours of police body camera review and hundreds of interviews with police officers, city officials and community members, according to the report.

“The cumulative effect of Louisville Metro’s and LMPD’s violations takes a heavy toll. It

takes a toll on community members who regularly experience these injustices. It takes a toll on those officers and civil servants who serve the community daily with care and impartiality,” according to the report.

History of violations

Since the investigation began, several LMPD officers have faced criminal charges in federal and state court.

Garland in August 2022 charged four officers who were directly involved in Breonna Taylor’s killing. She was shot by police in her home in March 2020 during a late night raid connected to a broader narcotics investigation that focused on her ex-boyfriend.

Garland said the officers violated Taylor’s civil rights when they falsified the search warrant without sufficient probable cause to search the 26-year-old Black woman’s apartment in Louisville’s South End.

City officials agreed to pay Taylor’s family $12 million to settle a civil wrongful death lawsuit in September 2020. The deal also made the unprecedented promise of police policy reforms including an early warning system to flag potentially problematic officers as well as a policy to improve oversight of search warrants.

DOJ suggests remediation

Garland noted police and city leaders have made a range of changes following outrage over Taylor’s killing, including banning no-knock warrants and expanding community violence prevention programs. He said they’ve also taken steps to improve officer health and well-being. But there’s more to do, he said.

Garland said federal investigators identified 36 ways Louisville Metro police and city officials can begin repairing the broken agency.

The measures outline a widespread overhaul of key elements of policing — like executing search warrants, working with confidential informants, and improving traffic stops and protest response using data analysis to help identify systemic issues.

Investigators say police in Louisville should also revise its use-of-force policy with more emphasis on de-escalation techniques, and implement a reporting and review apparatus for use-of-force incidents.

Police also need more civilian oversight and remove “unnecessary burdens” that discourage citizen complaints. Garland said the report is calling for more support of the city’s Office of Inspector General and civilian review board, both of which were created in 2020 and lack subpoena power. The inspector’s general office has tried for months to improve participation by LMPD officers through an information-sharing agreement, which was not finalized as of last month.

Internal police investigations also need improvement, with more staff, training, better documentation, investigators found.

‘A painful picture’

Louisville Mayor Craig Greenberg said the report brings back a lot of painful memories from the past few years.

“Our city has wounds that have not yet healed and that’s why this report, this moment, are so important and so necessary,” he said.

Greenberg said he knew when he took office he’d need to embrace a reform effort of the city’s beleaguered police agency.

He said the examples of abuse cited in the report are infuriating, especially against Black people, women and children.

“Abuses by the same people that were supposed to protect them,” he said

Greenberg said he expects people will be surprised and horrified to hear tales of officers betraying residents’ trust. But some, he said, will see it as confirmation of their own experiences with police over the years.

“The United States Department of Justice is essentially saying ‘Yes, you were right, and you deserve better,’” he said.

Greenberg promised the city will make changes and progress “toward improvement and reform” and ensure Louisville police follow the law.

He said a swath of changes are coming to the police department, but did not provide any specifics.

“This report paints a painful picture of LMPD’s past,” he said. “We have a lot of hard work ahead.”

Read the full Department of Justice report below.

Copyright 2023 Louisville Public Media. To see more, visit Louisville Public Media.

Jacob Ryan