State Watch

DOJ issues scathing civil rights report on Louisville police

The Department of Justice (DOJ) on Wednesday issued a scathing report of its investigation into the Louisville Metro Police Department (LMPD), finding that the department and the local government have engaged in a pattern of discriminatory behavior against Black citizens.

The DOJ report said the police department and Louisville/Jefferson County Metro Government have regularly used excessive force, conducted searches without valid warrants, used no-knock warrants, discriminated against Black people in law enforcement activities and taken other actions that violate the Constitution and federal law. 

Attorney General Merrick Garland said at a press conference that the police’s conduct was “unacceptable” and “heartbreaking.” He said it destroys the trust that is necessary for a police department to have from its community. 

“Louisville Metro and LMPD exist to serve the community and keep people safe. Most Metro employees and LMPD officers are dedicated public servants who work hard to promote public safety. But Louisville Metro and LMPD fail to ensure that all employees uphold the federal constitutional and statutory rights of people in Louisville,” the report states.

The DOJ launched the investigation in April 2021, in the aftermath of the death of Breonna Taylor, an African American woman who was killed in 2020 by police following a no-knock warrant being executed at her apartment.

Garland said the city has reached an agreement with the Department of Justice to address the issues that the report has found. One of the terms agreed upon is the appointment of an independent monitor to oversee the department’s conduct. 

The DOJ found that the LMPD has selectively used an “aggressive style of policing” against “vulnerable” people throughout the city, specifically against Black individuals. The report states that some officers in the department have shown disrespect in throwing drinks at pedestrians from their cars, insulting people who have disabilities and calling Black people “monkeys,” “animal” and “boy.” 

The police were also found to have issued citations to people for minor offenses, like making a wide turn and having a broken taillight, while investigations into serious crimes like homicide and sexual assault went unresolved. 

The DOJ found that misconduct from officers often was unaddressed within the department, and some police leaders have defended the conduct. 

“Supervisors routinely overlook or even defend obviously excessive force, search warrants clearly lacking probable cause, unjustified no-knock entries, failures to document traffic stops in Black neighborhoods, and unnecessarily harsh treatment of people with disabilities,” the report states.

The DOJ acknowledged that the police department and city government have taken some steps to address improper conduct, like banning no-knock search warrants, starting a pilot program to send behavioral health professionals to some 911 calls and expanding community-based violence prevention services. 

These changes took place in the aftermath of widespread protests that were held after Taylor was killed in her home. 

Three officers came into the home where Taylor and her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, slept at night on March 13, 2020. The officers believed her ex-boyfriend, Jamarcus Glover, was using the apartment as a place to keep drugs and money, but none were found. 

Walker believed the officers were intruders and opened fire at them, and the police fired back and hit Taylor multiple times, killing her. 

The city reached a $12 million settlement with Taylor’s family for her death, but a grand jury declined to bring murder or manslaughter charges against the officers involved in executing the warrant. One of the officers was charged but acquitted of three charges of wanton endangerment for blindly firing his gun. 

The DOJ did charge four officers involved in the incident with federal civil rights violations in August based on allegations that they falsified documents that they filed to obtain the search warrant. 

DOJ officials repeatedly emphasized at the press conference that their investigation and findings were not based on any individual incident but a long history of behavior. 

They said they were deeply troubled by the conduct that they discovered, but the city can continue to move in the right direction following the the department’s conclusions. 

“Today marks a new day and a new chapter for the people of Louisville,” Assistant Attorney General for the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division Kristen Clarke said, according to a department press release

The report recommended three dozen measures for the department and city to take to address the issues, including better enforcement of the force-related accountability mechanisms, requiring body cameras to be consistently activated and reviewed, and mandating documentation of all police stops, regardless of whether they result in a citation or arrest. 

Louisville Mayor Craig Greenberg (D) said at the press conference that hearing the details of the report “brings back a lot of painful memories,” both from 2020 and long before that. 

“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. “We have to understand and come to terms with where we’ve been, so we can get to where we want to be.” 

Updated at 12:28 p.m. ET

Tags breonna taylor Breonna Taylor DOJ excessive force Justice Department Merrick Garland

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