DOJ launches probe of Louisville police after fatal shooting of Breonna Taylor
Attorney General Merrick Garland announced Monday that the Department of Justice (DOJ) would launch an investigation into the Louisville Metro Police Department, the second such probe announced in the past week.
The so-called pattern or practice investigation comes after the death of Breonna Taylor, an African American woman who was killed last year by Louisville police during a no-knock raid on her apartment.
“Those investigations, and the recommendations and actions that ensue, do not only protect individual civil rights. They also assist police departments in developing measures to increase transparency and accountability,” Garland said in the announcement at the department’s headquarters.
Garland did not mention Taylor by name, and a senior DOJ official later said the investigation was not opened because of one specific incident.
The move tees up greater federal oversight of local police departments, giving the DOJ an avenue to bring civil suits against police departments with a pattern of using excessive force or discriminatory practices against certain groups of people, such as people of color or people with disabilities.
The DOJ on Wednesday kicked off the first such probe under the Biden administration, announcing in the wake of the guilty verdict in Derek Chauvin’s murder trial that it would launch an investigation into the Minneapolis Police Department. Chauvin was found guilty of murder and manslaughter in the May death of George Floyd.
“It is clear that the public officials in Minneapolis and Louisville, including those in law enforcement, recognize the importance and urgency of our efforts. We come to them as partners, knowing that we share a common aim,” Garland said Monday.
The result of such an investigation is often a consent decree that effectively gives the DOJ oversight of local police departments for years at a time.
DOJ oversight of police departments largely flatlined under the Trump administration after then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a memo restricting the use of consent decrees.
Monday’s announcement signals the Biden administration will take a greater role in monitoring police departments and their use of force as the country grapples with police brutality, systemic racism and potential sweeping reforms.
Senior officials said Monday that the DOJ is planning to hire additional lawyers for its special litigation section, which oversees investigations into various police departments.
In both Louisville and Minneapolis, the pattern or practice reviews will run parallel to open criminal investigations that the department had previously opened regarding the deaths of Taylor and Floyd.
Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo — who testified during Chauvin’s trial condemning his conduct — said in a statement last week that city police would “cooperate fully” with the probe.
A senior DOJ official told reporters on a call Monday afternoon that Louisville’s police department and local officials “welcomed” the review.
The Hill has reached out to Louisville police for comment.
Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer (D) said Monday that Taylor’s death had prompted a “heightened reckoning with the need for police reform and racial justice.”
A grand jury in September declined to bring murder or manslaughter charges against any of the three officers who were involved with the no-knock warrant that led to Taylor’s death. One of them, former officer Brett Hankison, was indicted on three charges of wanton endangerment for firing his firearm blindly, which resulted in bullets hitting an adjacent apartment.
On March 13, 2020, Hankison, Jonathan Mattingly and Myles Cosgrove entered Taylor’s apartment while she and her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, were asleep. They were granted the no-knock warrant under the belief that Taylor’s ex-boyfriend, Jamarcus Glover, had been using her apartment as a place to keep drugs and money. No drugs or money were found in Taylor’s apartment after the shooting.
Walker, who believed the officers to be intruders, opened fire, prompting the officers to return fire, hitting Taylor numerous times.
Taylor’s death became a rallying cry — “Say her name” — for the nationwide Black Lives Matter protests that dominated the country last summer after Floyd’s murder.
The city of Louisville settled a civil suit with Taylor’s family for $12 million a week before the grand jury announced its decision.
Similarly, Minneapolis finalized a record $27 million settlement with Floyd’s family last month while Chauvin’s criminal trial was in the jury selection process. It was the largest pre-trial settlement in a civil rights wrongful death case in U.S. history.
Updated at 4:25 p.m.