DOJ launches investigation into Louisville policing after Breonna Taylor death

Louisville, Kentucky - The Justice Department is launching a broad inquiry of the police department in Louisville, Kentucky, the second such investigation into a local law enforcement agency in the last week.

A painted portrait of Breonna Taylor is displayed at Jefferson Square Park on the 1-year anniversary of Breonna's death in Louisville, Kentucky.
A painted portrait of Breonna Taylor is displayed at Jefferson Square Park on the 1-year anniversary of Breonna's death in Louisville, Kentucky.  © IMAGO / ZUMA Wire

US Attorney General Merrick Garland announced the probe, saying it will examine whether the Louisville police force engages "in unconstitutional staff searches and seizures, as well as whether the department unlawfully executes search warrants on private homes. It will also assess whether (Louisville Metro Police Department) engages in discriminatory conduct on the basis of race."

Garland disclosed last week that the Justice Department would be conducting an investigation into the Minneapolis Police Department a day after a former city police officer there was convicted of murdering George Floyd, whose death sparked widespread protests of police conduct.

The Louisville Police Department has been under close scrutiny since the shooting death of Breonna Taylor, a Black woman, in March of last year.

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Taylor’s death did not initially garner as much attention as Floyd’s, but as protests grew nationwide over racial injustice, "Say her name, Breonna Taylor!" became part of the rallying cry to ensure women were not left out of the national reckoning over the treatment of people of color by law enforcement.

DOJ to look into "patterns and practices" of Louisville PD

Protesters and activists marching in honor of Breonna Taylor downtown in Louisville, on the anniversary of her death.
Protesters and activists marching in honor of Breonna Taylor downtown in Louisville, on the anniversary of her death.  © IMAGO / MediaPunch

Taylor, a 26-year-old emergency room technician, was asleep with her boyfriend when police swarmed into her Louisville apartment. Her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, fired his gun once at the officers, believing the police were intruders. The officers, who had obtained a "no knock" warrant to enter the apartment, fired a fusillade of bullets in return, at least six of which struck Taylor. Police were searching the house as part of a narcotics investigation into Taylor’s ex-boyfriend, Jamarcus Glover. No drugs were found in Taylor’s apartment.

Three Louisville police officers were fired as a result of the shooting, one of whom was indicted on state charges of endangering Taylor’s neighbors for firing recklessly in the apartment. No police officers have been charged in Taylor’s death.

The Justice Department was already conducting an investigation to see whether any civil rights laws were violated during the encounter.

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The inquiry announced Monday by Garland is a separate civil probe that will delve into the "patterns and practices" of the Louisville department. The Justice Department will seek to determine if officers routinely engage in behavior that violates the Constitution. The probe is expected to look into recruitment, training, policy, and technology. Garland said the Justice Department briefed Louisville’s leaders on the investigation.

"It is clear that the public officials in Minneapolis and Louisville, including those in law enforcement, recognize the importance and urgency of our efforts," Garland said.

Probes like this can result in court-overseen agreements with the Justice Department, known as consent decrees, that require police forces to enact reforms. Garland on April 16 rescinded a Trump-era memo that essentially blocked the Justice Department from conducting "pattern and practice" investigations and entering into consent decrees.

Former President Donald Trump’s first attorney general, Jeff Sessions, argued that these investigations and legal agreements hampered police departments’ efforts to fight crime.

Attorney General Merrick Garland announced that the Justice Department will open a civil investigation into the Louisville Metro Police Department.
Attorney General Merrick Garland announced that the Justice Department will open a civil investigation into the Louisville Metro Police Department.  © IMAGO / UPI Photo

Former Justice Department officials and outside experts have said such investigations and consent decrees are key tools in fixing police forces. The Obama administration launched 25 pattern and practice investigations into law enforcement agencies that resulted in 14 consent decrees.

But oversight can be costly and last for years. The Los Angeles Police Department entered such a decree in 2001 that went on for more than a decade and cost about 300 million dollars.

Cover photo: IMAGO / ZUMA Wire

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