US investigation finds police abuse, discrimination in Louisville

Attorney General Merrick Garland says civil rights probe documented excessive force and bias against Black residents.

A painting of slain emergency medical technician Breonna Taylor
A painting honours Breonna Taylor on the second anniversary of her March 2020 death during a police raid in Louisville, Kentucky [File: Piper Hudspeth Blackburn/AP Photo]

United States Attorney General Merrick Garland has announced that a government probe into the Louisville Metro Police Department (LMPD) following the 2020 death of Breonna Taylor found a culture of excessive force and systemic civil rights abuses.

The investigation also documented instances of invalid warrants being used, unlawful traffic stops as a pretext for searches, and discrimination against Black and disabled residents.

In a press conference on Wednesday, Garland said that the US Department of Justice (DOJ) would negotiate a “consent decree” with the city to address the findings and enact reforms.

“Shortly after we opened the investigation, an LMPD leader told the department Breonna Taylor was a symptom of problems that we have had for years,” said Garland. “The Justice Department’s findings and the report rate that we are releasing today bear that out.”

The announcement comes amid scrutiny over the culture and practices of US policing, particularly in the wake of several high-profile deaths, particularly in the Black community.

Louisville, Kentucky was the site of a fatal 2020 shooting that sparked widespread outrage.

Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old emergency medical technician, was in her apartment in March 2020 when police executed a “no-knock” warrant shortly after midnight, entering her home with little warning.

Believing the apartment was under attack, Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, fired a gun, and the police shot back. Taylor died in the ensuing gunfire.

Taylor’s death, and that of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, led to protests around the country over racial discrimination and police tactics.

No-knock warrants are a controversial but widespread practice in US policing. Garland prohibited their use by federal law enforcement agencies in 2021. Louisville and the state of Kentucky have also moved to ban or restrict the use of no-knock warrants.

On Wednesday, Garland stated that the probe found that some Louisville police officers conducted searches based on invalid warrants and that others were unlawfully executed, with no prior warning before police forcefully entered a room.

The DOJ is also pursuing criminal cases related to Taylor’s death, separate from Wednesday’s findings. Four current and former Louisville police officers were charged with federal crimes, including conspiracy and drafting a false affidavit to obtain the search warrant for Taylor’s apartment.

Garland has said that the warrant was based on “false and misleading” information.

The botched raid on Taylor’s apartment resulted in no evidence of criminal activity, and in 2022 former detective Kelly Goodlett pleaded guilty to federal charges that she had helped falsify the search warrant.

The killing of Taylor in Louisville and Floyd in Minneapolis prompted “pattern or practice” probes into their respective police departments by the DOJ in 2021.

The findings of the Minneapolis probe have yet to be released.

“To the people of Louisville: You have shown meaningful engagement on issues of reform,” Garland said on Wednesday. “Together we can make true progress and ensure the durability of reforms.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies