Justice Department to investigate whether Louisville police engaged in abuse

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AG Garland announces Minneapolis police probe

The Justice Department is opening a sweeping investigation into policing practices in Minneapolis after a former officer was convicted in the killing of George Floyd there, Attorney General Merrick Garland announced Wednesday. (April 21)

AP

WASHINGTON – The Justice Department has launched a wide-ranging investigation into whether the Louisville Metro Police Department engaged in a pattern of civil rights abuses amid a nationwide reckoning after the death of Breonna Taylor.

The investigation will examine whether Louisville police officers used excessive force, including during peaceful protests, and engaged in unconstitutional stops, searches and seizures. It will also look at how the police department executes search warrants and whether officers discriminate against people based on race.

Attorney General Merrick Garland did not say whether the investigation was prompted by Taylor’s death, although he acknowledged the $12 million settlement the city has reached with Taylor’s family. The inquiry is separate from a federal criminal investigation that’s also ongoing.

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“We will follow the facts and the law, wherever they lead,” Garland said Monday. 

Taylor, 26, an emergency room technician, was killed during a botched raid on March 13, 2020. Louisville police officers, who were serving a no-knock search warrant as part of a narcotics investigation, opened fire inside Taylor’s apartment after one of the officers was shot and injured. Taylor, who was unarmed and was not the main target of the investigation, was shot six times. 

Speaking to reporters shortly after Garland announced the investigation, Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, acknowledged there have been “significant challenges” in his home state since Taylor’s death and it’s “not inappropriate for the Justice Department to take a look at it.”

A Kentucky grand jury in September indicted one of three Louisville police officers involved in the shooting, but none were charged for Taylor’s death. Brett Hankison was charged with shooting outside Taylor’s apartment, sending bullets into a neighboring unit. 

Garland said Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer and Louisville Police Chief Erika Shields have been told of the new investigation and are cooperating. Shields told reporters Monday that she welcomes the opportunity to “quicken the pace” of police reform in Louisville. 

Taylor’s death and those of other Black citizens at the hands of police prompted months-long protests for racial justice and nationwide calls for police accountability. 

The Justice Department under Garland is moving swiftly to reinvigorate federal oversight of police departments after it languished during the Trump administration.

Monday’s announcement came just days after Garland announced a similar, far-reaching investigation of the Minneapolis Police Department. That inquiry, prompted by the murder of George Floyd at the hands of former police officer Derek Chauvin, will examine officers’ excessive use of force, discriminatory actions involving suspects with mental health problems, department training policies and supervision.

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Justice Department intervention in local policing matters was largely stalled during the Trump administration, but Garland reversed that policy earlier this month, signaling that the Biden administration intends to more aggressively investigate police departments accused of civil rights violations amid deepening distrust of law enforcement.

A memo issued by Garland rescinded a previous directive by former Attorney General Jeff Sessions that ordered Justice Department attorneys to limit the use of so-called consent decrees, which are court-enforced agreements that allow federal judges to ensure promised reforms are underway.

Consent decrees, which are often reached after a federal investigation into local government agencies, have been a concern among law enforcement leaders. One issue is the use of monitors, who are appointed by judges to oversee consent decrees.

Chuck Wexler, chief executive of the think-tank Police Executive Research Forum, said the lack of standard on what monitors do and how long their tenures last lead to consent decrees that have stretched for years and have become a burden on local budgets. 

“Our concern has never been the investigation. Our concern has been the process, which is unwieldy and goes on forever,” Wexler said, adding that Justice Department investigations have helped departments get more resources in order to institute reforms. But, “that can go from an advantage to being overly cumbersome.”

Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta will review the use of monitors and will provide recommendations. 

Last May, then-U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, along with Rep. Lucy McBath of Georgia, had requested the Justice Department open an investigation into Louisville police, but the agency during the Trump administration indicated an immediate investigation was unlikely.

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Breonna Taylor remembered at rallies, protests a year after her death

Rallies and protests around the U.S. honor the life of Breonna Taylor on the anniversary of her death.

Staff video, USA TODAY

Contributing: Darcy Costello, The Louisville Courier-Journal, and Kevin Johnson, USA TODAY

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