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DOJ Concludes Louisville Police Engaging in Patterns of Unconstitutional Conduct

by Douglas Ankney

After conducting a two-year investigation in the wake of the fatal shooting of Breonna Taylor by police, the U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”) concluded that the Louisville Metro Police Department (“LMPD”) engages in patterns of unconstitutional practices. The DOJ interviewed hundreds of officers and community members, assessed body camera footage, and reviewed hundreds of incidents. The LMPD is about 80% white, and the DOJ investigators uncovered scores of incidents of blatant racism, with officers spewing epithets at Blacks such as “monkey,” “animal,” and “boy.” The LMPD also performed a disproportionate number of traffic stops in Black neighborhoods.

LMPD’s abuses also included the mentally disabled. One man with mental disabilities and behavioral issues was arrested 25 times in two years. In some encounters, the LMPD officers “needlessly escalated the situation and used unreasonable force.” The man eventually died in police custody.

The DOJ investigators uncovered LMPD officers routinely used force that was disproportionate to the threats they faced, including the use of neck restraints, choking, Tasers, and dogs. In one incident, a 110-pound intoxicated woman sat crying and yelling on her friend’s lawn. A burly officer rushed to the woman, forced her torso to the ground with his boot, and began beating her face with his flashlight. He continued beating the woman as she bit the outside of his heavy boot.

In another incident, an officer ordered his dog to bite a 14-year-old Black boy who was lying face down on the grass during a search after a home invasion. According to the DOJ, “[t]he officer deployed his dog off-leash – without giving any warning – and ordered the dog to bite the teen at least seven times. Despite the teen staying prone and pleading, ‘OK! OK! Help! Get the dog please!,’ officers stood over him shouting orders for nearly 30 seconds while the dog gnawed on his arm.” The child was hospitalized with serious injuries to his back and arm.

Attorney General Merrick B. Garland said the results of the DOJ investigation were succinctly captured by an unnamed police leader: “Breonna Taylor was a symptom of problems that we have had for years.” Another example of LMPD’s dysfunction includes a woman who had informed police officials that a narcotics detective was extorting sex from her daughter and two other women the detective had accused of drug possession. LMPD investigators labeled the accusation “unfounded.” Three years later the accusation proved true after three more victims came forward. The detective resigned but was never prosecuted.

The DOJ also found that LMPD’s crackdown on protesters in the aftermath of the killing of Taylor violated the protestors’ First Amendment rights. Officers “used riot sticks, less-lethal munitions, or chemical agents against protestors who did no more than passively resist or disperse more slowly than officers desired.”

Louisville Mayor Craig Greenberg, Democrat, took office in January and vowed to overhaul the LMPD. Calling the abuses “a betrayal of the integrity and professionalism that the overwhelming majority of our officers bring to their job every day and every night,” Greenberg announced: “We will not make excuses, we will make changes.” Current and former city officials have already begun implementing many of the 36 recommended reforms in the DOJ’s report.   


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