Breonna Taylor Deal Promises Reform LMPD Said They Did Years Ago Tuesday, Sep 22 2020 

 

Carrie Cochran, Karen Rodriguez, Maia Rosenfeld and Maren Machles of Newsy co-reported this story. 

As part of its historic, $12 million settlement with the family of Breonna Taylor, Louisville has agreed to implement several major police reforms, including creating an early warning system to identify officer behavioral trends to prevent misconduct.

This is not the first time the city has made such a promise. In the wake of police shootings and as a response to critical audits, the Louisville Metro Police Department has frequently asserted that it already has such a system, or is on the cusp of implementing one.

The current LMPD policy manual says it is actively using such a system. But it’s not, a joint investigation by Newsy and the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting has found.

Despite several promises since at least 2015, the department has never actually activated it, according to LMPD spokesperson Lamont Washington.

Early warning systems can be one of the most powerful tools of police reform, experts say, if implemented properly. The idea is simple, proponents of these systems say: Most police misconduct comes from a few officers. By tracking officer activity, departments can identify trouble spots early and either fix them — with extra training, counseling or discipline — or remove the officer before something much worse happens.

Louisville Metro Council President David James was outraged to hear Mayor Greg Fischer announce the roll out of the early warning system in the settlement press conference.

“That is something that the police department had promoted years ago, and said that they had implemented,” James said. “So I find out today that they had not actually implemented that.”

LMPD declined an interview request, but said in an email that “budget cuts and constriction” had prevented them from fully implementing the system.

A spokesperson for the Mayor’s Office said efforts to implement an early warning system were suspended “as the department considered a broader officer wellness program” that incorporates early warning aspects.

James said this revelation raises a lot of questions for him about what other promises haven’t been upheld.

“I, for some reason, felt like if you … said that that’s what you’re doing, then it would seem like that’s what you would do,” James said.

Now, with the legal settlement, the department can no longer delay moving forward. But an early warning system only works in a department that wants it to work, said Samuel Walker, a professor emeritus at the University of Nebraska Omaha who wrote a series of reports on early warning systems for the Department of Justice in the early 2000s.

When an agency waits until a settlement requires them to activate its early warning system, “it’s a gigantic red flag,” said Walker.

How early warning systems work

Early warning systems review officer discipline, citizen complaints, administrative incident reports, attendance, commendations, driving records and other factors to proactively identify areas of concern within a department.

Once an officer has a certain number of infractions — as determined by each individual department — the software sends an alert, flagging the trend. Supervisors can then respond however they see fit: more training, counseling, or, if necessary, disciplinary action.

LMPD has some of this framework in place. Since at least 2009, the city has contracted with CI Technologies, a company that distributes policing software, including a program called IAPro that LMPD says in reports it uses for internal affairs management.

IAPro centralizes all the documentation of officer activity, like administrative incident reports and personnel files. But in addition to gathering these records, IAPro also has the ability to use that information to send early warning alerts about officer behavior. LMPD has chosen not to activate that aspect of the software before now.

Brett Hankison

Sam Aguiar, an attorney for Taylor’s family, believes Officer Brett Hankison might have been flagged by an early warning system for excessive use of force incidents — if LMPD was using one.

Hankison is one of the three officers who shot and killed Taylor at her apartment in March while serving a “no-knock” search warrant. He was fired in June.

Every police department sets its thresholds for alerts differently, and there’s no way to know what would have happened had LMPD been formally alerted to these trends.

But if Hankison was a police officer in Kentucky’s second-largest city, he would have been flagged repeatedly.

Lexington has had an early warning system for its police department since 2004. By the metrics the Lexington police use, Hankison’s use of force record alone would have triggered an alert at least four times in nine years.

But Taylor’s case is not the first time LMPD has been made aware of an officer with multiple infractions that an early warning system might have caught.

Conrad: LMPD ‘sort of’ has a system

In Beau Gadegaard’s first 18 months as an LMPD officer, he racked up at least ten use-of-force reports. His supervisor deemed them all justified, but he was repeatedly chastised for failing to turn on his body camera.

Brett Gadegaard

He also was found to be at fault in an on-duty car accident, and was investigated and later suspended for one day for performing a warrantless search on a group of Black teens playing basketball in west Louisville.

For just these instances, if Gadegaard had been a police officer down the road in Lexington, he would have triggered four alerts in six months.

Then, on August 8, 2016, Gadegaard and two other officers responded to a domestic dispute call. When they arrived on the scene, they encountered Darnell Wicker holding a saw.

The officers shouted for Wicker to drop the saw. When he didn’t, Gadegaard and Officer Taylor Banks opened fire, shooting him 14 times. He died at the scene.

Cincinnati-based civil rights attorney Alphonse Gerhardstein sued LMPD on behalf of Wicker’s family. He recalls being surprised that LMPD’s early warning system hadn’t flagged Gadegaard.

“[He was] someone who had … a lot of curious complaints around his conduct and someone who had repeatedly failed to turn on his body cam when he was involved in a use of force,” Gerhardstein said. “These are the types of things that an employee tracking system picks up.”

A screenshot from LMPD’s response to its 2015 traffic stop audit.

It’s not surprising that Gerhardstein believed LMPD had an early warning system.

In response to audits of traffic stops in 2014, 2015-2016 and 2017, LMPD said that it utilized an early warning system software, and was in the process of developing a new system.

In 2015, in a use-of-force policy review, LMPD said it was in the process of implementing an early warning system “for the purpose of identifying work‐related problematic behavioral patterns among officers.”

The agency’s own policy manual says it is currently using such a system.

But when Gerhardstein sat down to depose Conrad in 2017, the truth came out.

“You have an early warning system at the LMPD, right?” Gerhardstein asked.

Conrad responded: “Sort of.”

Gerhardstein asked what “sort of” meant.

“We don’t have one that is operational,” Conrad replied. “It’s referred to in our policy…it has never been operational.”

Conrad’s 2017 deposition

Gerhardstein recalled the way Conrad’s admission “bonked me over the head.”

“It just clicked that one of the reasons my client was killed was because the man who shot him had never been properly flagged by this very simple tool,” Gerhardstein said in a recent interview. “This department just hadn’t gotten around to implementing it.”

Conrad said in the deposition that Louisville had never implemented its early warning system because leadership couldn’t agree on the thresholds to trigger an alert. He told Gerhardstein that he had since put together a working group to resolve the issue.

“I am told that we are close to having it up and running,” Conrad said.

That was three years — and at least 15 fatal police shootings — ago.

Will it actually be implemented this time?

In the end, Darnell Wicker’s death resulted in a three-day suspension for Gadegaard for failing to turn on his body camera. In February of this year, that suspension was reduced to a written reprimand. He is still employed by LMPD.

Gerhardstein ended up settling the Wicker family’s lawsuit for $1.25 million in late 2019. He said he tried to negotiate for reforms as part of the deal, but nothing came of it.

Just three months later, Breonna Taylor was shot and killed. Her name became a rallying cry, and her family’s civil lawsuit against the city garnered national headlines.

Sam Aguiar, one of the lawyers for Taylor’s family, was also Gerhardstein’s co-counsel on the Wicker case. When he realized that they’d have a chance to push for reforms, Aguiar said one of the first things that came to mind was the early warning system.

“It could have identified Hankison, or Beau Gadegaard, and they’re just sitting on this tool,” Aguiar said.

Now, the city will be forced to implement it. The system will be monitored by the yet-to-be-created Office of Inspector General, and a consulting firm will offer recommendations on how to improve it.

It’s not clear how the city will overcome the roadblocks that have hampered progress in the past, like agreeing on thresholds for alerts and pushback from the police union.

LMPD spokesperson Lamont Washington said the local Fraternal Order of Police chapter was worried the system created “a paper trail of perceived ‘potential’ issues about an officer.” FOP President Ryan Nichols did not respond to request for comment.

Metro Council President James would love to see this project finally come to fruition. But he’s incredibly frustrated that it took the death of Breonna Taylor and others to force the agency to do something he thought they did years ago.

“I just wonder what types of things could have been avoided had that actually been implemented over the years,” James said.

Newsy

Contact Eleanor Klibanoff at eklibanoff@kycir.org.

This story was produced in collaboration with Newsy.

The post Breonna Taylor Deal Promises Reform LMPD Said They Did Years Ago appeared first on Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.

New Evidence In Shelby Gazaway Shooting, But Family Has Same Questions Monday, Sep 14 2020 

When Jefferson County Commonwealth’s Attorney Tom Wine announced he wouldn’t prosecute the officers who killed Shelby Gazaway, he called the facts of the shooting “straightforward but tragic.” 

Gazaway had fired his gun inside the Portland Kroger last November.

As two officers shouted at him, he pointed his weapon in their direction. 

And because the officers believed Gazaway posed an imminent danger to themselves and other customers, Wine said, they were justified when they shot and killed him.

Legal experts who reviewed the circumstances of the shooting were not surprised by Wine’s conclusion, since police are given enormous leeway when it comes to making life and death decisions. That’s especially true, the experts said, when responding to a chaotic, fast moving situation like the one at the Kroger, where more than three dozen 911 calls had been placed to report an active shooter.

But the Gazaway family has questioned the Louisville Metro Police Department’s tactics and commitment to transparency since the start. In body camera footage, his family saw him walking toward his car and officers shooting the 32-year-old Black man, without announcing themselves or telling him to drop his gun. For months, they’ve asked LMPD to show them the rest of the footage, including unedited surveillance video police said would confirm LMPD’s assertion that Gazaway put officers and other customers at risk outside the Kroger. 

LMPD recently released that evidence, but the family says it hasn’t provided closure. 

The evidence shows that the officers arrived at a chaotic and frightening scene. After a fight with another man, Gazaway fired his gun into the ceiling, breaking a water line. He fired several shots more into the ceiling near the exit of the store, just seconds before two officers pulled up in their patrol car. 

The surveillance footage is jumpy, and doesn’t include any audio, but it captures the exchange of gunfire between the officers, shooting from behind concrete pillars, and Gazaway, who was by then already near his car.

It does not clearly answer the major questions the family has posed since the shooting:

Who shot first, Gazaway or the officers? And if it was the officers, could he have known he was firing back at the police?

Provided by Gazaway family

Shelby Gazaway

“The nagging question is why Gazaway acted so violently on that night,” Wine wrote in the last paragraph of his letter to LMPD. “Unfortunately, that is a question neither I, nor Mr. Gazaway’s family, who loved the son, brother and uncle they knew as a warm and caring person, can answer.”

That is not the question that’s been nagging Shelby Gazaway’s aunt, Sharon Gazaway Bell, all these months, as they wrestle with the answers that might never come. 

“It seems like to me the nagging question is, why did the police react so violently?” she said.

‘Other PIU matters’

The day after Gazaway was killed last year, LMPD officials held a press conference, as they typically do after their officers fire their weapons in the line of duty.

Major Jamey Schwab of LMPD’s Public Integrity Unit said the body camera footage would show that Gazaway “turned towards the officers and began firing numerous rounds at them” when the officers, Patrick Norton and Alexander Dugan, returned fire.

Then-chief Steve Conrad released the body camera footage, which showed one officer turn on his flashlight and shout “hey” three times before the gunfire started. Conrad admitted the footage was obscured, so it wouldn’t show much of Gazaway in that exchange. But what the videos did show, Conrad said, is that “policing is a very dangerous job.” 

“What you’ll see is how quickly things happen and the split second types of decisions that officers often face,” Conrad said.

That’s where the questions started for Gazaway Bell, Gazaway’s aunt. The video did not appear to show her nephew firing at officers first, and she questioned LMPD’s version of events. “Truth be told, if there wasn’t the body cam footage that put a question in the minds of anyone who watched it, we would not be here,” Gazaway Bell said. 

Conrad promised a thorough investigation. The family waited, and hired an attorney.

The LMPD completed its internal investigation and turned it over to Wine in December. By January, though they were waiting for Wine’s decision, the officers were back on regular duty — and received a commendation for their “acts of heroism” that night. In June, officer Norton shot another suspect, and was placed back on leave.

Wine’s letter to LMPD declining prosecution came in July, eight months after the shooting.

It opens with an apology for the delay in reviewing the Public Integrity Unit’s findings. “Unfortunately, this matter was presented during the holiday week, followed closely by the COVID-19 pandemic. Then other PIU matters arose,” Wine wrote.

Wine was likely referring to the March 13 shooting of Breonna Taylor. His office initially charged Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, with attempted murder after he fired at officers executing a search warrant at Taylor’s home. Walker said he believed the officers were intruders breaking in, and LMPD officers returned fire, killing Taylor, a 26-year old Black woman and ER tech.

Wine’s office reviews every investigation conducted by the Public Integrity Unit, and would have typically decided whether the officers who shot Taylor would face charges. But amid a firestorm of national attention, Wine recused himself from the case, and later dropped the charges against Walker.

In the months leading up to Wine’s decision in the Gazaway case, protests against police shootings became a daily occurrence. LMPD officers and National Guardsmen went into the West End to break up a party and, after firing pepper balls at David McAtee’s barbecue stand, he fired a shot. When the two agencies returned fire, McAtee was killed. 

Meanwhile, the Gazaway family held press conferences with others whose loved ones were killed by the police to try and raise awareness. They filed a lawsuit against LMPD in June to compel the release of evidence from the shooting, including the surveillance footage from Kroger. 

Louisville Metro Council President David James brought up Gazaway’s case while the council considered a resolution encouraging LMPD to increase transparency.

“The fact that the police department can’t produce a video for the family of a man who just got killed in a police action is unacceptable. It’s just unacceptable,” James said before the council passed the resolution in early August. LMPD says it gave the Gazaway family access to case files a few weeks later, on August 29.

What The Evidence Answers, And Omits

Last week, LMPD released an 8-gigabyte case file, with thousands of pictures, transcripts and summaries of interviews with officers and witnesses, and videos taken from the scene, to KyCIR. It did not originally include the Kroger surveillance footage, which LMPD said was left out of the original file in error.

The evidence shows Gazaway entered the store at about 6:03 p.m. Just minutes later, according to witnesses and police descriptions of the surveillance video, Gazaway struck another man, who then pulled a knife. After they wrestled, Gazaway pulled a gun and fired into the ceiling, hitting a water line. 

The surveillance footage shows Gazaway pointing a gun into the ceiling with his right hand again as he approached the exit of the store.

Twelve seconds later, in the parking lot, the footage shows Gazaway raising his right hand in the direction of the officers. On body camera footage, that happens almost simultaneously with the sound of gunshots, but it’s unclear who fires first.

Wine’s letter doesn’t definitively answer that; the officers didn’t in their testimony, either.

Witnesses told police they saw Gazaway shoot towards the store and toward officers, who were positioned near the exit. Ballistic evidence shows gouges in the pillar the officers hid behind from bullets fired by Gazaway. Four spent shell casings were found near Gazaway’s body; 16 were found where Norton and Dugan were positioned.

Officer Dugan told investigators in an interview more than a week after the shooting that he did not see whether Gazaway or his fellow officer shot first, because he was getting his rifle from the trunk of the squad car.

Norton said in his interview that he saw Gazaway “just saunterin’ out” of the store after a bystander pointed him out to the officers.

Norton said everything happened very quickly after that.

“I don’t know exactly what time he shot or I shot but I know I saw a flash and it was just an instant, like, boom boom,” Norton told an investigator at the time.

Both officers mentioned they’d reviewed the body camera footage before their interviews.

When asked for clarification, Jeff Cooke, a spokesperson for the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office, said in an email that “Gazaway fired at police first.” He also said “surveillance footage and witness testimony also indicates he fired outside before police arrived,” though there’s no indication of that in the video and police didn’t recover any shell casings other than those found next to his body.

When asked if the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office had evidence that explicitly shows Gazaway shooting outside of the store or firing the first shots towards police officers, Cooke referred KyCIR to LMPD; an LMPD spokesperson declined to comment due to pending litigation. 

Based on the evidence provided by LMPD’s Public Integrity Unit, Wine concluded that Gazaway’s actions inside the store would justify, at minimum, a felony charge of wanton endangerment in the first degree, a class D felony that could carry up to five years in prison.

Officers Norton and Dugan “were justified in using deadly physical force against Mr. Gazaway” because of the threat he posed to officers and bystanders, he wrote.

“No charge, either felony or misdemeanor, will be sought, nor will this matter be presented to the Jefferson County Grand Jury,” Wine wrote.

LMPD’s policies stipulate that officers should give a verbal warning before using deadly force “if feasible.”

LMPD policies also say officers can use force at any level they think is necessary, and don’t have to wait until a suspect uses force first.

Although the Public Integrity Unit investigation is closed and the officers were found not to have violated the law, an LMPD spokesperson said the Professional Standards Unit investigation to determine if officers violated LMPD standards is still open.

It’s unclear how often LMPD officers have been found to violate policy after shooting investigations, or how many of those investigations are still open. LMPD’s own data on such shootings has large gaps and leaves out important details of high profile shootings, a KyCIR investigation found.

Mayor Greg Fischer elaborated in a recent letter to a community activist: he said that, since January 2018, LMPD’s Public Integrity Unit has investigated 25 police shootings. Fourteen of those investigations have been completed and closed, though the letter doesn’t provide the outcome. Eight other investigations have been completed, but have not closed because they are pending in court or awaiting a decision by the Commonwealth Attorney’s Office or Attorney General’s Office. Three shootings are still under investigation.

‘Cops have this leeway’

Officers who responded to the Kroger that night were responding to an active shooter call — and that means they were unlikely to be held criminally responsible for shooting the suspect regardless of who fired first in the moment, said Walter Signorelli, an adjunct professor and lecturer at John Jay College of Criminal Justice who spent 30 years at the New York Police Department.

“A private citizen has a much higher standard, but the cops have this leeway,” Signorelli said. 

Even if officers make a mistake, Signorelli said the law gives officers the discretion to make life-and-death decisions if they feel the “reasonable” need to defend themselves or others.

“You could always bring a civil lawsuit saying, ‘Well, you should have taken other precautions or something,’” Signorelli said.  

But that would not be for the Commonwealth’s Attorney to decide.

Nicole Gonzalez Van Cleve is an associate professor at Brown University who has researched the relationship between prosecutors like the Commonwealth’s Attorney and police departments. Gonzalez Van Cleve says the criminal justice system is designed in such a way that gives police “control of the narrative” before the case even gets to a prosecutor. “That’s really what should alarm us,” Gonzalez Van Cleve said.

In cases like the Gazaway case, due to the limitations of the video and Gazaway’s death, important details about that narrative might always be unresolved.

To Wine and LMPD, it’s not complicated: the officers killed Gazaway because he was presenting an immediate threat to the safety of officers and bystanders. 

Gazaway’s family looks at the same evidence and sees Gazaway — who had no criminal record — on his worst day, killed in what they call “an ambush.”

“From what we have seen, they never identified themselves, and they didn’t try to de-escalate in any way,” Gazaway Bell said. “Isn’t there some responsibility on their part to try and de-escalate?”

That narrative is the difference between Gazaway surviving to face the consequences, or being killed in the parking lot.

“The law is not written to have police be the judge, juror and executioner. If someone is accused of a crime, we’re supposed to charge them, we’re supposed to take them to court,” Gonzalez Van Cleve said. “But what we’re seeing is that the police have so much power on the front end and we never get to decide on these cases.”

Shelby Power

Gazaway’s family found out the officers wouldn’t be charged when they got a call from a television reporter last month.

J. Tyler Franklin

Semone Stephenson Carter

The police just recently returned the car Gazaway was driving to his mother, Semone Stephenson Carter. It was riddled with bullet holes and torn up from the investigation.

The family still wears neon green t-shirts with his face on it that say “Shelby Power.” LMPD says it released the case file to Gazaway’s family in late August. The family can’t bring themselves to watch the surveillance footage from outside the store, but their attorney has reviewed the video.

The family feels the officers violated Gazaway’s civil rights by not identifying themselves or de-escalating, and they’re considering filing a civil rights lawsuit against LMPD.

Nine months after Gazaway was killed, Stephenson Carter sat in her house with her daughter, Sterling Gazaway, as family and friends from church milled around. Autumn decorations were already on the kitchen table. 

The family usually celebrates this season. September kicks off a stretch of birthdays that runs up to Shelby’s, which is a few days before what will be the first anniversary of his death.

Stephenson Carter had still one more question, one that the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office can’t answer.

“We always ask ourselves, why us?”

Stephenson Carter said that there were some questions they would probably never get answers to. But, she said, the family would continue to lean on their faith, and stand strong.

Contact Jared Bennett at jbennett@kycir.org.

The post New Evidence In Shelby Gazaway Shooting, But Family Has Same Questions appeared first on Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.

After Domestic Violence Murder, Louisville Reviews Its Response. Should Other Cities, Too? Tuesday, Sep 8 2020 

In late January, Louisville Metro Police officers went to a house with blue steps in the Parkland neighborhood looking for a woman named Amanda Berry. Family members had reported her missing; neighbors would later say they’d heard her boyfriend beating her and yelling at her.

Police found her body in a storage container in the basement of the house. She had been dead for “quite a long time,” police said.  

Her boyfriend, William Sloss, was arrested and charged with murder and abuse of a corpse. 

If this had happened anywhere else in Kentucky, that’s where the case would end. But because Berry died in Louisville in an apparent case of domestic violence homicide, there was one more step: her case would be examined by the city’s Domestic Violence Fatality Review Committee. 

Stakeholders from across the city would gather to look at every single place Berry and Sloss might have touched the system and figure out if there was a way her death might have been prevented — and whether that lesson might save someone else’s life in the future. 

An LMPD official preparing for that committee meeting discovered something in their files: two officers had been called out to that house with the blue steps just a month before Berry’s body was found. 

That day, Berry told the officers that Sloss had hit her, held her in the house, chased her down the street and took away her phone. 

The officers did not fill out a report. They did not arrest Sloss. They “failed to use all reasonable means to provide assistance,” according to court documents. 

Instead, they left the scene — and left Berry alone with the man she had just called the cops on. A month later, she was found dead.  

On May 22, LMPD charged the officers, Kierstin Holman and Cody Luckett, with failure of law enforcement to provide assistance to Berry. Neither LMPD nor a lawyer for the officers responded to a request for comment. LMPD also denied several open records requests about the case, saying they would not turn over records while it’s still being prosecuted.

Long-time domestic violence advocates believe this is the first time since the fatality review committee was created that LMPD decided to bring criminal charges based on information generated by the review.

Despite regularly reviewing fatalities for nearly 25 years, Louisville’s domestic violence response remains imperfect. The reviews often raise the same issues, again and again: the need for more funding, more cooperation, more understanding of the complex issues that lead to domestic violence deaths. 

But members of the fatality review team say it has helped breed accountability among agencies. They point to the Berry case as a prime example of the value of these sorts of reviews.

But despite several efforts over the years, Louisville is currently the only city in Kentucky that reviews domestic violence deaths. Efforts to create a statewide review system have repeatedly failed. 

A Shocking Murder Prompted Reviews

Louisville officials began reviewing fatalities after a high-profile domestic violence murder in January 1991. 

Bob Fortney shot and killed his estranged wife, Pam, in the middle of the day in the Highlands neighborhood before turning the gun on himself. Both were well-liked high school teachers in the Jefferson County Public Schools system, and the horrific, public nature of the murder outraged the city. 

“A day of tragedy,” declared the Courier Journal over a full-page spread. News coverage that followed outlined how Pam Fortney had tried repeatedly to seek help from the police, the courts and what was then called the Spouse Abuse Center. 

“Her efforts were to no avail,” an article in the Courier Journal said. 

That same week, Marcia Roth started her job as the director of the county’s brand new Office for Women. Her original mandate was to improve opportunities for women in the area. 

But the Fortney case put those plans on hold. 

“I said to my boss, if we can’t keep women safe and alive, forget about improving their status,” she recalled in a recent interview. 

So Roth set out to talk to everyone Pam and Bob Fortney interacted with — the police, the county attorney, the shelter, the judges, lawyers, hospital workers — to see how something like this had happened. 

This was, essentially, Louisville’s first domestic violence fatality review. 

Roth found that every agency felt that they had done everything right; every agency thought someone else had dropped the ball. 

She planned to produce a report about how this could have been prevented, and then move onto other issues. 

“I never moved on to other issues,” Roth said. 

Instead, she started what would eventually be known as the Domestic Violence Prevention Coordinating Council, which Roth still serves on today. The council has representatives from across the community: judges, prosecutors, police, corrections, schools, medical professionals, legislators and citizens. 

The council created the Fatality Review Committee in 1996 to begin formally doing what Roth had undertaken herself: put each fatality under a microscope to see what lessons could be gleaned. 

At this time, domestic violence coordinating councils and fatality review teams were popping up across the country. This was the beginning of a slow — and still incomplete — shift from seeing domestic violence as an individual failing to a systemic issue that should be addressed by the whole community. 

In Louisville, every member brings all the information their agency has on that case to the table. They’ll watch court hearings, review police files and see whether the victim ever reached out to the Center for Women and Families or a hospital. If there are kids involved, they’ll see if the family interacted with Child Protective Services, or the school district.

The participants sign a confidentiality agreement at the outset of each meeting, and they’re closed to the public. But the group puts out a biannual report with their findings; each report is dedicated to the lives lost to domestic violence in Jefferson County.

Louisville’s fatality review committee has met consistently since it was founded in 1996. It’s unique in that it reviews open cases; most cities wait until the case is closed. This means they can review cases and issue recommendations without waiting years for a case to make its way through the criminal justice system. 

The approach is not to “shame and blame” any one agency, Roth said, but rather to identify holes in the system that everyone can work together to fix. 

When the committee first started, it was populated by the heads of agencies — the Commonwealth Attorney, the Police Chief, the coroner, people who had the power to institute changes and act decisively. 

And Roth said they were addressing serious, obvious issues: cultures of victim-blaming, lack of trust and communication between agencies, and misunderstandings about domestic violence. 

It has not been 25 years of uninterrupted progress, Roth said. There have been times when lower-level agency representatives populated the group, and momentum seemed to lull, and many times when the same issues seemed to surface again and again. 

“I think like anything, if you start resting on your laurels, it goes backwards,” Roth said. “You have to just keep impressing upon everybody all the time, ‘This is good, but we can do better.’ Because until we have no domestic violence murders, we’re not doing enough.” 

Does It Work?

That is the main criticism of domestic violence fatality review teams: they surface the same issues year after year, and little change happens once everyone leaves the conference room. 

Experts say fatality review is only useful as one piece of a robust domestic violence response system, and its value cannot necessarily be measured in hard numbers. 

Heather Storer, an assistant professor at the Kent School of Social Work at the University of Louisville who has researched domestic violence fatality review teams, said there’s no one solution to prevent these issues. 

“We can’t expect one intervention to have momentous change,” she said. “[Domestic violence fatality review] is just one brick in a large sea change that is happening.” 

She sees the presence of a fatality review team as a sign that a community may be willing to consider systemic reforms to its domestic violence response. And it means, at the very least, different entities are talking to each other more than they normally would. But the best work should happen after the committee adjourns. 

“We’re really good at identifying needs, but what do we do when we identify these needs?” she said. “Agencies are doing everything they can but they still are dealing with chronic underfunding. They’re really challenged with resources. Law enforcement is being asked to do a lot more with a lot less.”

Elizabeth Wessels-Martin runs the Center for Women and Families, and sits on Louisville’s fatality review committee. She said the committee does a great job of having frank, difficult conversations about ways they may have erred.  

“But I don’t know how much work is done outside of there,” she said. “Once we identify the gaps, now what? What are we doing to close them?”

To that end, Louisville commissioned a report last year that looked deeply at those gaps across all of the city’s domestic violence systems. Despite having a coordinating council for nearly 30 years, a fatality review committee for more than 25, and adding an interagency work group in recent years, the report found 86 areas for improvement. 

Many of them were specific — expand funding for existing programs, restructure victim advocacy services throughout the criminal justice system, create more training opportunities, reform and enforce gun laws. 

But the overarching theme connecting the recommendations was simple: agencies are too siloed, and to improve victim response, they need to work better together. 

That’s exactly what a domestic violence fatality review team is supposed to do, but it’s not a silver bullet, experts say. It’s a mechanism of gradual change, that, hopefully, over time, will change attitudes and practices. 

That’s part of why Roth was “thrilled” to see the news that LMPD had charged two officers with misdemeanors out of the Amanda Berry case. 

She said that’s a good example of how this should work: it’s not the committee’s job to tell LMPD how to deal with officers who mishandled a case. But in preparing to present on the case, or in the collective review that follows, an agency may find something they want to take their own action on. 

“Let’s go back to [discussions of] police accountability recently,” Roth said. “Isn’t it wonderful that one of their own called them on it? That is very encouraging to me.”

Statewide, Efforts Have Floundered

Though Louisville is the only city in the commonwealth that’s currently reviewing domestic violence deaths, they were not alone in developing a coordinating council and a fatality review committee. In fact, they weren’t even the first in Kentucky. 

In 1986, Lexington started the Domestic Violence Prevention Board, which tackled domestic violence cases as well as child abuse and issues facing the elderly and disabled communities. 

“I felt like the greatest dishonor we could do to a victim who didn’t survive would be to let whatever happened — if we could have prevented it — happen to someone else,” said Teri Faragher, who until 2015 was the director of the board.

Faragher and the board created Lexington’s fatality review committee in 1996, the same year as Louisville’s. 

It suspended operations in 2002 for what was supposed to be a brief interlude. Advocates and state officials planned to launch a statewide fatality review project and help local communities create their own boards. Lexington’s board wanted to ensure their methods and data collection were consistent with the state plan. 

Five years later, none of the state’s plans had materialized, so Lexington began reviewing cases again. They continued until two years ago. Faragher’s successor, Stephanie Theakston, said they hope to resume in the future. 

The idea of a statewide domestic violence fatality review committee was revived once more in 2011. Then-Attorney General Jack Conway convened the first Statewide Summit on Domestic Violence Fatalities, aimed at identifying areas for reform to reduce the number of deaths. 

The goals, according to a report from the time, were four-fold: 

  • establish a statewide fatality review program;
  • develop a plan to collect and analyze domestic violence fatalities;
  • develop local fatality review teams; 
  • and develop model policies and procedures to guide those local teams. 

But the first summit was also the last. Nearly a decade later, there is no statewide fatality review, Kentucky still does not track domestic violence fatalities, and there are actually fewer local fatality review teams than there were before the summit. 

The summit did lead to a one-off report on domestic violence fatalities in Kentucky, led by T.K. Logan, a domestic violence researcher and professor in the Department of Behavioral Science at the University of Kentucky. 

“That report was pretty superficial,” Logan said. “It was just sort of, here’s some data: here’s how many women killed men; here’s how many men killed women. Here’s the sentencing trends.” 

But even that level of data collection doesn’t exist today. The key to using that data, Logan said, would be to continue to collect it and look at trends year-over-year. 

People involved with the summit said it was a good idea; there just wasn’t enough political support, or funding, at the time to keep it moving. 

With Berry Case, Missed Opportunities

There is some precedent for statewide reviews of deaths. Under Kentucky law, deaths suspected to be caused by child abuse must be investigated by the Child Fatality and Near Fatality External Review Panel, a 20-member interdisciplinary group that reviews all deaths suspected to be a result of child abuse and neglect. 

That panel publishes general notes on each case, as well as an annual report with statewide recommendations. 

There are no similar requirements for Kentuckians killed by domestic violence; in fact, the state does not even keep track of how many people die by domestic violence each year. 

That would be a good starting point, Logan said. She’s lukewarm on the value of fatality review: just dropping a fatality review committee into every city is not enough to substantially change attitudes and practices. But done well, she said, it can be a very powerful tool.

As it stands now, only one city in Kentucky regularly reviews domestic violence fatalities. The Berry case has cast new attention on the otherwise quiet work of Louisville’s fatality review committee. 

At a recent meeting of the Domestic Violence Prevention Coordinating Council, Major Shannon Lauder said it was “really disheartening” to see how the officers had responded to Berry. 

Advocates say LMPD has invested time and resources into improving its domestic violence response in recent years. They’ve added training, advocated for statewide changes and created programs specifically intended to catch these highest-risk cases — like the Lethality Assessment Program, through which an officer could have asked Berry a few questions intended to assess how likely she was to be killed within the next 24 hours. 

If she’d tested high enough, they would have put her on the phone with the Center for Women and Families right there at the scene; the Center keeps a number of shelter beds open specifically for these highest-risk cases. 

But the officers didn’t even take a report. Instead, they left, and the next time LMPD was called to the house, it was to find her dead. 

“Those officers never could have anticipated the outcome of that case when they didn’t take a report,” Lauder said. “It really opened everyone’s eyes to see how serious our decisions that we make every day are.” 

It seems to be having an impact: Even though domestic violence calls have decreased compared to last year, Lauder told the coordinating council recently that the number of domestic violence reports officers filed has increased by 7% compared to this same time last year. 

“I think that case is part of the reason why that number is up, if I’m being totally honest,” she said. “So there has been some good outcome from that being made public.”

Contact Eleanor Klibanoff at eklibanoff@kycir.org.

The post After Domestic Violence Murder, Louisville Reviews Its Response. Should Other Cities, Too? appeared first on Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.

With Coronavirus Cases In Jail Rising, A Bail Fund Steps Up Its Work Wednesday, Sep 2 2020 

Jacob Ryan

Shelton McElroy waits to learn whether he will be able to post bail for three Louisville inmates.

Shelton McElroy handed a credit card to a court clerk with the intent to nearly max it out to it’s $30,000 limit. 

He’d come to the Jefferson County Circuit Court Clerk’s Bowman Field Branch shortly before midnight on a recent Friday with a list bearing three names of men he sought to bail out of Louisville’s jail. 

None have been convicted; none could afford the cost of the bonds imposed upon them by a judge while they await trial.

McElroy is the lead social worker for the Louisville Community Bail Fund, which uses donations to bail out people awaiting trial after ensuring they have the support networks necessary to be successful after their release. The group also helps recently released inmates find jobs, get necessary identification cards, find computer access, and even just get clean clothes.

“Those are the barriers to their success day in and day out,” he said. “And these men and women don’t ask for much.”

Despite the contagious virus taking root inside Louisville’s jail, judges continue to set bail amounts that are out of reach for some people. Government agencies lean on a set of narrow parameters when deciding who gets set free. The pandemic is also leading to delayed court hearings for some people, resulting in extended stays behind bars where they risk infection.

The result: Hundreds of people stuck in a cramped jail as a dangerous, contagious virus spreads, infects and, in some cases, kills. Many inmates and their families are turning to bail funds for a shot at getting out of confinement. 

It’s surreal, empowering and necessary work, McElroy says, and especially right now, when the coronavirus pandemic is wreaking havoc on jails and prisons across the country. More than 196 inmates in Louisville’s jail have tested positive for the virus: equivalent to about 16% of the jail’s average inmate population. 

“If the jail was on fire, would you make a decision to leave people in the fire,” he asked. “The jail actually is on fire with the pandemic that is virulent to the degree that it is deadly. The jail is on fire.”

But groups like McElroy’s have limited resources.

As of last week, more than 1,000 inmates at the Louisville jail were being held on a pre-trial bond, according to information provided by Steve Durham, assistant director at Louisville Metro Department of Corrections. 

Black inmates account for about 23% of Louisville’s overall population, but they make up half of the jail’s population. 

People of color are also being disproportionately infected with, and dying from, COVID-19.

Like other initiatives across the country aimed at footing bail out bills, the Louisville Community Bail Fund has seen a surge in donations in recent months due to widespread protesting and the arrests that come with it. Since June, the group has spent $1.9 million bailing out nearly 100 people. Nearly all of that money is returned to the group when people show up for court and their case is resolved.

At the counter of the Clerk’s office, McElroy hands over the organization’s credit card. But a few minutes later he gets word the men he came to bail out won’t be getting released. Two will be extradited to other jurisdictions. One is due to serve out a state sentence.

He’s disappointed, but not discouraged.

“This is part and parcel of the work,” he said. “I think this is a small challenge compared to someone who is in there trying to manufacture PPE out of a shirt to live and to survive.”

‘It’s insane’

Those still in jail say it’s a terrifying experience. They described the cramped conditions in phone calls with inmates recorded by McElroy’s group and shared with KyCIR.

“It’s terrible,” said Daniel Mullins, a 31-year old man being held on a $10,000 bond for tampering with a monitoring device. “There’s 40 of us in here in a 20-man dorm. We’re mat to mat, face to face on the floor. It’s insane.”

Others, like Rayshawn Tucker, say they feel trapped, forgotten, and scared. Tucker, a 19-year-old, faces a complicity to murder charge and is being held on a $250,000 bond.

“We’re just lost souls in here,” he said. “They’re just leaving us in here to die. It’s getting bad, it really is.”

Several inmates told KyCIR they don’t have enough cleaning supplies. Tucker said he’s seen inmates get punished for asking for more.

Durham denied that inmates lack cleaning supplies. He said jail officials provide cleaning supplies and pass out more upon request. Symptomatic inmates are isolated and tested, and more than 3,000 tests have been conducted, Durham said.

One of the top methods to stop the spread of COVID-19 recommended by health officials is to maintain several feet of distance from other people. For people in jails and prisons, which are designed to warehouse people in cramped quarters, that’s virtually impossible, said Aaron Tucek, a legal fellow with the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky.

Tucek pointed to the early hotspots for infection — cruise ships and nursing homes — as evidence of the danger posed by tight, closed spaces. 

“Jails and prisons are just incredibly dangerous places to be with the spread of this pandemic,” he said.

Reducing inmate populations in jails and prisons can free up space for incarcerated people to maintain the distance needed to help avoid infection and can prevent future spread in the community at-large as people cycle in and out of the system, he said.

A two-page document posted on the jail’s website outlines the precautions the facility is taking to reduce the spread of the virus: In addition to isolating people who test positive for COVID-19, jail officials say they test inmates and staff, provide face masks for everyone held in the jail and conduct daily facility cleaning.

Jail Numbers Fluctuate

Bail is only available to people who have yet to be sentenced. The thousands of others held in county jails and prisons across the state need a judge’s approval, be paroled, or get a commutation from the governor. 

Since March, Gov. Andy Beshear has ordered the early release of nearly 1,800 state inmates. Louisville jail inmates serving their state sentences at Metro Corrections account for 58 of those.

But it’s unclear just how many inmates in total have been released during the pandemic because many deals are struck by prosecutors and defense attorneys, who aren’t tracking releases statewide. 

In Louisville, the jail’s average daily population is down to about 1,200 inmates – about 800 fewer than in 2016, when overcrowding issues plagued city officials and inmates were housed in dangerous, outdated overflow facilities.

Jeff Cooke, a spokesman for the Jefferson Commonwealth’s Attorney, said his office has agreed to the release of about 250 people from the Louisville jail due to the pandemic. A spokesman for the Jefferson County attorney did not respond to a request for comment.

Statewide, the county jail population fell to just more than 5,580 in late April from more than 11,600 in early March, according to data from the state’s Department of Corrections. Since then, county jail population numbers have creeped back up to more than 7,500.

Damon Preston, Kentucky’s public advocate, said the initial drop in jail population was a good thing. He said the “unnecessary” rise comes “as some fail to learn from the successful experiment.”

“The likelihood of an infected person entering a jail now is even higher than it was earlier this year,” he said. “So now is not the time to return to a policy of locking up our neighbors who are presumed innocent.”

For McElroy, his work during the pandemic is about getting people out of an unsafe situation — not  proving that people can be let out of jail without harm to society, he said, because 96% of the people they’ve bailed out have shown up for their court dates. Ensuring someone faces their charges is one reason judges assign bond in the first place, and their high success rate shows their strategy is working, McElroy said.

But, the cycle of high bonds and raising bail money isn’t the permanent fix he wants.

“We don’t want to be bailing people out for the next five years,” he said. “We want to demonstrate to the system so that the system changes design.”

The headline has been updated.

Contact Jacob Ryan at jryan@kycir.org.

The post With Coronavirus Cases In Jail Rising, A Bail Fund Steps Up Its Work appeared first on Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.

After Civil Unrest Like May Protests, LMPD Must Analyze Its Response. It Hasn’t Tuesday, Jul 28 2020 

Ryan Van Velzer

Police fire tear gas and pepper balls on protesters after seven were shot in downtown Louisville on May 28,2020.

The final days of May were a whirlwind of protests, violence and vandalism in downtown Louisville that upended the city and set the tone for months of civil unrest that continue today.

In the span of four days, protesters demanding accountability for the police killing of Breonna Taylor were doused with tear gas, pelted with pepper balls and arrested en masse by Louisville Metro Police. Seven people were shot in a still-unsolved incident in the middle of the protest, just steps away from Metro Hall. The National Guard was called in to help LMPD keep the peace and ended up fatally shooting David McAtee.

By June, the city’s central business district was busted up and boarded. The police chief was fired. And downtown was a perennial protest zone.

LMPD’s policies require an analysis of the agency’s response as soon as possible once “the disturbance has been brought under control” following events of civil unrest, like those that transpired in late May. Such a review, known as an after-action report, is considered a key element for critiquing tactics, and can help improve strategies, develop efficiencies and build public trust. 

But LMPD hasn’t done any “after-action reports” related to the protests, according to a department spokesperson. And as time passes, memories of these tumultuous days will fade, and lead to the perception that accountability is not a priority, according to policing experts and local leaders. 

According to LMPD policy, the reports should focus on operational concerns, problem areas and the efficiency and effectiveness of the entire response. The reports should recommend methods for improving departmental operations, and policies to prepare for future incidents. 

Without them, officers may feel like they have a license “to do what you want, because there’s not going to be a report,” said Samuel Walker, an emeritus professor at University of Nebraska-Omaha’s school of criminology and criminal justice. 

For police, it’s necessary to create a comprehensive record of how the agency responds to critical incidents, such as a weekend of violent clashes with protesters: waiting too long to review the weekend, or analyze it, could jeopardize the agency’s ability to accurately document what occurred, and determine if policies were followed and assess whether crowd-control strategies were effective, he said.

“This is particularly important when you have injuries or death,” Walker said. 

State Rep. Attica Scott attended the protests on Friday, May 29. It was the second night of protests, and hundreds gathered in downtown Louisville to protest the police killing of Taylor, a Black woman who was killed by LMPD officers executing a search warrant at her home. 

Scott, a Democrat whose district includes downtown, St. Mathews and west Louisville, said the events were peaceful until police began blanketing the crowd with tear gas.  

“It was chaos,” she said. “The police turned it into chaos.”

Now, nearly two months later, Scott said it “makes no sense” that police have yet to analyze their response to the protests during those days in late May.

“To me, it says that LMPD has no interest in learning from their mistakes, that they have absolutely no interest in acknowledging where they have gone wrong and they have absolutely no interest in making sure that they don’t make the same mistakes moving forward,” she said. “That’s why you analyze your actions, so you can learn from them.”

An LMPD spokesperson didn’t respond to a request for an interview about the lack of after-action reports. It’s unclear if any after-action reports have been completed for later protests following those days in May. But emails related to a records request from the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting shed some light on the agency’s records related to the protests.

KyCIR asked LMPD on June 1 for the after-action report for the preceding weekend’s protests. The agency responded to the open records request last week, stating they had no such reports.

KyCIR also requested the agency’s Incident Action Plan for protest events in late May, which would detail the agency’s strategies, goals and tactics for their response. LMPD spokesperson Alicia Smiley said in denying that request that releasing such information would “directly affect the vulnerability and LMPD’s counterterrorism/antiterrorism protective measures and plans” and put officers at risk of violence.

Smiley also said the LMPD has “intercepted multiple plans between violent demonstrators that includes ambushing law enforcement officers at staging locations and known response routes.”

“Violent demonstrators” have accessed police radio communications “so they may evade and attack officers as they move in real time,” Smiley said in an email to KyCIR.

Police have not reported that sort of attack by protesters during the civil unrest, though police have said demonstrators threw water bottles filled with urine and at one point police claimed to have seized unknown flammable substances. Protesters have also vandalized government buildings. Numerous protesters, however, have claimed they were assaulted by police without provocation during their arrests.

After-action reviews should not be overlooked by agency leadership because they help improve public trust — and can lead to “smarter thinking and therefore more effective execution,” according to a report published this year by the National Police Foundation, a non-partisan organization based in Arlington, Va. that aims to improve policing through innovation and science.

The report said that after-action reports should be conducted immediately after an incident and shared with responding agencies to communicate  “promising practices, lessons learned, and areas for shared improvement.”

Presently, police departments across the country are facing widespread and continued protests, as well as the fallout that stems from the global COVID-19 pandemic, which together create a unique set of challenges that could impede their ability to conduct in-depth, comprehensive reviews of critical incidents, said Keith Taylor, an adjunct assistant professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

Taylor, a former assistant commissioner with the New York City Police Department, said after-action reports are certainly valuable, and necessary. But he said it’s not surprising if they fall to the wayside as agencies deal with the stresses of policing during a pandemic and the workload that comes with ongoing protests.

“It’s quite a chaotic time,” he said.

Additionally, Taylor said current ongoing investigations into incidents that occurred during the first weekend of protests in Louisville could impede the completion of after-action reports. 

The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Kentucky State Police are conducting independent investigations of the June 1 fatal law enforcement shooting of McAtee.

Not completing the reports, however, could also hamper the ability to investigate and review the totality of the police department’s response to protests, said Louisville Metro Council President David James. He pointed to an investigation underway by the Metro Council’s Government Oversight and Audit Committee that will focus on the killings of Breonna Taylor and McAtee, as well as the related protests.

The reports, he said, would help council members get a clear understanding of what took place during the first week of unrest, James said.

“Those documents would be important,” he said. “You need documentation to see what did or did not happen.

James, a Democrat and former LMPD narcotics detective, said after-action reports are commonplace and are routinely completed by LMPD. He was surprised to hear no such report had been completed to analyze the events in late May.

“It doesn’t seem logical,” he said. 

Walker, the Nebraska policing expert, pointed out the scope of the protests and the magnitude of their intensity — there were shootings, mass arrests, claims of police brutality, and widespread vandalism that went largely unchecked for hours as buildings were damaged and property destroyed. Those incidents make it all the more important to complete the required analysis of the events and the agency’s response, he said, a task he considers routine police work. 

And even though protests and civil unrest in Louisville have been constant since late May, there have been moments of relative calm.

“It’s in that quiet period that you do your report,” Walker said. 

Scott, the state representative, said police should conduct thorough analysis of every day they are confronting protesters. The final days of May, she said, are especially in need of review due to the magnitude of the events, damage and violence.

Scott saw protests in St. Matthews, but the police response came with no tear gas, no pepper balls, and no arrests. In west Louisville, there were no protests, but the National Guard responded and killed McAtee, a Black man.

“All of that has to be addressed,” she said. “Because they cannot deny there was disparity in the way they treated people based on place and based on race.”

Correction: Samuel Walker is professor emeritus at University of Nebraska-Omaha. A previous version of this story named the wrong campus.

The post After Civil Unrest Like May Protests, LMPD Must Analyze Its Response. It Hasn’t appeared first on Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.

Search Warrants Under Scrutiny As Police Killings Spark Reforms Wednesday, Jul 8 2020 

The police officers who killed Breonna Taylor came with a search warrant that allowed detectives to raid the 26-year-old’s home without first knocking.

Such warrants — called no-knocks — instantly proved controversial once Taylor’s death was thrust into the national spotlight. The Louisville Metro Council was swift to ban the use of no-knock warrants last month in a unanimous vote.

In practice, no-knock warrants like those solicited for the Taylor search are rare: of more than 6,000 search warrants served by LMPD since 2018, fewer than 1% were no-knocks, according to LMPD data. 

And now, the call to reform the process by which police seek and obtain search warrants from Louisville judges is broadening, sparking introspection and infighting at the courthouse.

Some attorneys, civil liberty advocates and criminal justice experts say the search warrant process lacks transparency, oversight and fairness. But many Louisville judges defend the system, saying a judge’s oath alone binds them to act with integrity and the push for reform is little more than window dressing.

Ted Shouse, a Louisville-based defense attorney, pushed for reform to the broader system of search warrants in an op-ed in the Courier Journal last month. Shouse argued the current system is unnecessarily secret, and gives police an upper hand not afforded to criminal defendants.

Police can call, email or meet-in person with a judge to get a warrant. Officers can take their pick between 30 judges with jurisdiction in the county to present their case for a search warrant. And anecdotally, judges, lawyers and researchers have concluded that officer’s warrant requests are rarely refused — for those that are, there’s no record to show for it and no system to track how or if a request is modified or just presented to another judge for approval.

“All I’m advocating is transparency,” Shouse said in an interview with KyCIR last week. “Why would a judge not want transparency?”

Chief Jefferson Circuit Judge Angela McCormick Bisig said judges are “gatekeepers” and “neutral listeners.” They may be cordial with officers, but they’re not casual and they don’t play favorites, she said.

“We take this responsibility very seriously,” she said. “We try to be transparent.” 

Police Generally Pick Judge

In the aftermath of Taylor’s death, the Louisville Metro Police Department amended its search warrant policy to require officers get approval from their commander before applying for a search warrant. Local court rules and police policy advise police officers to contact court clerks during business hours and be assigned a judge, but that doesn’t always happen, said Chief Jefferson District Court Judge Anne Haynie.

Jefferson District Court

Local District Court rules.

Occasionally, officers will catch a judge in the courtroom or in their office and present their case for a search warrant, she said. Some search warrant requests are processed electronically, via email, said Haynie. After hours, an on-call District Court judge is available 24 hours a day to respond to requests, Haynie said. But officers are not required to contact the on-call judge.

“It’s really just whoever is available,” she said. 

Once a judge receives the affidavit, the review can be quick, said Leland Hulbert, a defense attorney and former prosecutor.

“Typically, what I see is judges are asked in the middle of the day or middle of the night to approve a warrant and they don’t have a lot of time to digest,” Hulbert said. “They are usually signed the day they are presented.”

But now, amid the fallout and outrage from Taylor’s death and the circumstances that led to it, Hulbert believes judges will be more scrupulous in their review of search warrant applications.  More requirements like the creation of an independent warrant review panel or mandating that judges explain, in writing, why they are approving a warrant could further strengthen the process, Hulbert said.

“Just stating that in writing could bring more transparency,” he said.

Bisig said judges can only consider the information included in the affidavit when making their decision to approve or reject an officer’s request and the conversation between judge and officer has no basis in the ultimate decision.

The affidavits are included in court files, and can be subject to review by judges and defense attorneys once a case begins crawling through the criminal justice system.

“We’re not trying to hide anything here,” Bisig said. 

Still, Shouse, and others, say documenting that interaction is a critical step towards transparency.

“These conversations, however brief they may be, are critical to the criminal justice system,” he said. “Why not have that brief exchange between a police officer or a judge available? What’s the argument against it?

“The system, as it exists now, affords zero transparency,” Shouse said.

Getting details about search warrant requests can be cumbersome, if not impossible. The courts don’t maintain a database of search warrant requests, and in turn, there’s no record of search warrants requests that are rejected by a judge.

Shouse thinks judges should be randomly assigned to officers who come seeking a search warrant. Judges are randomly assigned in criminal and civil cases, which are heavily documented from beginning to end. But when it comes to search warrants — which can be an intrusive tipping off point for allegations that pull people into the criminal justice system — no such requirements exist.

Jefferson Circuit Court Judge Charles L. Cunningham penned a rebuke of Shouse’s call for reform in his own op-ed in the Courier Journal last week. In it, Cunningham dismissed the notion that police “cherry pick” judges when they need a search warrant approved.

“Judges are not anyone’s rubber stamp,” he said.

He said assigning a judge at random to approve a warrant would be cumbersome, and clog the schedules of both police and judges.

“Judges don’t just sit around waiting for the police to show up,” Cunningham said. “We often can’t drop what we are doing to hear a warrant application. The police have to hunt for a judge who will make the time to hear them. Some judges dodge this task; some make the time.”

But Cunningham is open to some reform. In an interview with KyCIR last week, he said a welcome improvement in the search warrant process would be to develop a tracking system to monitor which warrant requests are denied, and what becomes of them.

Cunningham said it’s impossible to know if an officer who failed to get approval goes on to gather more evidence, or simply walks down the hall to another judge. Keeping a record of when a judge rejects a warrant could quell any concern that law enforcement effectively go judge shopping when they need a warrant, he said.

“Would it stop them from shopping around? It would definitely stop it,” he said.  “Would that somehow fix a problem? That’s a much tougher question.”

A spokesperson for LMPD did not respond to a request for comment for this report.

Judges Say New Process Would Be Prohibitive

Haynie says a randomized process that only allows one judge at a time to issue warrants could be a barrier for law enforcement and a burden to the criminal justice system.

Jefferson District Court

Chief Jefferson District Judge Anne Haynie

The 17 judges presiding over district court deal with crowded dockets of misdemeanor crimes and traffic offenses, as well as weddings, arrest warrants, emergency protective orders and more, she said.

“You just don’t know how busy people are during the day and you don’t want warrants just sitting there,” Haynie said. “I could not fathom being on a heavy docket and having to break that docket and spend time on a warrant.”

Limiting the pool of judges available would be “just window dressing,” according to Jefferson Circuit Court Judge McKay Chauvin. He said each judge took an oath to uphold the rule of law, and that requires scrutinizing warrants equally and fairly, without consideration to their own beliefs or bias.

“Constitutionally, every judge is the same,” he said. “If there is a problem with a judge, this is not how you solve it.”

Not Everyone Agrees

Jefferson District Court Judge Julie Kaelin doesn’t think the oath alone is enough to ensure public trust or accountability.

“I don’t think that we are so special that we are infallible,” she said.

Kaelin supports documenting interactions between judges and the police that come seeking a warrant. The mere perception of judge shopping is concern enough to welcome reforms to boost transparency and oversight, she said.

“There is no reason to not make it a more transparent process,” Kaelin said. “I don’t know why anyone wouldn’t want to.”

Police can execute a search warrant at any time of day. They can bust down doors, seize property, and make arrests. The raw intrusiveness of government prying into the private lives of people is so great the U.S. Constitution provides protections against it — and yet, police searches are key elements of evidence gathering, said Kate Miller, advocacy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky. But obtaining and executing search warrants shouldn’t come at the cost of people’s civil rights.

“It’s such an important right to be able to be secure in your own home,” Miller said.

Even as calls to ban no-knock warrants echo nationwide, experts say wider reform would be a struggle. Search warrants are an ingrained aspect of policing, and their immediacy can be crucial to securing evidence and catching suspects.

Getting buy-in for change on how police obtain warrants would be difficult, says Damon Preston, the chief public defender for Kentucky’s Department of Public Advocacy. But he thinks some reform is necessary, and one way to hold police and judges accountable would be to require more transparency.

“At the least they should provide data, reports,” he said.

Nationally, little data exists detailing the scope or use of search warrants, said Trevor Burns, a research fellow at The Cato Institute, a libertarian think-tank based in Washington D.C. This is partly by design, he said: Prosecutors and police are not always keen on disclosing the strategies of their crime fighting.

But the process to get a warrant in Louisville is not unusual, Burns said. Since police are only required to prove probable cause, a low evidentiary bar, they typically present true, simple facts to a judge, Burns said. The question lies with how much scrutiny a judge is willing to give to a warrant request, he said. 

Oftentimes, it’s not much, Burns said.

“Judges just trust police,” he said. “It’s hard to think of a situation where the judge will give hard scrutiny to a warrant.”

Contact Jacob Ryan at jryan@kycir.org.

The post Search Warrants Under Scrutiny As Police Killings Spark Reforms appeared first on Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.

Why Black Women Like Breonna Taylor Still Need ‘Say Her Name’ Movement Monday, Jul 6 2020 

Kate Howard

George Floyd and Breonna Taylor are depicted in this mural by Damon Thompson.

In the days after Breonna Taylor was shot and killed by police, she was labeled as a “suspect” by Louisville Metro Police and the media. The case drew some attention — but it didn’t really take off until more than two months later, after the videotaped police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis outraged the nation.

When Black Lives Matter protests spread across the nation, it was Floyd’s name the protesters chanted.

Not in Louisville.

“Say her name!” they chanted over and over. “Breonna Taylor!”

Floyd’s death helped to spearhead months of protests against police violence, and in its wake, new attention was paid to Taylor, a 26-year-old Black woman and ER tech killed by LMPD officers on March 13. Soon, with the help of #SayHerName social media hashtags, Taylor’s name and story were at the forefront nationwide alongside Floyd’s. 

Alicia Keys, Jada Pinkett Smith, Tracee Ellis Ross and Queen Latifah have participated in a PSA campaign by the justice group Until Freedom asking the viewer one poignant question: Do you know what happened to Breonna Taylor?

By what would have been Breonna’s 27th birthday, protesters from Louisville to Brooklyn and around the world were saying her name. Even Beyoncé penned a letter to Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron, urging him to charge the police officers who killed her.

But Taylor’s story highlights an issue activists, advocates and academics have studied and reckoned with for years: Why are Black women’s stories of police brutality not highlighted with the same intensity of Black men? Why does it seem harder for stories like Taylor’s to catch fire?

‘She’s Black and she’s a woman’

On March 13 in the early morning, Taylor and her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, were home sleeping when LMPD officers executed a no-knock warrant in her apartment. Startled by the entry and mistaking them as intruders, Walker shot at police, who shot back and hit Taylor eight times. LMPD claims they entered on the belief that they’d find evidence related to a drug investigation because an ex-boyfriend, the target of their investigation, had received a package there. They did not find any drugs.

In an interview with NPR, Taylor’s family described her as a loving person who became an emergency medical technician in order to care for others. The family told NPR it lifts them up to know her story is being heard, and they’re “grateful that her name is where she should be.”

But that took time. Louisville author, blogger, and activist Hannah Drake said she was sharing information about Taylor’s case on her Twitter feed for a while. But it wasn’t getting traction.

“Breonna just had two things working against her: She’s Black and she’s a woman,” said Drake. 

But after Minneapolis police killed George Floyd and his death gained national attention, Taylor’s name and story followed. 

“If I asked you right now to tell me four Black men that were killed by the police, you may know four, probably more than four,” she said. “But now if I tell you to tell me four Black women that have been killed by the police, you’re going to say, ‘Sandra Bland’ at best.”

Drake believes that’s because of a hierarchy of importance in America: “white men, white women, Black men, and then at the bottom, Black women.” 

However on social media platforms like Twitter and Instagram the hashtag #SayHerName and #SayHerNameBreonnaTaylor has helped to add circulation of Taylor’s name and story. 

The #SayHerName campaign was launched In 2014 by the African American Policy Forum and Center for Intersectionality and Social Policy Studies to uplift the stories of Black women who have experienced police violence.

While stories of male Black victims like Eric Garner or Michael Brown have received mass attention, the campaign sought to bring the same attention to Black women like Sandra Bland, Rekia Boyd, Atatiana Jefferson, and now, Breonna Taylor.

“I always explained to people this isn’t a competition between Black men and Black women who suffered the most,” said Drake. “This is a campaign for awareness because often our stories are overlooked.”

The Norm 

No comprehensive national database exists that captures rates of police use of force according to a 2018 report by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights titled, “Police Use of Force: An Examination of Modern Policing Practices.”

The report states that while Congress has required the Department of Justice to release annual reports on police force local police departments aren’t required to submit their data to the DOJ. 

“The majority of the more than 17,000 police departments in the United States only selectively report data and some do not report at all,” according to the report. 

The report does conclude high rates of use of force nationally, and “increased likelihood of police use of force against people of color, people with disabilities, LGBT people, people with mental health concerns, people with low incomes, and those at the intersections of these groups.”

In 2019, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) announced that it would be launching the National Use of Force Data Collection. The database allows police departments to voluntarily submit data about use of force for a nationwide perspective. According to a Washington Post article only 40% of police departments submitted data. 

Since it’s not federally mandated, the work of tracking police brutality often falls on nonprofit organizations, activists and the media. 

University of Florida professor and critical race theorist Michelle S. Jacobs has been researching the ways in which Black women are viewed in criminal law and American society as early as slavery and onward. 

Her work uses past literature, political discussions, judicial opinions, and more to examine how Black women are viewed. She identified three consistent tropes and stereotypes; that Black women are “not women” or “womanly.” That Black women are liars, and — perhaps most relevant to the Say Her Name movement — that Black women are not really victims. 

“These stereotypes really add the very foundation of how our nation has developed its understanding of how Black women exist. And from the beginning, we have never existed in their minds as people who are worthy of protection of the law or human beings who are entitled to dignity,” said Jacobs. 

Ava Thompson Greenwell, a video journalism professor at Northwestern University, believes one reason that Black women’s stories are not told as often in the mainstream media is due to largely white newsroom leadership. Black press tends to be run by Black men, she said.

”People tend to cover people who are like them,” Greenwell said. “Black women don’t fit into any of those categories; they’re not white men, they’re not Black men, and they’re not white women, so they’ve really been disregarded historically.” 

Taylor’s case faces another disadvantage: the officers who executed the search warrant at her home weren’t wearing body cameras, and so there’s no footage of the moments leading up to her death. Meanwhile, the video of the police officer kneeling on Floyd’s neck has been viewed millions of times, and led to widespread condemnation even from law enforcement. 

In Taylor’s case, the police’s story and witnesses’ stories didn’t match on several details, such as whether officers knocked and announced themselves before entering and whether her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, knew they were police before he fired a shot in self-defense.

“It’s almost like if it wasn’t on video these days, it didn’t quite happen, right? Because then it’s going to be the police officers word versus yours,” said Greenwell. 

Greenwell notes that a lot of younger adults tend to increasingly get their news from social media or non traditional outlets, and with Floyd’s video circulating media platforms like Instagram and Twitter, awareness of his story grew rapidly. 

The Change 

Ryan Van Velzer

The crowd outside Metro Council before it banned no-knock warrants.

In recent weeks, Breonna’s Law has been passed and signed by Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer. The ordinance bans no-knock warrants like the one used in Taylor’s killing. Louisville Metro Police (LMPD) have also fired one of the three officers involved in Taylor’s death; no progress has been reported about the other officers. During the course of this, LMPD was also under scrutiny for behavior and leadership.

“I spoke at that rally, and I celebrated the fact that the law was passed,” said Drake. “So now it’s no more no knocks in the city. Great I said, but it’s always hard that it came from the back of a Black woman’s death,” said Drake. “A Black woman has to die for this city to do the right thing.” 

Despite the changes that have occurred, University of Louisville Department chair of Criminal Justice Cherie Dawson-Edwards said the case highlights the need for more attention to be paid to police policy reform. 

“There’s problems with police officers, but there’s also problems with policies and processes that allow you to do things that end up with a Breonna Taylor,” said Dawson-Edwards. “I think that’s what we are grappling with and have to come to grips with as a community is, are you mad at the person or the policy that allowed the person to do what they did?”

Dawson-Edwards believes that more policies will be created around racial justice but worries about the intersectionality of future proposed legislation. 

“I worry about gender-related justice and racial justice not meeting together for Black women and Black girls,” said Dawson-Edwards. 

Nation Grieved A Health Care Worker 

Taylor’s case raises another issue about representation that hits the intersection of socioeconomic status and race: Drake says the one factor working in Taylor’s favor in terms of public perception was that she was a health care worker on the frontlines of the coronavirus pandemic. 

In other words, in some people’s eyes, Taylor was a sympathetic victim.

“One thing I want America to get out of this is that every victim will not look like that,” said Drake. “You have to feel sorry for her and grieve because she was an EMT… and that’s honorable.”

But Drake asks: what if, like some other Black women killed by police, she hadn’t fit the mainstream depiction of sympathy? 

“America still needs to be outraged,” Drake said. 

The coronavirus pandemic may have played a role in the initial lack of attention on Taylor’s case, as Kentucky was just beginning to shut down. But it also may have accelerated the activism that followed in the Black Lives Matter movement. 

During times of quarantine and a global health pandemic, more people are at home watching the news and on social media, Drake noted. Protests have occurred in all 50 states and internationally at a time when record numbers of Americans are out of work.

“I think what happened with the coronavirus is that many people were home and they weren’t in the business of life and going to work,” said Drake. “It was like the world paused for a minute.”

But despite all this, Drake doesn’t see this as a turning point. 

“No I don’t, I have to be honest,” she said. “I think women, particularly Black women will always continue to fight to be heard and fight to be seen, always.”

And even if this is a sign of a change, she said, she is still sad that it came at the cost of Breonna Taylor’s life.

The post Why Black Women Like Breonna Taylor Still Need ‘Say Her Name’ Movement appeared first on Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.

Louisville’s Two-Decade Fight For Civilian Oversight Of Police Thursday, Jul 2 2020 

Over the last 20 years, Louisville has developed a call-and-response that seems to echo through the decades — police shoot and kill a Black person in a manner that shocks the conscience. Protests erupt across the city, and city officials offer up an antidote to the furor: increased civilian oversight of the police department. 

It happened in 1999, when police killed Desmond Rudolph and the Board of Aldermen tried to pass an ordinance creating a civilian review board. 

It happened in 2003, when police killed James Taylor and the city got the Citizens Commission on Police Accountability. 

And it’s happening again, in 2020, as Mayor Greg Fischer proposes creating a new civilian review mechanism in response to the police killing of Breonna Taylor.

Taylor family

Breonna Taylor

Protesters are calling for this increased oversight because previous efforts to create meaningful civilian review of the police department never really succeeded. 

And people who were around back then worry that, if city leaders don’t learn from the past, civilian review is doomed to fail again — and we’ll be having this same discussion, years from now, after the killing of another Black person.

“A whole new generation is rediscovering civilian review, which is good,” said local civil rights leader K.A. Owens, who advocated for civilian review in 1999. “I encourage the current city officials to study the prior ordinance and consult with people who were around at the time.”

Lawsuit stops first attempt 

On May 13, 1999, 18-year-old Rudolph attempted to flee from police in a stolen car. The car was stuck in an alley when two police officers on foot fired 22 rounds into the car, saying they feared Rudolph was going to run them down. 

He died four days later. A grand jury did not indict the officers, but the city’s public safety director found several problems with the officers’ response, according to an AP story at the time. 

The serious outcry, though, came months later, when the two officers were honored with awards for exceptional valor for their role in the shooting. Then-Mayor Dave Armstrong fired the police chief, leading nine commanders to step down and call for Armstrong’s resignation. 

A group called Citizens Against Police Abuse had already been advocating for civilian review, but in the fallout from the Rudolph killing, the idea began to gain support across the city. 

“We were having bad shootings, similar to what we’re having now,” remembers Owens, who helped organize the group. “We were seeing just abuse of people by the police, mainly in the Black community.” 

Owens said civilian oversight was intended to increase accountability for police officers, help root out systemic issues and rebuild trust between police and the communities they serve. At that time, before the city and county governments merged, Louisville was more than a third Black but the police force was only 16 percent Black.

More than 30 civil rights groups helped organize protests, sit-ins, door knocking and postcard campaigns to build support for civilian review. In 2000, a majority of the 12-member Board of Aldermen, the equivalent to today’s Metro Council, passed an ordinance. 

The ordinance created a Civilian Police Review Authority, with its own administrative and investigative staff. The 11-member board would investigate any complaints of use of excessive force, inappropriate language or demeanor, discrimination, theft and other police misconduct. 

Most crucially, the ordinance said the board would be granted subpoena power, through the Director of Public Safety. Subpoena power would allow the committee to compel witnesses or police officers to testify, or produce evidence, under threat of legal action. If someone doesn’t comply with a subpoena, they can be legally charged with contempt of court. 

Mayor Dave Armstrong opposed all forms of civilian review, with or without subpoena power, according to a Courier Journal article from the time. Armstrong, who died in 2017, vetoed the 2000 ordinance. But the Board of Aldermen overrode the veto. 

Right away, the River City Fraternal Order of Police sued the city, claiming the subpoena power clause was illegal. 

The representative for the FOP on the lawsuit? David James, who today serves as Metro Council president and an advocate for stronger civilian review. 

James led the FOP at the time. He said in a recent interview that he supported civilian review then and now. 

“The Board of Aldermen didn’t have subpoena power, so they couldn’t grant subpoena power to the board,” James said. “I opposed the illegal parts of the ordinance.” 

He said he supports giving the board subpoena power now — assuming it comes through the legislature as it legally would need to. 

In May 2001, two years after Louisville police killed Rudolph, a judge ruled in favor of the FOP, striking down the ordinance over the subpoena power aspects. 

Judge Tom McDonald wrote that because the Board of Aldermen didn’t have subpoena power, it “didn’t pass constitutional muster” for them to grant that power to a civilian board, according to the Courier Journal. 

That ruling was later struck down by an appeals court that said the lawsuit had no standing.

“There’s no way to know, but you just have to wonder what could have been prevented if we’d managed to get real civilian review then,” said Bill Allison, an alderman who fought for the ordinance. “How much money could we have saved if we’d gotten rid of those rogue cops? And, how many lives, maybe?”

In the end, the board never went into effect. Meanwhile, the city and county merged, meaning all ordinances had to be re-passed by the new Metro Council. By then, though, there was already another police killing of a Black man that sparked protests — and calls for increased civilian oversight of the department. 

Member: Current board ‘is a sham’

In December 2002, just weeks before the new Louisville Metro government was officially created, Louisville police shot and killed James Taylor, 50. Police said he lunged at them with a boxcutter while handcuffed behind his back; they responded by shooting him 11 times. 

Amid the protests, then-Mayor Jerry Abramson responded by promising to create a civilian oversight board. This time, the emergency ordinance passed quickly —  albeit without investigative or subpoena power. 

The 11-member Citizens Commission on Police Accountability is still in effect today, and reviews only “closed police investigations in all police shooting cases and incidents involving loss of life due to police action.” 

Their role is to review the adequacy of internal investigations, not make determinations about the incidents themselves; they are able to make recommendations to the mayor and police chief about policies, training and procedures, but not about action in individual cases. 

At the time, Abramson said he would appoint people who were “not on the extremes” of the issue, and said subpoena power was not necessary because he and the police chief would require officers to cooperate. But nothing in the order was codified to that effect. 

“I fear the commission has extremely limited authority, to the point I think they might get frustrated and the community won’t feel any better about police-community relations,” Jeff Vessels, then executive director of the Kentucky ACLU, told the Courier Journal at the time. 

That has, in many ways, proven to be true. 

“The current board is a sham,” said Ricky Jones, a current member of the board and the chair of the Pan-African Studies department at the University of Louisville. “It was intended to be a toothless tiger. They delivered the most flaccid, sanitized, powerless version of civilian review they could offer.”

Jones’ nomination to the board in 2017 was controversial, as he was seen as anti-police. He said he had hoped to enact real change, but with the lengthy wait times for the board to get access to closed cases, it’s hard for the board to be relevant. 

LMPD has only closed one internal investigation related to a police shooting in two and a half years, KyCIR has found.  

A 2017 Courier Journal investigation found that the board had reviewed more than 70 cases but only five had resulted in recommendations, most recently in 2008. Nearly all of the recommendations were adopted, the investigation found. 

One of the first recommendations the commission voted on, according to a 2003 news report, was requiring officers involved in a fatal shooting to be tested immediately for drugs and alcohol. It did not go into effect. Last week, Metro Council proposed a similar ordinance. 

Working Group Hopes For Strong Oversight

Once again, Louisville finds itself in the same position — answering protests about police killings with the promise of civilian oversight. 

In some ways, this time is different. The mayor and council president have come out in support of a new and separate board that would offer serious civilian oversight, and they have put together a working group of community members to design the mechanism. 

The Louisville Civilian Review Board work group is made up of city and state officials, police representatives, community leaders and some members of the current civilian review board. They are currently considering different approaches to oversight — creating a position of inspector general or internal auditor, building a body that does their own, concurrent investigations, or taking a post-investigation review approach.

Fischer has specifically called for the board to have subpoena power. James of Metro Council and formerly the FOP, has echoed that call, though he said waiting for the legislature to grant subpoena power may take longer than they would like.

State Sen. Gerald Neal and state Rep. Nima Kulkarni, both Democrats from Louisville, are serving on the working group. The state legislature will not be in session again until January. 

Hollie Hopkins, the legislative services director for the Jefferson County Attorney’s Office, wrote in a memo to the work group that neither Metro Council nor the Mayor can just give subpoena power to the board. But the legislature can grant subpoena power to a board or agency, Hopkins found, and has in some select cases. 

Metro Council’s Government Oversight and Audit Committee has been granted subpoena power, and has been permitted to delegate that authority to the ethics commission as well. The oversight committee recently announced it will investigate Fischer’s handling of the Taylor case, subsequent protests and the fatal shooting of David McAtee by law enforcement. 

The legislature has also granted subpoena power to the Louisville Police Merit Review Board, which reviews appeals of disciplinary action against officers. According to state law, any body conducting a hearing about a police officer accused of wrongdoing “shall subpoena and require the attendance of witnesses” and the production of documentary evidence at the request of the officer. 

But for all this talk about subpoena power, experts say it’s just one very small piece of the puzzle.

“Bodies that have [subpoena power] very rarely use it,” said Liana Perez, director of operations with the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement. “And if it gets challenged, you end up fighting that in court and don’t get much else done.” 

Perez said if an oversight body can get subpoena power, they should, because it can be a useful tool. But if not, leaders can also push to get mandatory cooperation written into the union contract or required by state law. 

The bigger question is how to create a board that meets the community’s needs long-term, she said. She said the most effective civilian oversight boards are also the rarest: those that are created proactively, before there is an issue, rather than in response to a crisis. 

While there is little data that shows these kind of boards actually prevent police incidents, Perez said, they can be very effective at lending credibility and community trust to the subsequent investigation. 

“Take your time,” Perez advised. “Don’t create something just as a measure so you can say you have it. Consider the stakeholders and their needs and hoped-for outcomes, or you may create something that doesn’t work for your community.”

Perez said she would not expect an effort like this to take less than six months. 

But the working group currently helping design Louisville’s new civilian oversight mechanism is planning to move much faster than that. They have said they plan to have a legislative proposal to Metro Council this month.

Contact Eleanor Klibanoff at eleanor@kycir.org 

The post Louisville’s Two-Decade Fight For Civilian Oversight Of Police appeared first on Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.

LMPD Officers Given Commendations, Back On Patrol Before Shooting Investigation Is Complete Wednesday, Jul 1 2020 

It was around 6 p.m., but the late autumn sky was pitch black when Louisville Metro Police Department officers Patrick Norton and Alexander Dugan responded to a call of an active shooter inside a Kroger in Portland.

As the two officers ran toward the front door of the Kroger with guns drawn, a bystander pointed the officers to a man in a red hoodie in the parking lot. Officer Norton yelled out — “Hey!” — and took cover behind a pillar. A hail of gunfire erupted. At least five bullets struck and killed Shelby Gazaway.

It all happened in less than 40 seconds.

Norton and the other officer were immediately placed on leave after the Nov. 7, 2019 shooting, and a Public Integrity Unit (PIU) investigation began, as LMPD policies require.

What exactly happened in those 40 seconds, and whether the officers’ actions warrant criminal charges, is still being determined. The investigation is still considered open, according to the LMPD.

But the officers have already received commendations — including nominations for the department’s Medal of Honor — for their response to the Kroger incident, where they killed Gazaway, a 32-year-old Black man. And Norton is back on patrol.

On June 2, Norton shot someone else: a 25-year-old White man in the East End who had allegedly pointed a gun at officers, and who survived the injury. 

Norton has been placed back on administrative reassignment. History indicates he may be back on patrol again before the internal investigation into that shooting is complete.

LMPD data show that police shooting cases often remain open for months or years. The Gazaway shooting is one of at least 37 shootings since 2011 that are still under investigation. The department has closed only one of its PIU investigations into police shootings in the last two and a half years, according to LMPD’s database.

With cases stretching on for years, the family of Shelby Gazaway says the handling of PIU cases acts as a roadblock to transparency. And Gazaway’s family was shocked to find out Norton was back patrolling Louisville neighborhoods, since their own attempts to learn more about the events that lead to Gazaway’s death have been blocked due to the open investigation.

“We would assume that if Patrick Norton was out to shoot somebody last week, that means the investigation is over,” Sharon Gazaway Bell, his aunt, said during a June 7 press conference the family held outside the Kroger. “So if they have already closed the investigation on (Norton) and found him to be innocent, why won’t they release what they found to the family?”

Officers under PIU investigation are placed on administrative reassignment in order to keep potentially dangerous officers off the street and avoid complicating the inquiry. The investigation’s findings aren‘t public until the case is closed.

The Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office reviews the cases to decide whether charges will be filed against officers, or if the investigation cleared them of wrongdoing, according to LMPD’s standard operating procedures. If charges aren’t warranted, the Commonwealth’s Attorney will send a confirmation letter to LMPD, and the officer can return to duty.

Jeff Cooke, a spokesperson for Jefferson Commonwealth’s Attorney Tom Wine, said the case review of the case is “near completion.” 

Wine’s office has not sent a letter clearing the officers of potential wrongdoing, but officer Norton was placed back on regular police duty, anyway. 

 LMPD did not respond to questions about the current investigations and the criteria the department uses to allow officers to return to regular duty, so it’s unclear how many officers listed in LMPD’s 37 open cases are still on leave.

KyCIR has raised questions about the report that contains the data on open cases. The “officer involved shooting statistical analysis report” published in early June contained numerous inaccuracies about police shootings and omitted some case information about high-profile deaths. But LMPD has not responded to questions about that report or corrected it, so it’s the only data currently available on the agency’s investigations into police shootings.

LMPD said it would need 60 to 75 days to fulfill to KyCIR’s request for a list of officers who have been placed on administrative reassignment as well as whether and under what criteria they have returned to duty.

Unanswered Questions

When Shelby Gazaway stopped at the Kroger on West 35th Street, he was driving his mother’s car so he could fill up the tank while he ran some errands for her. The car was already full of groceries from Sam’s Club.

Shelby Gazaway and his mother, Semone Stephenson Carter. Courtesy of Stephenson Carter

That’s the kind of guy he was, his family says: A homeowner, member of the Bates Memorial Baptist Church, and family pillar with no criminal record.

“To know Shelby was to love Shelby,” said his mother, Semone Stephenson Carter. “He was a hard worker. He was very, very ambitious. You could almost ask him to do anything.”

Which makes the LMPD’s version of events from the night Gazaway was killed even more difficult for the family to swallow.

The day after the shooting, LMPD officials held a press conference to lay out what allegedly happened the previous night. There was a fight inside the Kroger between Gazaway and another individual, who pulled out a knife, said Maj. Jamey Schwab, commander of the special investigations unit. Schwab said witnesses saw Gazaway fire several gunshots into the ceiling, causing a water line to burst.

Then-Police Chief Steve Conrad said he was “personally grateful for the brave and swift response from our officers, because this could have been a very different press conference today if not for their efforts.”

Conrad said Gazaway came out of the Kroger firing at bystanders and officers Dugan and Norton. 

The officials then played body camera footage that wasn’t as clear-cut as LMPD’s version of events.

The footage shows Dugan and Norton arriving on the scene and shouting at Gazaway, who was walking into the parking lot. The officers duck behind pillars as they shout, “hey,” repeatedly. Gazaway appears on the camera for less than two seconds. He appears to be holding something in his right hand and to look over his shoulder while walking away from the officers. They never identify themselves as police or tell him to drop his weapon until after firing several rounds, according to the body cam footage. And when gunshots ring out, it’s not clear on the video who fired first.

First responders tried to save Gazaway, but he was pronounced dead at the scene.

LMPD says they interviewed the individual Gazaway allegedly fought with inside the store, but the department has yet to provide any information to the family about the individual or what he said during the interview.

Martina Kunnecke was inside Kroger that night. She said during the family’s June 7 press conference that Gazaway’s actions before police arrived scared her; she didn’t elaborate. But she didn’t feel like Gazaway “deserved to be gunned down at the end of that night.”

Kunnecke said officers should have tried to de-escalate the situation when they encountered Gazaway outside.

“We do not see evidence that Mr. Gazaway had the gun pointed when he came out front,” she said “It may have been; many of us believe that it was not, and until we have evidence that he actually was aiming at the crowd coming out, there are a lot of questions to be answered.”

Search For Accountability

J. Tyler Franklin

Semone Stephenson Carter

Back in November, the Gazaway family simply wanted to know what happened in the minutes before Shelby Gazaway was shot and killed. 

Gazaway Bell watched Conrad’s initial press conference where he showed the only body camera footage that has been made available. The footage left her and the rest of the family unconvinced of the police narrative.

“All of this stems from the fact that, what Conrad said, standing at that podium, in no way matched what we saw on the video,” Gazaway Bell said.

They met with members of the Public Integrity Unit and asked to see other video evidence LMPD had, such as surveillance footage from Kroger, that allegedly showed Gazaway firing at officers.

“There are TV screens in the room, so we said, ‘Okay, can we just see what happened? … Let’s just watch it with you. And they said that we would be able to do that after the investigation was finalized,” Gazaway Bell said.

Months went by with no answers. In December, the family hired attorney Laura Landenwich to try to obtain information about the investigation and prepare for a possible civil rights lawsuit. But they only have a year after the shooting to do so. 

Landenwich’s subpoenas and open records requests seeking forensic reports, witness statements and the rest of the footage from the investigation have all been denied because of the open PIU investigation. The family and Landenwich say they believe the department is using the open PIU case as a way to run out the clock.

The family sued LMPD on June 25 in an attempt to compel the department to release those records. Landenwich said in the suit that LMPD failed to offer meaningful explanation of how the disclosure of the document could cause harm to an ongoing investigation in some “significant and concrete way,” as the law requires.

“There cannot be accountability without transparency. And there can’t be transparency until Louisville Metro Police Department starts complying with open records laws and telling families what has happened to their loved ones,” Landenwich said. “Regardless of what the facts are, we just want to know.”

More than seven months after the shooting, LMPD still has Stephenson Carter’s car, which Gazaway drove to the Kroger. They told her they couldn’t return it until after the investigation was closed.

Return To Duty

Although the case is still under review by the commonwealth’s attorney, both officers involved completed a “return to duty qualification firearm training” on January 29, almost three months after the shooting, according to LMPD personnel files. It’s clear Norton returned to duty, since he was involved in the June shooting, but LMPD didn’t respond to questions about when he returned to duty, or whether Dugan is also back on patrol.

The day before that training session, each received a letter of commendation for their actions the night of the fatal shooting. The letter says they responded to a shooter firing “indiscriminately” in the Kroger. The commendation letter also informs the officers they have been nominated for the Medal of Honor.

“You are to be praised and recognized for your exceptional bravery,” the commendation letter reads. “You placed your own lives at risk of serious physical injury or death confronting the shooter and engaging in a deadly fire fight when the shooter began to fire his weapon at you.” 

The nomination form also notes that video of the incident is “locked due to a PIU investigation.”

To Stephenson Carter, the fact that the department awarded the officers a commendation letter before closing her son’s case and letting her family know more about what happened that night is like rubbing salt in her wounds.

J. Tyler Franklin

Semone Stephenson Carter

“Why can’t we have closure? Why can’t we just call it what it is?” Stephenson Carter said. “If you’re wrong, man up. Accept the fact that you’re wrong. If we’re right, give us that peace… Prove it to me that Shelby did anything wrong other than to protect himself and get out of harm’s way.”

Nicole Carroll, the director of LMPD’s victim services unit, emailed the family’s attorney three days after the family held their press conference. “Officer Norton’s return to duty is an internal personal [sic] matter and the decision of the LMPD is beyond the investigator’s scope of knowledge,” the email said.

The email also reiterated that requests for evidence were denied because the case is considered “open and active.”

“We all say justice”

According to LMPD’s operating policies, officers are placed on administrative reassignment when they are involved in use of force actions or motor vehicle collisions that result in death or serious physical injury. During that reassignment, LMPD policy states that “police powers are limited and (officers) may be reassigned to desk duties or relieved from duty entirely.”

Officers can return to duty when they are directed by the Assistant Chief of Police, after meeting any one of the following criteria: A recommendation of LMPD’s mental health professional, a release by a physician, the status of the administrative or legal review of the incident, meeting firearms qualifications or “given circumstances.”

LMPD did not respond to questions about this policy and the criteria used to release officers from administrative reassignment.

At the very least, Gazaway’s family wants to see the rest of the evidence in order to better understand what happened the night he was killed and possibly clear his name. Stephenson Carter thinks her son’s race played a role in the officer’s reaction, and she is doubtful that the officers who killed her son will be arrested, even if it turned out they acted inappropriately. 

But she hopes that, in this moment, with the world seemingly more attuned to police violence against Black people, they might get answers. They decided to hold their press conference as protests against police violence and the killing of Breonna Taylor hit their second week, and the week after David McAtee was shot and killed by law enforcement in the West End. They shared the microphone with the family of De’mon’jhea Jordan, who was killed by LMPD in April 2018.

“You know, we all say justice. And I know justice can be something broad, but I do want them officers to be accountable for what they did,” Stephenson Carter said. “It’s unbelievable how some people can get away with so much — and some people can’t.”

Correction: The date Officer Norton shot another suspect was incorrect in a previous version. It was June 2, not June 1.

The post LMPD Officers Given Commendations, Back On Patrol Before Shooting Investigation Is Complete appeared first on Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.

LMPD Report On Police Shootings Doesn’t Name Breonna Taylor, David McAtee Wednesday, Jun 17 2020 

Once or twice a year, the Louisville Metro Police Department releases data on incidents when an LMPD officer fired their weapon or was fired upon.

It’s a step towards transparency that many other police departments have not taken; however, the most recent report contains several omissions and errors that policing experts say limit the dataset’s usefulness.

The report, dated June 10, includes an entry for the shooting death of Breonna Taylor, but her name is not in it. Two men shot by police this month, David McAtee and another man they haven’t named, are also left out, though the new report was issued because LMPD officers were involved in new shootings. Three individuals killed by LMPD in 2018 are also omitted from the update.

The analysis inaccurately indicates that no police shootings occurred over a seven-year period, skewing the 3.7-a-year average of shootings it claims. It also includes those years in its assessment that shootings result from 0.00002% of LMPD’s citizen contacts.

(Click this link to download the report.)

Representatives from LMPD and the mayor’s office have not responded to questions submitted Monday about the database.

David Harris, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, says the report from LMPD is a step in the right direction, despite its flaws, and he applauds LMPD for releasing some information.

No national database of police shootings currently exists. The Washington Post and the Guardian maintain databases of fatal police shootings, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation has created a voluntary program to collect data on use of force by police officers.

But the irregularities in LMPD’s report underscore the need for a national standard for collecting data about police shootings, Harris said, so that the public can better understand one of the most extreme powers of government.

“The public quite simply has a right to know when agents of the Commonwealth of Kentucky are using, or attempting to use, deadly force on its citizens,” Harris said. “We should know that, as members of the public. Here we are as Americans walking around essentially blind to this problem until [media] step into the breach.”

The LMPD issued the latest report on its website after nearly two weeks of widespread protests prompted by the death of Taylor, a 26-year-old Black woman shot and killed by plain-clothes detectives serving a no-knock warrant at her apartment. The report also came 10 days after law enforcement shot and killed McAtee at his barbecue stand in the West End. 

Over the last two weeks, the refrain from protesters has been, “Say her name: Breonna Taylor.” After McAtee’s death, protesters began chanting his name as well. Neither is named in this data.

Database Structure Could Obscure Hurt Bystanders

The report includes a database of police shootings going back to 2011. Entries detail the name, race and sex of the suspect and officers involved, and a narrative description of the event. None of the columns indicate if the suspect was the same person who shot at — or was shot by — police.

The narrative for March 13 says that officers executing a search warrant “were met by gunfire from within the residence.” 

“Multiple officers returned fire. One subject was taken into custody and another subject was killed during the incident,” it said. 

Kenneth Walker is the named suspect, and he told police he fired the shot that hit one detective in the leg. He was not shot when police returned fire. Taylor, the person killed in the police shooting, is not named.

Harris said it appears the database is structured to focus on the individual who is the target of enforcement. He said structuring the data this way isn’t necessarily a problem, but it could gloss over key information when a bystander is killed.

“If you key your data to the target of your enforcement and somebody else is killed, you are going to lose information that’s important — not the least of which is the fact that a different person was killed,” Harris said. “That, in itself, is an important piece of data.”

Taylor family

Breonna Taylor, here in December, would have turned 27 on Friday. Her friends and family remember Taylor as a caring person who loved her job in health care and enjoyed playing cards with her aunts.

That’s similar to the circumstances of Taylor’s case. Walker said he believed they were being robbed when he shot at plain-clothes officers entering the dark apartment in the middle of the night. Taylor, who had been sleeping, was killed in the hallway. Walker was initially charged with attempted murder and assault, but Commonwealth’s Attorney Tom Wine announced late last month he was dropping the charges, pending further investigation by the FBI and Kentucky Attorney General’s office.

The LMPD report is dated the day after the agency released a nearly blank, inaccurate incident report that listed Taylor’s injuries as “none.” LMPD later issued a statement saying the inaccuracies were due to a problem with the reporting program that created the file.

Missing Cases And Rise In Police Shootings

The report also includes statistical data on shootings by month and year, going back to 2003.

This data says no “officer-involved shooting” cases were opened from 2003-10, though a KyCIR review of media reports found LMPD officers shot at least 10 people in those years.

LMPD’s report would indicate that its officers have been involved in 68 shootings since 2003. Nearly half of the shootings in that timeframe have occurred since 2018. 

It breaks the number of shootings out by division, though it’s unclear if that reflects where the shooting occurred or which personnel was involved.

The suspect was Black in 63% of those shootings, according to the report.

John DeCarlo is a professor at the University of New Haven and former police chief of Branford Police Department.

DeCarlo said that gap from 2003 to 2010 could skew any analysis of the data. But, DeCarlo said, the data LMPD has released after 2011 clearly shows a rise in police shootings in recent years.

“What we are seeing is this big spike, and you have to ask yourself why. Why is it going up?” DeCarlo said.

Last year, LMPD said it opened investigations into 16 incidents where an officer shot at suspects or was shot at, the highest number by far since 2011. So far this year, LMPD has already recorded eight police shootings.

DeCarlo said police departments should collect more data and use the information they have to determine why shootings appear to be on the rise in Louisville. 

“Any transparency is certainly a step in the right direction. The US as a whole is way behind the data curve,” DeCarlo said. “Police are the only organization in the United States that can not only take away your freedom, but use lethal force on you.”

According to LMPD’s report, internal investigations are still open for at least 37 shootings. But the data omits several cases.

In Likely Formatting Error, Some Deaths Left Out

Three people killed by LMPD in 2018 were not included in LMPD’s most recent database report. 

In February 2018, LMPD officers shot and killed two men riding in a car after someone in the car shot at police. Billy Ray Riggs and Alexander Simpson were killed in the shooting, but only Simpson is included in the database.

Benjamin Kennedy was killed after firing at LMPD officers in November 2018 and is not on the list.

Raad Fakhri Salman, who was killed in July 2018, is also not included. 

Salman and Kennedy were included in previous versions of the report, including one released in May. 

LMPD didn’t respond to questions about it, but it appears those names may have been left off during the conversion process. These cases were the last on the list in 2018, and the June 10 report is the first LMPD released in a PDF format instead of an Excel spreadsheet. 

LMPD’s report includes eight police shootings so far this year, but only included the narratives for six.

The narrative description of the June 1 shooting of David McAtee is not included in the report. Two LMPD officers and two Kentucky National Guard members shot at McAtee when they went to 26th and Broadway to break up a crowd violating curfew. Police said McAtee shot at officers; the LMPD officers who shot back did not activate their body cameras, in violation of LMPD policy. 

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer fired then-LMPD Chief Steve Conrad following the news that there were no body cameras. The investigation determined a National Guard member fired the round that killed McAtee.

Louisville police shot another person the next day: an armed 25-year-old white man in the East End, after he appeared to reach for a gun. LMPD has not yet named the man, and that narrative is also not included in the report. He survived the shooting.

Harris, the University of Pittsburgh professor, says even if these omissions are the result of an honest mistake, they undercut the usefulness of reporting data in the first place.

“It’s good that they are doing this, but it could certainly be more useful and you don’t want it to hide things, even if that’s completely inadvertent,” Harris said. “If the objective here is to be transparent and to inform your community, you don’t want to have the list broken out in a way that does that even if that’s not intended.”

Contact Jared Bennett at jbennett@kycir.org.

The post LMPD Report On Police Shootings Doesn’t Name Breonna Taylor, David McAtee appeared first on Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.

Next Page »