Metro Council Committee Advances Budget That Preserves Police Funding Monday, Jun 22 2020 

When Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer proposed a continuation budget in April, it was with the assumption that the coronavirus pandemic would decimate city revenues. At the time, mass protests for racial justice and accountability in the case of the police killing of Breonna Taylor were weeks away.

Since that initial proposal, new information and new demands particularly from Black Louisvillians have emerged.

Metro Council’s budget committee unanimously passed amendments to the Mayor’s proposed operating and capital budget Monday that attempt to address some of those concerns. The full body is expected to vote on the budget on Thursday.

But what they didn’t do is make any effort to “defund” the police, a demand that has increased in Louisville and nationally in recent weeks from those who prefer to see funds reallocated to social services and other departments in light of concerns about police brutality against people from minority groups, especially Black people.

Earlier this month, Fischer said he did not believe the “community of Louisville” wants to defund the police.

Last Friday, a group of Black leaders led by Sadiqa Reynolds of the Louisville Urban League publicly called for, among other things, a $50 million Black community fund for efforts such as small business support, affordable housing, educational programs and trauma and mental health support for the Black community. The document is called “A Path Forward.”

“They must be both educational and economic solutions because racism, while wide-reaching and pervasive, cannot be detached from the direct and serious educational and economic impacts on those who suffer and those (who) benefit from it,” the proposal reads. “Therefore, we, the people, believe that extensive, catalytic investments in the Black community are required to position this community for creating wealth and educational opportunities that will cross generations.”

The budget committee’s proposals call for investments from the general fund in housing support, a civilian police oversight system and some other projects.

Reynolds was not available to comment after the meeting.

Only one council member, Brandon Coan (D-8), who is not running for reelection, has called for diverting significant funds from the Louisville Metro Police Department. He proposed reallocating 15% of the department’s budget over the next three fiscal years. For this year, he called for cutting about $8.9 million from LMPD’s proposed $178.9 million budget. His proposal did not gain traction in Monday’s meeting.

Last week, Daniel Frockt, the city’s chief financial officer, told the committee that the budget outlook is better than expected due to smaller hits to occupational and net profits taxes than were originally projected.

As a result, Frockt said he expects general fund revenues for the fiscal year ending June 30 and the new one starting July 1 to be $610 million each year.

The capital and operating budget proposals passed Monday by the budget committee aim to take advantage of that improved revenue outlook, as well as federal funding through the CARES Act, which allows expenditures related to coronavirus response to be reimbursed. Louisville has received $134 million from the federal government for those efforts.

The proposals also call for redirecting $1.2 million in state forfeiture funds “for exploration and implementation in deflection, a practice that moves individuals away from the criminal justice system in a behavioral health guided model.” That includes placing behavioral health specialists with police officers for additional support. The proposals also call for recruiting more police officers to create a force that “more closely looks like and lives in the community,” and “training, including use of force, de-escalation, and implicit bias.” The council members also called for Fischer to direct $1.6 million in federal forfeiture funds for these efforts.

Here are some of the changes passed by Metro Council that would be funded by the city’s general fund:

  • $763,500 to the Criminal Justice Commission for a proposed civilian oversight system, which could include an Office of Inspector General. Fischer called for a civilian review board along with other policy changes as national furor over Breonna Taylor’s killing grew.
  • $3.5 million for a community grocery store via the Department of Health and Wellness and its Center for Health Equity, which would also get $100,000 for a new health equity report. The most recent such report is from 2017.
  • $1 million for undesignated programs to support disconnected youth and young adults, which is less than the $1.5 million proposed by Fischer. The council budget also eliminates funding for Evolve502, a public-private partnership that supports educational achievement, which Fischer’s proposal preserved.
  • An additional $5 million for the Louisville Affordable Housing Trust Fund and partners; $2.5 million in grants for homeowners and to rehab or repair abandoned properties; $1 million for a new Homeowner and Rental Repair Loan Fund; $413,400 for a Metro Public Works crew to focus particularly on cleaning up alleys; and $170,000 for two new Code Enforcement Officers.

The committee also proposed using federal reimbursements from the CARES Act for the following:

  • Up to $21.2 million in small business support, at least half of which would be reserved for businesses in low- and moderate-income tracts, including the majority-Black neighborhoods of west Louisville.
  • Up to $21.2 million “for rent assistance needed to prevent evictions as a result of coronavirus-related financial issues.” The amendment specified this support targets those who make up to 60% of the area median income, which goes beyond the city’s lowest-income households.

Additional changes include increasing the paving budget by $14.3 million through borrowing, including $700,000 for a road study; increasing the sidewalk repair budget by $500,000; providing the Belle of Louisville $700,000 for a required dry-dock inspection and repair plus $500,000 for its operations; and $500,000 to “outfit the Middletown Library, at a location provided at no cost to Louisville Metro by the City of Middletown.”

Last year, the Council passed a budget that cut more than $25 million from the city’s capital and operating budgets due to rising employee health care and pension costs. Pension cost increases were frozen this year due to the pandemic.

Ordinance To Limit, Not Ban, No-Knock Warrants Passes Out Of Committee Wednesday, Jun 3 2020 

As the chair of the Metro Council’s public safety committee presided over a virtual meeting from inside City Hall, a call and response was building on the street outside.

“No more! No knock!” was the cry of protesters seeking an end to the type of warrant issued for the raid that led to the death of Breonna Taylor, killed by Louisville police in March.

The ordinance that passed out of committee Wednesday did not fulfill that demand. Instead, the legislation, nicknamed “Breonna’s Law,” aims to limit cases in which no-knock warrants are used rather than banning them.

Keturah Herron, a field organizer for ACLU Kentucky, called for the council to end the use of these warrants.

“We want the tools LMPD uses not to harm the community but truly work to prevent and serve and build and repair relationships throughout Louisville,” she said. “Now is the time to ban no-knock warrants.”

Herron and the ACLU are hoping for statewide legislation that would deliver the ban they seek.

Later in the three-hour meeting, the committee voted 7-0 in favor of passing an ordinance that limits the use of no-knock warrants to “cases involving imminent threat of harm or death to law enforcement and/or to civilians, which shall be limited to the following offenses: murder, hostage taking, kidnapping, terrorism, human trafficking and sexual trafficking.”

It would not allow such warrants in cases in which the only offense is drug-related, like the Taylor case. No drugs were found in Taylor’s apartment and the primary target of the investigation was in custody around the time of the raid.

Council members had many questions, including about what authority they had to enforce such restrictions and the best parameters to set to produce safer outcomes. Committee chair Jessica Green (D-1), who co-sponsored the measure, said the group would hold a special meeting on Monday to work out more details of the legislation before bringing it to the full council for a vote on June 11.

“I don’t think that it’s perfect but we’re not going to solve…everything in three hours, we’re not going to solve everything in two, three weeks, even a month, six months,” Green said. “But I do think it is very important for us to have something and to have a document to work from.”

She said delaying a vote out of committee would not honor Taylor’s memory.

Attorneys for Taylor’s family have called for a total ban on no-knock warrants in Louisville.

Earlier in the day, Mayor Greg Fischer said he had not yet decided whether he will support Breonna’s Law.

Fischer announced last week he was suspending no-knock warrants indefinitely, after the first night of mass protests in response to Taylor’s killing by police. He said he supports an analysis of the pros and cons of banning no-knock warrants.

“We need to understand what the national best practice is behind this,” he said. “Is there a rationale for using them under very special circumstances?”

Also on Wednesday, Fischer announced the city is issuing a request for proposals for a third- party, extensive review of the police department. He said it would focus on issues including training, use of force and bias in policing.

“The review will also identify any obstacles in implementing changes to improve in those areas,” he said.

The deadline for submissions is June 12.

Metro Council Votes To Shift Funds From Pension Payments To COVID-19 Relief Thursday, Mar 19 2020 

Despite concerns and dissent from some members, the Louisville Metro Council voted Thursday night to shift $2.7 million previously earmarked for pension payments to make funds available for COVID-19 relief.

Twenty-three members voted yes, two voted no and one — Brent Ackerson (D-26) — voted present.

Ackerson said he opposed the legislation because there is now federal aid on the way and because the city continues to face fiscal problems.

Louisville is facing a rising pension bill that forced lawmakers to cut more than $25 million from this year’s budget. Some of those cuts hit services that helped the city’s most vulnerable residents.

Last year, a pension expert said using surplus funds — such as the ones shifted in this vote — was a smart way to offset the city’s pension bill. City officials project Louisville will have to pay an additional $41 million toward pensions over the next three years.

The outlook for meeting this fiscal year’s pension bill was positive, according to an assessment by the city’s chief financial officer Daniel Frockt earlier this year. But as Ackerson pointed out, the council has not yet had a chance to hear from Frockt about how the economic collapse caused by the coronavirus will affect Louisville’s budget future.

“How much money are we losing from this budget? How far behind are we going to be?” he said. “We’re not the federal government, we can’t just go and borrow an extra billion dollars. We’ve got to balance our budget.”

But the majority of council members came together to pass the ordinance, which would allow Metro’s Office of Resilience & Community Services to reimburse external agency partners that provide food and housing assistance to those affected by coronavirus.

David Yates (D-25) was a sponsor of the ordinance, along with 21 others.

“What gave me confidence is that we are going to piecemeal this out in small increments, so we can decide where it goes and how much to who,” he said. “But it’s only going to be done if necessary.”

He clarified that passage of the ordinance did not mean council would be spending the money, it meant the body would be making it available.

The ordinance states that the money is intended to be used “as a fund of last resort,” to be accessed when other funding sources are insufficient. The money will be distributed as reimbursements evaluated on a weekly basis by a three-person panel comprised of a representative of the mayor, Metro Council president David James (D-6) or someone he designates, and a representative from Metro United Way.

The legislation was fast-tracked this week because it was an emergency ordinance, meaning it was not heard in committee.

Separately, Mayor Greg Fischer on Wednesday announced a community fund through which households could get $1,000 payments to relieve coronavirus-caused hardship. The One Louisville: COVID-19 Response Fund had raised $3.6 million from donors and will also be used to give grants to community organizations helping those affected.

Metro Council To Consider Emergency COVID-19 Support Services Fund Wednesday, Mar 18 2020 

The Louisville Metro Council will consider shifting $2.7 million in one-time surplus funds toward support services for those who need financial assistance during the coronavirus pandemic.

The funds were originally selected to offset the city’s pension bill for the next three years. Louisville is facing a steep rise in pension costs for its employees, but council president David James (D-6) said helping residents weather the coronavirus challenge is a more immediate concern.

“We will deal with that next year,” he said. “We have people in immediate need. We have people that are literally panicked, scared and don’t know what to do, and so we need to provide some assistance.”

Economically speaking, the closing of businesses and loss of jobs could hurt those who live paycheck-to-paycheck the most, he said.

The ordinance would establish a COVID-19 Relief Fund administered by the Office of Resilience & Community Services. James said the idea is to provide capital to programs that provide food and housing assistance, which would then use it to help those affected by coronavirus. The ordinance specifically names Community Ministries, Dare to Care, and Neighborhood Place as potential providers. The Office of Resilience will have to assess each individual request on a case-by-case basis.

Relief funds could not be used for overhead, hiring or creating new programs.

James said he hopes the money will bridge the gap while local authorities wait for a federal stimulus package.

Not all council members have expressed support for the plan. After it was announced last week, Anthony Piagentini (R-19) called it a “huge mistake” because he thought there was a lack of information about what kinds of public support are most needed.

Earlier this year, Louisville CFO Daniel Frockt projected a better-than-expected budget outlook due to a non-recurring surplus. That could have helped with this year’s pension bill. But James said that’s not so certain anymore.

“The bottom line is, is that we have citizens in our community that we have got to help…and we just have to find a way to make up for that somehow,” he said.

Council members will consider the emergency ordinance at Thursday’s meeting, which will be fully virtual for the first time. James said the public will be able to watch the meeting remotely through the internet and on TV. He said a handful of council members are in the coronavirus high-risk category, which includes those over 60 or with underlying medical conditions.

Disqualified Metro Council Candidate’s Name To Appear On Primary Ballot, Votes Will Not Count Tuesday, Mar 3 2020 

The Democratic primary ballot for the District 6 Metro Council race will feature two candidates, but officials will only count votes for one.

Judge Charles Cunningham ruled this week that Courtney Lamont Phelps is disqualified as a candidate for this race and this cycle. Incumbent David James, the Council president, sued Phelps, alleging he falsified elements of his filing documents.

While James’ lawyers asked that Phelps’ name be removed from the ballots, Cunningham cited concerns from last week’s hearing that redoing the ballots would be too expensive.

“Therefore, absent evidence that there is zero chance it would not be more expensive and zero chance it would preclude timely preparation and testing of the ballots,” he could not justify granting the James lawyers’ request, he wrote in the order submitted Monday.

Regardless, Jordan Kelch, a spokesperson for the Jefferson County Board of Elections, said without a judge’s order to redo ballots, the board would follow state law to provide notice to voters about a disqualified candidate.

He said there would be signs the size of regular sheets of paper prominently displayed in District 6 voting precincts as well as inside individual voting booths.

A similar situation took place in 2016, when a ballot included withdrawn candidates and a disqualified candidate, Kelch said.

“It listed the candidates that had withdrawn. And then at the bottom, it also mentioned the disqualified candidate, and essentially said that no votes will be tabulated or reported for these candidates,” he said.

He said ballots had been sent to the printer, but could not say if they are already printed. He also said he did not think the posting process would be more expensive than redoing the ballots, but could not provide specifics.

The primary ballot for Metro Council District 4 will receive similar treatment for a withdrawn candidate, Dennisha Rivers, who pulled out of the race on Feb. 20.

TARC Investigators For Metro Council Say Sensitivity To Victims Is Priority Tuesday, Feb 25 2020 

TARCWith multiple investigations underway into allegations of sexual misconduct by the former executive director of Louisville’s public transit agency, the lawyer hired by Metro Council said he would treat victims with sensitivity.

Speaking to the Council’s government oversight committee Tuesday, David Beyer a Louisville attorney and former FBI agent said it is important to keep information he uncovers confidential until the time comes to disclose it to the public. He said he does not want to “re-victimize” victims.

“I will be guided by that principle to be very sensitive to the people that we are speaking to,” he said. “That being said, I intend to conduct a very thorough, independent investigation to get to the bottom of what has transpired.”

Ferdinand Risco resigned as the head of TARC earlier this month after allegations that he sexually harassed at least six female employees became public. The Council authorized an investigation into his conduct and hiring last week.

Councilman Bill Hollander (D-9) encouraged Beyer to coordinate with the investigators hired by the County Attorney, who are conducting a separate independent investigation. He said it would not make sense for the two groups to interview the same people separately. A lack of coordination could cause victims to retell their stories repeatedly.

“I don’t think that’s fair to the victims, and I don’t think it’s productive,” Hollander said.

Beyer and Jonathan Ricketts, a Louisville lawyer contracted by the County Attorney’s office to represent the Council in this matter who also spoke at the meeting, said they planned to attend a meeting Wednesday with the other investigators. A representative for the County Attorney’s office did not immediately respond to a request for more details about Wednesday’s meetings.

Ricketts said legislators should let Beyer conduct his investigation independently. He said Beyer could contact him or the Council for guidance, if needed.

“What I would not want to see is an investigation that is compromised by, no offense, but you know, whatever the political whims might be at the time,” Ricketts said.

Councilwoman Barbara Sexton-Smith (D-4) specified what she hoped the Council-commissioned investigation might reveal.

“For me, defining success and the goal of this entire investigation is to find out what procedures are in place and structures in place and where it broke down because it obviously broke down, critically broke down,” she said.

If the investigation finds that the procedures for hiring and vetting high-level employees for the quasi-government agency are different than those for Louisville Metro Government as a whole, the city may be able to guide the agency to change, she said. And if they’re the same, she said they should be examined.

The hearing came the day after Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer met with the TARC board and called for actions including establishing an anonymous tip line for employees and reviewing the agency’s finances. Board chair Mary Morrow said in a statement that TARC would adopt those recommendations and consider additional measures.

 

LMPD To Testify About Rape Investigations In Wake Of KyCIR Report Friday, Feb 21 2020 

Listen to the brand-new episode of Dig in the player above.

A representative from the Louisville Metro Police Department will testify before city lawmakers Wednesday about the agency’s process for reviewing and closing rape investigations. 

The Metro Council’s Public Safety Committee has called Lt. Shannon Lauder to answer questions in the wake of KyCIR’s “Prosecution Declined” investigation, which found nearly half of all rape cases reported to LMPD are cleared by “exception,” rather than by arrest. 

In most of those cases, police said an arrest was not possible because the prosecutor declined the case before an arrest was made. KyCIR found that the police were often screening cases with the prosecutor before a thorough investigation had been conducted

Lauder runs the special victims unit, which includes sex crimes investigations. The testimony will come as Louisville’s sex crimes prosecutor is raising new questions about a case featured in KyCIR’s reporting. 

Louisville Metro Councilwoman Jessica Green, the chair of the Public Safety Committee, asked Lauder to testify in front of the eight-person committee. She also asked the Jefferson County Commonwealth Attorney’s office to send a representative, but has not confirmed whether any prosecutors will attend. 

Councilwoman Jessica Green

Green, a former domestic violence prosecutor with the Jefferson County Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office, said police and prosecutors are sending the wrong message to victims.

“It’s essentially a message of … don’t report, because if you do, and start the process, you’re going to be disappointed,” Green said. “You’re going to be let down, and you’re never going to have your day in court.”

KyCIR’s investigation found that fewer people report rapes per capita in Louisville than in any of its peer cities. The city’s arrest rate in rape cases in 2017 was only 15 percent, far below the national average. And the cases that did end in an arrest were almost all pled down to a lesser charge. 

Of 194 reported rapes in 2017, four people were convicted of rape, KyCIR’s investigation found. 

The committee meeting is Wednesday at 3:30 p.m. at City Hall, 601 W Jefferson Street. It is open to the public. 

In Cleared Case, Prosecutor Points Back at Police As Cause

J. Tyler Franklin

Jen Sainato

Jen Sainato plans to drive down from Valparaiso, Indiana, to attend that meeting.

“There needs to be some checks and balances,” she said. “And it seems like that’s what’s happening now.”

Sainato’s case was highlighted in the Prosecution Declined investigation and KyCIR’s podcast, Dig. In January 2018, she told LMPD officers she was raped by a man she’d met at a hotel bar. 

Six officers responded that night, crowding into her hotel room. One asked her repeatedly how much she’d had to drink and later told other officers that they “get these a lot in the hotels” — people drink too much, take someone back to their rooms and then say they got raped.

More than two years later, no arrests have been made. 

Portion of status form from Sainato’s case

Instead, LMPD cleared the case by exception last year, using the designation “prosecution declined.” According to the LMPD file, Assistant Commonwealth Attorney Kristi Gray had reviewed the case and declined to prosecute the suspect, citing a lack of evidence.

During our reporting, LMPD reopened Sainato’s case after she provided additional medical records documenting injuries she says she sustained during the rape. Last Sainato heard, the police were reviewing the medical records and planned to bring the case back to the prosecutor for another review. 

But as Sainato continued to press for answers, the prosecutor made a startling allegation.

In a phone call with Sainato, a recording of which KyCIR has reviewed, Gray said she never declined to prosecute the case in the first place. 

Gray declined an interview request with KyCIR, but confirmed in an email exchange that she had reviewed the case on two occasions. Both times, she said, she told the police she needed more information to decide how to proceed. 

Gray told KyCIR the last time she reviewed the case was in November 2018, when she told Sgt. Tim Stokes and Detective Lindsey Lynch that she wanted to wait until the DNA tests were complete to screen the case. 

“There was additional information needed before we could decide whether we could proceed with any prosecution,” she wrote. “It was not a decision to decline prosecution.”

But in emails, documents and interviews, LMPD officials tell a different story. 

After the DNA tests came back in May 2019, Stokes emailed Sainato’s attorney. He wrote, “based on this DNA evidence and the investigation, the case was presented to the Commonwealth Attorney for review. The case was thoroughly screened and investigated. At this time, the Commonwealth has declined prosecution.”

He reiterated that in an October 2019 email to Sainato, who had reached out after KyCIR informed her that her case had been cleared by exception. He wrote that the investigation had been “very detailed, broad in scope, and extremely thorough.” He said the entire case file had been presented to the prosecutors after the investigation concluded and, “at this time, prosecution has been declined.”

In an email a few days later, Stokes was even more specific: “In this matter, all available information was presented to the prosecutor.  Victim interviews, scene information, lab reports, surveillance video, body camera video, medical records, witness interviews, and suspect interviews, et al have been included in the file.”

Sainato’s LMPD file also contains a case status form, signed by Lynch, that says Gray screened and declined the case. It is dated October 15, 2019, the same day LMPD responded to KyCIR’s request to review the case file. 

Signature and date on Sainato’s case form

Lynch hung up on a reporter who called her desk phone. An LMPD spokesperson refused to answer questions about when and whether the case was declined, instead directing all questions to Gray’s office.

“I am outraged,” said Sainato. “It just makes you wonder, did [Lynch] never believe me? Or does she just need to get a different job?”

Closed Cases A Concern For Some City Officials

This is just one of the developments that council members will be able to ask Lauder about next Wednesday. 

Several have expressed concerns about KyCIR’s findings. 

“I would be interested in knowing the reason for all of those…closed cases,” said Councilwoman Barbara Sexton-Smith, a Democrat who represents the downtown district, including the Marriott where Sainato reported a rape. “It appears that victims in Louisville are tending not to receive the justice that is very much deserved.” 

Markus Winkler, the chair of the Democratic Caucus, said he would reserve judgment until he learned more from the police. But he was concerned by many of the numbers cited in the story. 

“I’m not naive enough to think that instances of sex crimes in Jefferson County are disporportionately lower than they would be in other areas,” said Winkler. “Just because it might be difficult to prove doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t prosecute these cases.” 

Council President David James

Council president David James, a frequent critic of police chief Steve Conrad, agreed with his colleagues. But in this case, he said the blame goes higher than the police or the prosecutors. 

“I think that you all should put some pressure on the mayor,” said James, a former police officer. “He’s the one that hires the police chief. Does he think this is okay?”

Mayor Greg Fischer hired Conrad in 2012 and has stood by the embattled police chief through several no confidence votes and a child sex abuse scandal that put two officers in federal prison.

In a statement issued a few days after the story ran, Fischer said he was “confident LMPD places a priority on getting justice for [rape] victims” as exemplified by “daily officer interactions with victims.” He applauded the department’s pursuit of grant funding for domestic violence and human trafficking initiatives. 

Fischer’s office did not respond to follow-up questions.

Eleanor Klibanoff can be reached at (502) 814.6544 or eklibanoff@kycir.org.

LMPD To Testify About Rape Investigations In Wake Of KyCIR Report Friday, Feb 21 2020 

J. Tyler Franklin

Lt. Shannon Lauder speaks with KyCIR reporter Eleanor Klibanoff in November 2019.

Listen to the brand-new episode of Dig in the player above.

A representative from the Louisville Metro Police Department will testify before city lawmakers Wednesday about the agency’s process for reviewing and closing rape investigations. 

The Metro Council’s Public Safety Committee has called Lt. Shannon Lauder to answer questions in the wake of KyCIR’s “Prosecution Declined” investigation, which found nearly half of all rape cases reported to LMPD are cleared by “exception,” rather than by arrest. 

In most of those cases, police said an arrest was not possible because the prosecutor declined the case before an arrest was made. KyCIR found that the police were often screening cases with the prosecutor before a thorough investigation had been conducted

Lauder runs the special victims unit, which includes sex crimes investigations. The testimony will come as Louisville’s sex crimes prosecutor is raising new questions about a case featured in KyCIR’s reporting.

Louisville Metro Councilwoman Jessica Green, the chair of the Public Safety Committee, asked Lauder to testify in front of the eight-person committee. She also asked the Jefferson County Commonwealth Attorney’s office to send a representative, but has not confirmed whether any prosecutors will attend. 

Councilwoman Jessica Green

Green, a former domestic violence prosecutor with the Jefferson County Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office, said police and prosecutors are sending the wrong message to victims.

“It’s essentially a message of … don’t report, because if you do, and start the process, you’re going to be disappointed,” Green said. “You’re going to be let down, and you’re never going to have your day in court.”

{Listen to Dig, KyCIR’s new investigative podcast}

KyCIR’s investigation found that fewer people report rapes per capita in Louisville than in any of its peer cities. The city’s arrest rate in rape cases in 2017 was only 15 percent, far below the national average. And the cases that did end in an arrest were almost all pled down to a lesser charge. 

Of 194 reported rapes in 2017, four people were convicted of rape, KyCIR’s investigation found. 

The committee meeting is Wednesday at 3:30 p.m. at City Hall, 601 W Jefferson Street. It is open to the public. 

In Cleared Case, Prosecutor Points Back at Police As Cause

J. Tyler Franklin

Jen Sainato, photographed in Louisville in October.

Jen Sainato plans to drive down from Valparaiso, Indiana, to attend that meeting.

“There needs to be some checks and balances,” she said. “And it seems like that’s what’s happening now.”

Sainato’s case was highlighted in the Prosecution Declined investigation and KyCIR’s podcast, Dig. In January 2018, she told LMPD officers she was raped by a man she’d met at a hotel bar. 

Six officers responded that night, crowding into her hotel room. One asked her repeatedly how much she’d had to drink and later told other officers that they “get these a lot in the hotels” — people drink too much, take someone back to their rooms and then say they got raped.

More than two years later, no arrests have been made. 

Portion of status form from Sainato’s case (click to enlarge)

Instead, LMPD cleared the case by exception last year, using the designation “prosecution declined.” According to the LMPD file, Assistant Commonwealth Attorney Kristi Gray had reviewed the case and declined to prosecute the suspect, citing a lack of evidence.

During our reporting, LMPD reopened Sainato’s case after she provided additional medical records documenting injuries she says she sustained during the rape. Last Sainato heard, the police were reviewing the medical records and planned to bring the case back to the prosecutor for another review. 

But as Sainato continued to press for answers, the prosecutor made a startling allegation.

In a phone call with Sainato, a recording of which KyCIR has reviewed, Gray said she never declined to prosecute the case in the first place. 

Gray declined an interview request with KyCIR, but confirmed in an email exchange that she had reviewed the case on two occasions. Both times, she said, she told the police she needed more information to decide how to proceed. 

Gray told KyCIR the last time she reviewed the case was in November 2018, when she told Sgt. Tim Stokes and Detective Lindsey Lynch that she wanted to wait until the DNA tests were complete to screen the case. 

“There was additional information needed before we could decide whether we could proceed with any prosecution,” she wrote. “It was not a decision to decline prosecution.”

But in emails, documents and interviews, LMPD officials tell a different story. 

After the DNA tests came back in May 2019, Stokes emailed Sainato’s attorney. He wrote, “based on this DNA evidence and the investigation, the case was presented to the Commonwealth Attorney for review. The case was thoroughly screened and investigated. At this time, the Commonwealth has declined prosecution.”

He reiterated that in an October 2019 email to Sainato, who had reached out after KyCIR informed her that her case had been cleared by exception. He wrote that the investigation had been “very detailed, broad in scope, and extremely thorough.” He said the entire case file had been presented to the prosecutors after the investigation concluded and, “at this time, prosecution has been declined.”

In an email a few days later, Stokes was even more specific: “In this matter, all available information was presented to the prosecutor.  Victim interviews, scene information, lab reports, surveillance video, body camera video, medical records, witness interviews, and suspect interviews, et al have been included in the file.”

Sainato’s LMPD file also contains a case status form, signed by Lynch, that says Gray screened and declined the case. It is dated October 15, 2019, the same day LMPD responded to KyCIR’s request to review the case file. 

Signature and date on Sainato’s case form

Lynch hung up on a reporter who called her desk phone. An LMPD spokesperson refused to answer questions about when and whether the case was declined, instead directing all questions to Gray’s office.

“I am outraged,” said Sainato. “It just makes you wonder, did [Lynch] never believe me? Or does she just need to get a different job?”

Closed Cases A Concern For Some City Officials

This is just one of the developments that council members will be able to ask Lauder about next Wednesday. 

Several have expressed concerns about KyCIR’s findings. 

“I would be interested in knowing the reason for all of those…closed cases,” said Councilwoman Barbara Sexton-Smith, a Democrat who represents the downtown district, including the Marriott where Sainato reported a rape. “It appears that victims in Louisville are tending not to receive the justice that is very much deserved.” 

Markus Winkler, the chair of the Democratic Caucus, said he would reserve judgment until he learned more from the police. But he was concerned by many of the numbers cited in the story. 

“I’m not naive enough to think that instances of sex crimes in Jefferson County are disporportionately lower than they would be in other areas,” said Winkler. “Just because it might be difficult to prove doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t prosecute these cases.” 

J. Tyler Franklin

Council President David James

Council president David James, a frequent critic of police chief Steve Conrad, agreed with his colleagues. But in this case, he said the blame goes higher than the police or the prosecutors. 

“I think that you all should put some pressure on the mayor,” said James, a former police officer. “He’s the one that hires the police chief. Does he think this is okay?”

Mayor Greg Fischer hired Conrad in 2012 and has stood by the embattled police chief through several no confidence votes and a child sex abuse scandal that put two officers in federal prison.

Laura Ellis / WFPL

Louisville Metro Police Chief Steve Conrad with Mayor Greg Fischer at a news conference in September 2016.

In a statement issued a few days after the story ran, Fischer said he was “confident LMPD places a priority on getting justice for [rape] victims” as exemplified by “daily officer interactions with victims.” He applauded the department’s pursuit of grant funding for domestic violence and human trafficking initiatives. 

Fischer’s office did not respond to follow-up questions.

Eleanor Klibanoff can be reached at (502) 814.6544 or eklibanoff@kycir.org.

The post LMPD To Testify About Rape Investigations In Wake Of KyCIR Report appeared first on Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.

Metro Council Authorizes Investigation Into TARC Sexual Harassment Allegations Thursday, Feb 20 2020 

The Louisville Metro Council will take steps to investigate the allegations of sexual harassment by current and former employees of the Transit Authority of River City against Ferdinand Risco Jr, who resigned as executive director of the agency last week.

The resolutions unanimously approved by Metro Council on Thursday will initiate the legislative body’s investigation into the alleged incidents, and will allow it to retain attorney David Beyer to conduct an outside investigation.

The Jefferson County Attorney has retained law firm Dinsmore & Shohl to perform an outside investigation after being alerted to the issue by the mayor’s office in late January, Mayor Greg Fischer’s spokeswoman Jean Porter said.

Risco allegedly harassed at least six women who worked at TARC through inappropriate in-personal interactions, as well as lewd text and picture messages, and tied professional opportunities to their receptiveness. He first joined the agency in 2017 after working at Atlanta’s public transit agency.

Fischer appointed him executive director last April following the retirement of Barry Barker the previous November. Risco served as interim executive director before taking the role permanently.

Council members including President David James (D-6) and Anthony Piagentini (R-19), who is vice chair of the government oversight committee, called for a full investigation when the allegations became public last week.

At Thursday’s meeting, Piagentini lamented that the past could not be erased for the women, Metro employees, who were allegedly victimized by Risco.

“Part of that victimization is a breakdown of process. It is incumbent upon us to understand the process and fix the process so this is eliminated and this never happens again within this Metro government,” he said.

State law gives Council the authority to investigate officials appointed by the mayor.

The resolution indicates council members will seek to determine TARC’s current processes for protecting employees from sexual harassment and intimidation and to clarify how and why Risco was appointed executive director.

The Council’s Government Oversight and Audit Committee will oversee the investigation, whose results could lead to legislative action and recommendations for changes at TARC. The investigation could open as early as next week when the committee meets.

Keisha Dorsey (D-3) said she hoped what Council learns from the investigation will help prevent similar incidents in the future.

“The recommendations or the lessons learned coming out of this investigation really need to be applied across all government agencies and all quasi agencies so that we use this as a springboard,” she said.

Last Thursday, Fischer’s office named two women, Laura Douglas and Margaret Handmaker, to serve as interim executive directors of TARC.

Council Approves Contracts For Six City-Owned Golf Courses Thursday, Feb 6 2020 

Louisville’s publicly-owned golf courses are all staying open at least for now.

Louisville Metro Council approved the six golf management contracts negotiated by Metro government during its regular meeting on Thursday. The government originally sought to negotiate contracts for nine public golf courses.

Metro Parks and Recreation will manage the remaining three courses Bobby Nichols, Crescent Hill and Cherokee until the city chooses an outside operator. A tenth golf course, Quail Chase, already has an existing contract which goes through 2024.

The city’s golf courses have struggled to break even in recent years, leading council members to raise greens fees to improve their chances of survival. Some were at risk of being shut down as Louisville enacted budget cuts last year. Further cuts will be possible this year in the face of rising pension costs if lawmakers cannot agree on new tax revenue.

Republican Kevin Kramer of District 11 was one of only two no votes on the contracts resolution. He repeatedly expressed concern that the failure to land contracts for the three outstanding courses puts them at risk.

“If we don’t have a pro in place at those three courses, it doesn’t guarantee their closure, but it certainly doesn’t guarantee their continuing in operation,” Kramer said.

In response, Democrat Bill Hollander of District 9, who represents the area including Crescent Hill Golf Course, pointed out that closing any course would require a majority vote from the council.

“They will open on March 1, the law requires that,” he said. “And the law also requires that they will continue to be in operation unless we vote to close them.”

The contracts reached by the city ensure a 55/45 revenue split between the government and managers based on mutually agreed projections. If those projections are surpassed, the split would drop to 50/50.

In a news release following the vote, Mayor Greg Fischer said he approved of the decision.

“This is a win-win for our city, our employees, our golfers, our pros and the taxpayers,” he said, according to the statement.

The winning contractors are:

  • Patrick Vadden for Charlie Vettiner Golf Course
  • Greg Basham for Iroquois Golf Course
    Tommy Betz for Long Run Golf Course
    Kevin Greenwell for Seneca Golf Course
    The First Tee of Louisville (Youth Golf Coalition Inc.) for Shawnee Golf Course
    Grant Hummel for Sun Valley Golf Course

Also on Thursday, the Council approved a non-binding resolution to transition city operations to clean electricity by 2030. The vote was 15 to 4, with Republicans casting all of the no votes.

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