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

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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.


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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 

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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. 


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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

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

J. Tyler Franklin | wfpl.org

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 

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 

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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.


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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.

Metro Council Could Mandate Drug And Alcohol Testing After Police Use Force Tuesday, Jun 23 2020 

Louisville officials may mandate that police officers be tested for drugs and alcohol soon after shooting or using force.

Metro Council members Barbara Sexton Smith (D-4) and president David James (D-6) filed an ordinance late last week that proposes requiring the testing “as soon as practicable after the critical incident.”

Sexton Smith said she was “shocked” to learn the Louisville Metro Police Department may not have mandatory drug and alcohol testing after such events. She said the such testing could aid investigations.

“It would be one more piece of important information in the investigation that would either clear someone, had they been accused of that, or it would bring evidence to bear that may have had some role in the incident,” she said.

This legislation follows the unanimous passage of a ban on no-knock warrants in Louisville earlier this month. Both are inspired by the police killing in March of Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old Black woman, in her home.

Sexton Smith said she did not know if such testing was performed on any of the police who were involved in the raid on Taylor’s home: Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly and officers Brett Hankison and Myles Cosgrove.

City officials on Tuesday announced that Hankison has been fired, after first announcing their intention to fire him last week. He still has the right to appeal based on the police union contract. Protesters in Louisville and supporters across the country continue to demand that all three be fired and charged.

The department’s standard operating procedures allow for testing if “reasonable suspicion exists to indicate that a member’s health or ability to perform work may be impaired.” While that document calls for testing “as soon as possible,” the ordinance proposes a more firm deadline: “as soon as practicable after the critical incident, but no later than the end of the
involved officer’s shift and before any interviews are conducted regarding the incident,”

LMPD spokesperson Jessie Halladay confirmed that drug and alcohol testing is not currently mandated after critical incidents, which the ordinance defines as the use of deadly force by an officer or “an action taken in the line of duty by a sworn Louisville Metro Police Department officer which results in, or potentially could have resulted in, the death or serious physical injury to the sworn officer or any other person.”

“We are reviewing the language of the ordinance to see what, if any, recommendations we may have on the language,” Halladay said in an email.

Halladay declined to comment on the Taylor case specifically, saying it is ongoing.

The proposed ordinance was not a response to any specific incident beyond the larger context of the Taylor shooting, Sexton Smith said. Instead, she called it a “common sense” measure. In any industry, there are people dealing with drug and alcohol addiction who may need help, she said.

Sexton Smith said she expected the ordinance to go through the regular process of being read into the record, heard in committee, then moved to the full Metro Council for a vote.

“I cannot imagine anyone not wanting to support this,” she said. “What is one reasonable justification for not supporting this?”

After the council votes on the city’s budget on Thursday, the body will recess until July 16.

Officer Brent Hankison Has Been Formally Fired By LMPD Tuesday, Jun 23 2020 

Louisville Metro Police said in a letter released Tuesday evening that Officer Brett Hankison has been terminated due to his conduct during the shooting death of Breonna Taylor.

According to the letter, Hankison’s pre-termination hearing was held Tuesday. LMPD interim chief Robert Schroeder announced his intention to fire Hankison last Friday.

(Read the letter here.)

Hankison has 10 days to file an appeal in writing with the merit board, the letter said.

Hankison was one of three officers who have been on administrative leave since they served the warrant at Taylor’s house, and one of at least two who fired weapons. No announcements have been made about discipline related to the other two officers, Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly and Officer Myles Cosgrove, who are still on administrative paid leave.

Mattingly was shot in the leg by a bullet fired by Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker. Walker was initially charged with attempted murder and assault, but Commonwealth’s Attorney Tom Wine announced in late May he was dropping the charges, pending further investigation by the FBI and Kentucky Attorney General’s office.

Schroeder said in letters to Hankison, released by LMPD, that he was terminated for blindly fired 10 rounds in Taylor’s apartment, creating a “substantial danger of death and serious injury” to Taylor and her neighbors.

Hankison’s conduct “has severely damaged the image of our department we have established with our community,” Schroeder wrote.

This story will be updated.

LMPD Officer Indicted On Charge Of Theft By Deception Tuesday, Jun 23 2020 

A Louisville Metro Police officer was indicted on a felony charge of theft by deception after an internal investigation found he used grant money for “his own financial gain.”

LMPD announced the charges against Officer Patrick Schultz theft by deception and unlawful access to a computer in a press release Tuesday. Schultz has been with LMPD since 2015.

According to LMPD, Schultz applied for two community grants under the guise of department programming, but he used the money himself. The department didn’t elaborate on where the grant money came from or how much, aside from it being more than $500 but less than $10,000.

The indictment followed a Public Integrity Unit investigation, LMPD said, and Schultz is on paid administrative reassignment while an investigation proceeds into what department policies Schultz might have violated.

Schultz’s personnel file shows he’s received several commendations. He’s also received several written reprimands: in 2016 for violating rules on court attendance; in 2019, for an “at-fault” collision in his police vehicle; and again in 2019, for violating court attendance rules. Schultz was also suspended for three days last year after he violated the “appropriate action” rule and failed to activate his body camera.

This is the second time in as many months that LMPD integrity unit investigations have led to charges against officers. In May, two LMPD officers were charged with misdemeanors for failing to provide “proper assistance” to a domestic violence victim who was later murdered.

The charges come as LMPD is under national scrutiny related to its internal investigations after the March death of Breonna Taylor, who was shot and killed by LMPD officers executing a warrant at her home.

Last week, LMPD’s interim chief moved to fire one of three officers under investigation related to the shooting. But the attorney general’s office, not Louisville police or prosecutors, will decide whether any criminal charges will be brought against officers involved in the Taylor shooting.

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