New Lawsuit Alleges Unlawful Search By Scandal-Ridden LMPD Officers Saturday, May 29 2021 

Louisville Metro Police officers are accused of violating a Louisville woman’s constitutional rights and police policy when they executed a midnight raid in May 2019 over a drug investigation into her then-boyfriend, according to a lawsuit filed this week in Jefferson Circuit Court.

The officers searched Keesha Boyd’s home, detaining her children and destroying her furniture before seizing more than $30,000 in cash, her attorney claims in the court filing.

Boyd wasn’t charged with a crime in connection with the search. Her attorneys allege that the search was unlawful, and the warrant was based on false information. The suit, filed against nine LMPD officers, alleges they unlawfully broke into Boyd’s home and took her property and seeks punitive damages.

The circumstances of the case bear striking similarities to the investigation and subsequent raid that resulted in the police killing of Breonna Taylor — including some of the officers involved.

Former LMPD officers (L-R) Brett Hankison, Myles Cosgrove and Jonathan Mattingly

Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly, and former officers Myles Cosgrove and Brett Hankison were among the 16 officers that executed warrants at the homes of Keesha Boyd and her then-boyfriend Anthony Bonner, according to court records and police documents.

The warrants were based on claims provided by a confidential informant — and obtained by narcotics detective Brian Bailey, who is currently on administrative reassignment pending an investigation into allegations in three lawsuits that he sexually abused multiple women whom he forced to work as confidential informants. 

LMPD

LMPD Detective Brian Bailey

“The police officers had absolutely no reason to be there, legal or otherwise,” attorney Patrick C.M. Hoerter said in a statement. “Their actions constitute a violation of her clearly established rights. We believe the warrant was issued based on false information provided by a confidential informant who was coerced by Bailey. Keesha is one of the many victims in this community of Brian Bailey’s illegal warrants and illegal forfeiture practices.” 

Boyd declined to comment for this report. Bonner could not be reached. A spokesperson for LMPD did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The warrants obtained by Bailey for Boyd and Bonner’s homes are nearly identical.

Attorneys have criticized Bailey’s use of confidential informants and accused him in court of relying on “boilerplate” affidavits and, in some cases, making up information.

He was also the subject of a recent investigation by KyCIR and WDRB News that found he obtained more residential search warrants than any other LMPD officer between January 2019 and June 2020. All but one of the warrants reviewed by KyCIR and WDRB was based, at least in part, on the word of confidential informants.

(Related: LMPD Cleared Top Warrant Detective Of Sexual Misconduct. Then, More Women Came Forward)

In seeking the search warrant for Boyd’s house, Bailey said in an affidavit that Bonner would “come and go” from her house, “and on multiple occasions staying for hours or spending the night.” Bailey also alleged that a confidential informant had purchased heroin from Bonner at Boyd’s house, though he didn’t present any evidence of a controlled buy, what experts consider best practice for drug cases involving informants. 

Bailey offered no evidence that Boyd, herself, was involved in criminal activity.

“It is common for drug traffickers to have two separate locations for drugs and money to avoid law enforcement detection,” Bailey wrote in his affidavit, which was signed by Jefferson District Judge Jessica A. Moore about seven hours before police burst into Boyd’s home with a battering ram as she slept, according to the lawsuit. 

Inside Boyd’s home, police found the money, three guns, and less than an eighth of an ounce of marijuana, according to court documents and police records.

As Mattingly and seven other officers searched Boyd’s house in Shively, Hankison, Bailey and Cosgrove were among the eight officers searching Bonner’s home about four miles away in Parkland.

There, with a no-knock warrant, they found more money, a few guns, and an array of drugs.

Bonner was charged with multiple drug trafficking crimes and pled guilty in November 2020 to amended charges in a one-year felony diversion agreement. A day later, Jefferson Circuit Court Judge Susan Schultz Gibson approved the LMPD’s seizure that totaled more than $46,000 in cash.

Boyd claims the $30,000 seized from her house has no connection to drug dealing.

This story follows reporting done in a collaboration between KyCIR and WDRB News.

The post New Lawsuit Alleges Unlawful Search By Scandal-Ridden LMPD Officers appeared first on Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.

Judge On Search Warrant Task Force Disciplined For Public Opinions on Warrant Procedure Wednesday, May 12 2021 

A member of the Kentucky Attorney General’s search warrant task force was sanctioned this year for publicly defending the search warrant process and the judge who approved the warrant for Breonna Taylor’s home.

Jefferson Circuit Court Judge Charles Cunningham received a private reprimand from the Judicial Conduct Commission in January for comments he made in an op-ed published in The Courier Journal. The reprimand doesn’t name Cunningham, but he confirmed to KyCIR that he is the subject of the disciplinary action.

Cunningham was publicly named last week as a member of the task force the attorney general will charge with scrutinizing and suggesting possible reforms for how search warrants are obtained and executed in Kentucky.

In the opinion article published last July, Cunningham shot down the need to randomize search warrant assignments to judges and to record their conversations with law enforcement officers seeking warrants. Both were reforms proposed in an earlier op-ed by Louisville attorney Ted Shouse.

Cunningham went on to defend the integrity of the judge who signed the much criticized search warrant that led to Taylor’s killing. 

That warrant is still the focus of an ongoing federal investigation, and the Louisville Metro Police Department fired the officer who obtained it, alleging he lied in his affidavit.

The judicial commission ruled that Cunningham violated the Judicial Code of Conduct by making comments that could affect the outcome or impair the fairness of impending court matters. By personally attacking a local attorney, Cunningham failed to uphold a standard of patience, dignity and courtesy required of judges in Kentucky, the reprimand said.

Cunningham has been on the bench since 2008.

He said in an interview this week that “there is no basis for someone to contend that Charlie Cunningham’s mind is made up” regarding the system of issuing search warrants.

“I never said the policy is perfect,” he said.

Criminal justice reform advocates say the judge’s actions go beyond a mere violation of rules, and instead serve as proof that the deck is stacked against any effort to change the system of search warrant issuance.

“I think it does call into question the viewpoint diversity on that task force,” said Corey Shapiro, the legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky. “We already had concerns that it was not fully representative of what the community wanted to see.”

One judicial ethics expert said Cunningham’s comments — and his position as a sitting judge — should disqualify him from serving on the task force. 

“Judges ought to stay the hell out of politics,” said Charles W. Wolfram, a professor emeritus at Cornell Law School. “I find it very disturbing.”

Wolfram said no sitting judge should have been tapped to serve on the task force, which could influence policy decisions. A better choice, he said, could be a retired judge with knowledge of how the system works but no stake in it, or an expert who studies the process of warrant issuance.

“It’s a real mistake and not consistent with the independence of the judicial code for judges to be taking policy positions on political issues,” he said. 

Cunningham is one of two current judges the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, John Minton, appointed to serve on the search warrant task force. Christian County District Court Judge Foster Cottoff will also serve on the task force.

In an emailed statement, Minton’s spokesperson said the chief justice “is confident in Judge Cunningham’s ability to serve impartially on the attorney general’s task force.”

Jefferson Circuit Court Chief Judge Angela McCormick Bisig declined to comment on the particulars of the sanction against Cunningham, but defended the judge, calling him a “hard working, thoughtful colleague.”

Cameron’s spokesperson, in an emailed statement, did not directly address the disciplinary action levied against Cunningham, nor did she respond to the question of if Cunningham should be removed from the group.

“The members of the task force represent every aspect of the search warrant process, and each member will bring his or her own opinions, experiences, and ideas to bear as part of the conversation,” she said.  

Task Force Slow To Start

Cameron formed the search warrant task force as a direct result of the police killing of Breonna Taylor. He announced it during a September 2020 press conference, after  a grand jury convened by his office brought no criminal charges for the death of Breonna Taylor, 26, who LMPD officers shot and killed in her home during the execution of a search warrant.

Cameron formally launched the task force with an executive order in January.

Now, nearly eight months since the announcement, it hasn’t met. It’s first meeting is set for May 24. Cameron announced the group’s members last week, after KyCIR asked for comment about the task force’s inaction.

Cameron told WDRB News in an interview broadcast on Tuesday that he is hopeful the task force will propel Kentucky to be a national model for how search warrants are processed.

Taylor’s killing sparked change at the executive and legislative branches of government, but judges have been averse to adopting any notable changes. In November 2020, Jefferson District Court judges voted down a proposal from fellow district judge Julie Kaelin that aimed to bring more transparency and oversight to the search warrant system. 

Jefferson Circuit Court judges did take one step to promote transparency, however, after a report from KyCIR and WDRB News found their signatures on search warrants were often illegible: The judges began using stamps imprinted with their name.

A Spat in the Papers

Cunningham’s article was a direct response to an op-ed penned by local defense attorney Ted Shouse. He called for pointed reforms to how warrants are issued in articles published by The Courier Journal and in the Louisville Bar Association newsletter.

Shouse wrote that the communication between judges and the law enforcement officers who seek a warrant should be recorded. Additionally, he said there should be a process to randomly assign judges to review search warrants.

Cunningham responded sharply. He shot down the necessity and practicality of the reforms and accused Shouse of trying to mislead the public to gain support for changes that would serve the interests of defense attorneys and defendants.

“Those sorts of misstatements can be chalked up to ignorance,” Cunningham wrote.

The commission noted the judge’s tone in its ruling that Cunningham violated a provision of the Judicial Code of Conduct that requires judges by “patient, dignified and courteous to lawyers and others with whom the judge deals in an official capacity.” 

In an interview this week, Shouse dismissed the squabble as a side-show.

“I’ve been called names before,” he said. “The real issue here is that Breonna Taylor was killed by Louisville police officers and it was a search warrant that brought those officers to her door.”

In his op-ed, Cunningham defended Circuit Judge Mary Shaw, who issued that warrant, and her process for that particular warrant. 

“Judge Shaw did nothing wrong,” Cunningham wrote. “She methodically applied the law as it then existed to the facts as presented to her.”

The Judicial Conduct Commission ruled that Cunningham’s specific comments violated a rule that prohibits judges from “making public statements which might reasonably be expected to impair the fairness of a matter impending in any court.”

Shapiro, with the ACLU of Kentucky, said in defending Shaw, Cunningham showed a troubling bias that permeates the courts — “that judges can do no wrong.”

When asked if he regrets penning the op-ed, Cunningham declined to comment.

Judicial Discipline Rare, Somewhat Secret

Cunningham has been sanctioned at least twice by the Judicial Conduct Commission since 2013, according to records of judicial disciplinary actions maintained on the commissions website.

In 2018, the commission ruled that Cunningham had failed to notify prosecutors of certain court actions and talked to a defendant’s counsel without the prosecutor’s knowledge. For that, he was publicly reprimanded.

The group issues just a handful of sanctions each year — no more than eight each year since 2013 — and the members don’t discuss their work.

The Judicial Conduct Commission consists of six members and four alternate members, which include judges, attorneys and citizens. The chair, R. Michael Sullivan, an Owensboro attorney, said the group is bound by its rules to keep mum on any investigative matters or disciplinary actions.

Nationally, discipline against judges is also somewhat rare. In 2020, at least 127 sanctions were levied against sitting state judges across the country, according to a report from the National Center for State Courts.

Cynthia Gray, who compiles data about each disciplinary action for the center, said some judges will take the sanctions to heart and try to learn from their mistakes. Others, though, she said, will double down.

A sanction stemming from an op-ed is rare, Gray said. Judges are instead commonly disciplined for demeaning or belittling defendants or attorneys in open court, or for posts to social media.

As for making public comments, there is value in getting an inside look at what a judge thinks about certain issues, especially those that pertain to the administration of justice, said Kevin S. Burke, a former district court judge from Minneapolis.

“Just because you’re a judge doesn’t mean I can’t talk about things about the criminal justice system,” he said. “But you have to be careful, there is a fine line.”

And perhaps most of all, they shouldn’t be rude, Burke said — pointing to a quote from the former attorney and politician Morris Udall, who asked God to “give me the grace to make my words gentle and tender, for tomorrow I might eat them.”

Contact Jacob Ryan at jryan@kycir.org.

The post Judge On Search Warrant Task Force Disciplined For Public Opinions on Warrant Procedure appeared first on Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.

Daniel Cameron Promised Search Warrants Analysis Eight Months Ago. It Hasn’t Started Thursday, May 6 2021 

Moments after Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron acknowledged a grand jury wasn’t charging the police officers who killed Breonna Taylor for her death, he made a promise.

He stood at a podium last September, surrounded by reporters from across the world, and pledged to form a task force to review the process for securing and executing search warrants like the one that led to Taylor’s death.

Kate Howard

Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron.

Cameron indicated a sense of urgency, saying he would issue an executive order “in the coming days.”

But that didn’t happen until four months later. And nearly eight months later, the task force has yet to even meet.

The first meeting hasn’t been scheduled. Six members told the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting earlier this week they have received little guidance from the Attorney General and are unsure what the specific aim of the task force will be, beyond it’s broad goal of examining the state’s disjointed search warrant system. 

The task force assembled by Cameron could be a mechanism to understand the full scope of search warrant processes in Kentucky — which can vary from county to county and judge to judge.

It’s just not doing anything.

“I’m disappointed,” said Damon Preston, the state’s Public Advocate and member of the task force.

Department of Public Advocacy

Public Advocate Damon Preston

The time is now to put the entire search warrant system under the microscope, Preston said.

Presumably, the task force would do just that, according to an executive order issued by Cameron on January 21 — about four months after he initially pledged to assemble the group. 

The group’s members stem from the most powerful corners of the criminal justice system: legislators, judges, prosecutors, and police.

Such a group could be instrumental in ushering in any search warrant reforms in the future, said state Sen. Whitney Westerfield, a task force member and Republican chair of the Senate’s judiciary committee.

But he’s yet to get an invite to any meeting to begin the work.

“The point of the group is to function, to serve its purpose,” he said. “It needs to be doing that.”

Taylor’s death thrust into the forefront the process by which search warrants are obtained and executed. Police killed the 26-year-old Black woman in her home while executing a so-called no knock search warrant, though LMPD officials insist the officers knocked anyway.  

The killing led the Louisville Metro Council to ban the use of no knock warrants locally, and state lawmakers passed legislation to limit the use of such warrants. 

Cameron’s office was appointed the special prosecutor after Louisville’s commonwealth’s attorney recused himself. One officer, Brett Hankison, was indicted by a grand jury on reckless endangerment charges for bullets that traveled into a neighboring apartment, but Cameron’s prosecutors didn’t seek any charges related to Taylor’s death.

Elizabeth Kuhn, Cameron’s spokesperson, said the task force’s lack of action is due to a few reasons, chief among them the desire to wait until the General Assembly concluded. The session started in January 5, about three months after Cameron’s announcement and concluded on March 30.

“Given that the law on search warrants was likely to change, the decision was made that the Task Force would not convene until the conclusion of the session so that the group could review all current law regarding the search warrant process,” she said in an emailed statement.

“Moreover, we’ve been looking forward to the day where in-person meetings could be possible for those who choose to do so,” she added.

In January, Cameron issued a list detailing which agencies would be represented on the group, though he didn’t name the members. 

Written at the bottom of the memo: The group’s first meeting would be set in the coming weeks.

“I would have expected much more traction for an initiative like this,” said Ramon McGee, a Louisville attorney and task force member who will represent the Kentucky Conference of the NAACP.

“We need a blueprint for what we are doing and that blueprint needs to come from the top down,” he said.

The processes by which search warrants are obtained and executed are largely hidden from the public, McGee said.

Opening that process up for review can make way for the candid conversations McGee said are needed to understand why police so often believe “this most invasive type of investigative procedure” is necessary.

McGee also hopes to examine the system for how police present warrants to judges for approval, in addition to data on how many warrants are applied for, how many are issued, and where warrants are executed.

Presently, police officers will apply for a warrant by presenting an affidavit of investigative findings of probable cause to a judge. McGee said law enforcement can create a perception of the need for search and seizure by simply painting a community as dangerous.

He said judges can grow to be desensitized to the effect of the search warrant. 

“This is the real problem,” McGee said. “This is not a criticism of the judiciary, but of the system.”

Jefferson Circuit Court Judge Charles Cunningham, who will represent the Kentucky Court of Justice on the task force, said he won’t be coming in with a fixed focus on any reforms.

But he’s anxious to get to work.

“I haven’t heard anything,” he said. “So I don’t know.”

On Thursday, Kuhn issued a press release which for the first time listed the members of the task force.

In it, there was another promise.

“The task force will announce the date of its first meeting in the coming days.”

Contact Jacob Ryan at jryan@kycir.org.

The post Daniel Cameron Promised Search Warrants Analysis Eight Months Ago. It Hasn’t Started appeared first on Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.

Jefferson County Judges Reject Rules To Increase Search Warrant Transparency Friday, Nov 20 2020 

After days of refusing to provide details on a proposal to make the search warrant process more transparent, a court official on Friday confirmed that Jefferson District Court judges voted down the rule changes.

District Judge Julie Kaelin proposed a sweeping policy overhaul, aimed to add transparency and oversight to the search warrant system, to her fellow judges. It would have required judges and police to record themselves when considering a warrant; allow only certain judges to review warrant requests each day; and require that a record be kept of warrants rejected by a judge.

The judges met Tuesday to consider the proposal in a secret meeting. In the days that followed, Jefferson District Court Chief Judge Anne Haynie and court administrator Kelsey Doren did not respond to repeated requests about the outcome of the meeting.

On Friday afternoon, Doren said via email that the proposal failed. Minutes from the District Court’s judges’ regular monthly meetings “are confidential,” she said. Doren did not respond to a request for an interview with Chief Judge Haynie. 

The secrecy surrounding the judges’ meeting and ultimate decision is troubling, said Mike Abate, a Louisville-based attorney who specializes in First Amendment issues.

“Judges are elected public officials who administer justice in the public’s name,” said Abate, who has represented KyCIR in public records issues. “It’s a really important issue that affects people all across the community.”

Abate said while courts may not be subject to the state’s open records and open meetings laws, they should consider themselves subject to public scrutiny, and allow for the public to observe critical elements of policy making.

“It’s the business of the people,” he said.

Kaelin, who proposed the rule change, said the intent of the proposal was to increase transparency “at every step of the warrant process.”

“Which would have the laudable — and perhaps needed now more than ever — side effect of encouraging confidence in the judiciary,” she said. “I felt we had an opportunity to lead without waiting for others, and I wish we had chosen to do so.”

The measures would have been a major shift for the local District Court, which handles misdemeanors, juvenile cases, felony probable cause hearings and other issues. The court’s local rules require only that judges file copies of approved search warrants with the Jefferson Circuit Court Clerk. 

Kaelin is not done pushing for change: she says citizens are demanding reform, “and rightly so.”

“Ours is a beautiful but historically flawed and fragile justice system, and it must always strive to serve its citizens before itself,” she said.

The measures would have been a major shift for the local District Court, which handles misdemeanors, juvenile cases, felony probable cause hearings and other issues. The court’s local rules require only that judges file copies of approved search warrants with the Jefferson Circuit Court Clerk. 

The new rules would only apply to the 17 elected District Court judges because Circuit Court judges have their own rules. But it would apply to the judges most prolific in approving warrants: A review by KyCIR and WDRB News of more than 230 warrants found more than 80 percent were signed by District Court judges.

The new rules would’ve increased oversight of the search warrant process that’s come under scrutiny after  Louisville Metro Police officers shot and killed Breonna Taylor, after entering her home with a no-knock warrant, in March. The Federal Bureau of Investigations is examining the circumstances of that warrant. 

The Louisville Metro Council banned no-knock warrants county-wide, and the city’s Criminal Justice Commission is pushing for more, statewide search warrant reforms — some of which mirror the rules that failed Tuesday.

Now, hope for reform rests with state legislators, who will convene again in January and are expected to take up at least two measures focused on search warrants.

Angela Cooper, a spokesperson for the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky, said the public trust in the criminal justice system is eroding and systemic change is necessary.

“We are disappointed that the district court judges decided not to provide needed transparency regarding our flawed criminal justice system,” she said. “This decision is particularly troubling as public outcry continues to show how the system fails to hold police accountable.”

This story was updated to add comments from District Judge Julie Kaelin.

Contact Jacob Ryan at JRyan@kycir.org.

The post Jefferson County Judges Reject Rules To Increase Search Warrant Transparency appeared first on Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.

Louisville Judges To Weigh Search Warrant Changes Tuesday, Nov 17 2020 

District Court judges in Jefferson County will on Tuesday consider a sweeping set of procedural changes that would strengthen the rules by which search warrants are obtained.

The 17 judges meet monthly to discuss policies and structures of the 30th judicial district, which encompasses Jefferson County. District court handles misdemeanors, juvenile cases, small claims and felony probable cause hearings, among other issues. 

On this month’s meeting agenda is a proposal to effectively overhaul the court’s process for issuing search warrants with the aim to boost transparency. Under the proposed rule change, which was shared with and reviewed by KyCIR, conversations between judges and law enforcement officers seeking a warrant would be recorded;  only specific judges could review a search warrant request on a given day; and a judge who refuses to grant a warrant would be required to file the documents with the Jefferson County Circuit Court Clerk.

The measures would be a sharp turn from the court’s current rules, which only require that approved warrants be filed with the clerk’s office. Presently, police can take a warrant request to any judge they wish, and their conversations with judges aren’t recorded.

District Judge Julie Kaelin, who is proposing the rule change, said in an email to the other judges that the proposal would help boost confidence in the judiciary “by showing a willingness to be truly transparent.”

“This is an opportunity for us to lead,” she said. “To show we take the concerns of the community seriously, and to provide useable data for years to come which will ultimately improve the justice system and help educate the electorate.”

The rule change would only apply to District Court judges, who approve a vast majority of search warrants. Circuit Court judges, which handle felony cases, operate under their own set of rules. Any rule change at the local court level would need approval from Kentucky Supreme Court Chief Justice John Minton. 

Minton’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment. Jefferson District Court Chief Judge Anne Haynie declined to comment on the proposal.

Search warrants, and the processes by which they are obtained, have come under scrutiny in Louisville after LMPD officers shot and killed Breonna Taylor, prompting months of protests. The officers entered Taylor’s apartment with a no-knock search warrant approved by Circuit Judge Mary Shaw. 

One officer, Brett Hankison, was charged with wanton endangerment for firing into a neighboring apartment. The Federal Bureau of Investigations is examining how and why the no-knock warrant was obtained.

The Louisville Metro Council has since banned no-knock search warrants and officers are now required to wear body cameras when executing search warrants. At least two state lawmakers are expected to file legislation that would mandate similar measures statewide.

The Louisville Metro Criminal Justice Commission last month pledged to push lawmakers to support a series of search warrant reforms, including a mandate that conversations between judges and police are recorded. And more recently, state court officials revamped search warrant forms to include a judge’s printed name after a joint investigation by KyCIR and WDRB News found most warrants were signed by judges with illegible signatures.

(Read: Louisville Police Change Warrant Form, Improve Transparency)

Even though the local reform would only affect the process for district judges, KyCIR and WDRB News’ review of more than 200 search warrants found 81 percent were approved by a district court judge. 

Kaelin said she expects pushback from other judges on the proposed rule changes.

But she hopes to eliminate any concern that law enforcement officers are “judge shopping.”

“Whether [judge shopping] exists or not, the perception created by a system where police can choose which judge they want to have review a warrant is problematic,” Kaelin said.

She also wants to create records of how many warrants are rejected, who rejects them and what happens after they are rejected.

“We have no way of knowing if an officer gets a denial from one judge and then goes to another,” she said. “The only we can do that is by having the data available.”

Her proposal to record the conversation between judges and officers suggests communicating via email or requiring officers to record and keep the audio file “in the same manner as any other investigative documentation leading up to issuance of a warrant.”

“Again, the whole point is transparency,” Kaelin said.

The judges will meet virtually at 4p.m. on Tuesday. The meeting is not open to the public, according to Kelsey Doren, the Jefferson District Court Administrator.

Kaelin was the only of 17 district judges to respond to a request for comment.

The proposal highlights issues criminal defense attorneys have been pushing for years, said Karen Faulkner, a Louisville-based criminal defense attorney and first vice president of the Kentucky Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

“We always want to show that there is no plot of secrecy and anyone can review the process and know that it is fair and that due process is given to every defendant,” she said. 

Heather Gatnarek, a staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky, said the proposed rule change could help create critical records of the search warrant process, which in turn would ensure the process is fair.

“The tragedy of Ms. Taylor’s death brought this issue to light and we are grateful to the community leaders who have pushed these reforms forward,” she said. “This additional accountability and transparency is warranted and welcome.”

The post Louisville Judges To Weigh Search Warrant Changes appeared first on Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.

Louisville Police Change Warrant Form, Improve Transparency Wednesday, Nov 11 2020 

The Louisville Metro Police Department is using a new search warrant form that provides a designated space for judges to print their name, a change that follows scrutiny of illegible signatures on its warrants.

The agency began using the new forms last week, a month after state court officials and the Kentucky State Police offered law enforcement agencies a new search warrant form with a space for judges to print their name. Without a printed name, it’s often impossible to discern which judge signed a warrant, an investigation by the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting and WDRB News found. The news agencies examined more than 230 warrants and found the judge’s signature on 72% was illegible.

Kentucky’s Administrative Office of the Courts issued the updated search warrant form two weeks after that report. The Kentucky State Police followed suit and issued a high-priority notification to law enforcement agencies on October 8 that said the revised form “should be used immediately.”

By October 28, Louisville Metro Police officials still weren’t using the updated form. But an LMPD spokesperson said they began using it last week. By then, many judges had already begun printing their names underneath their signatures anyway. 

Interim Chief Yvette Gentry made the decision to update the forms, said Dwight Mitchell, an LMPD spokesperson. Asked why the decision was made, Mitchell responded, simply, “to provide a dedicated place for the judge to print their name.”

When the Administrative Office of the Courts updated the forms, spokesperson Leigh Anne Hiatt said the move was rooted in a desire for transparency and accountability.

“This will ensure that the person receiving a warrant can readily identify the judge who signed it,” she said.

LMPD has obtained more than 8,117 search warrants between 2017 and 2019, according to the agency’s annual reports.

The public deserves to know which judges sign those warrants, said Angela Rea, the president of the Kentucky Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. 

Being able to readily identify which judge signs a warrant can help dispel — or prove — any concern that police are “forum shopping” when seeking a search warrant, she said.

“That would be something you want to know,” she said. “I cannot think of a compelling argument to not have that transparency.”

Jefferson Circuit Court chief judge Angela McCormick Bisig initially dismissed concerns about illegible signatures, saying in September that judges’ identities could be determined by reviewing court documents and comparing signatures. But she later pushed for the warrant change to ensure judges would print their names next to their signatures.

“No judge can or should avoid accountability for a warrant they sign,” she said.

Advocates and lawmakers are pushing several search warrant reform efforts in Kentucky in advance of the next legislative session, in January. 

The Louisville Metro Council unanimously banned no-knock warrants earlier this year, and state lawmakers are expected to take up similar legislation when the General Assembly reconvenes. Other criminal justice advocates are calling for additional measures to bring transparency to the search warrant process, like recording conversations between judges and officers and mandates requiring officers wear body cameras when executing searches — though police and prosecutors have pushed back.

Simply knowing who is involved in the search warrant process, though, should be a given — from the judge’s name who signs the warrant to the officers who execute it, said Republican Metro Councilman James Peden.

Peden, who serves as vice chair of the council’s public safety committee, has in the past been a vocal critic of LMPD. But he’s happy to hear the agency is using a new form.

“Yay,” he said. “We’re finally on board, doing the right thing.”

 WDRB’s Travis Ragsdale contributed to this report.

Contact Jacob Ryan at jryan@kycir.org.

The post Louisville Police Change Warrant Form, Improve Transparency appeared first on Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.

Kentucky Issued A Search Warrant Reform. Louisville Police Aren’t On Board Yet Wednesday, Oct 28 2020 

Law enforcement agencies in Kentucky have a new way to bring more transparency to the process of obtaining a search warrant, but police in Louisville aren’t using it.

The Administrative Office of the Courts last month issued a revised search warrant form that provides designated space for judges to print their name below their signature. The previous form only provided space for a signature from judges asked to approve a warrant before it’s executed by police, and it’s often impossible to discern who signed the warrant, an investigation by the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting and WDRB News found.

The AOC made the new forms available to law enforcement agencies a few weeks after the report from KyCIR and WDRB. But court officials cannot mandate law enforcement use the forms. The Louisville Metro Police Department isn’t using the new forms, according to a review of recent search warrants at the Jefferson Circuit Court Clerk’s office. 

An LMPD spokesperson didn’t respond to questions sent via email about why officers aren’t using the new forms. A state courts spokesperson said the forms are available on an online portal that is accessible to any law enforcement agency that uses court documents, and a “must-read alert” was issued when the new forms were rolled out.

“The updated form is the most appropriate way for the AOC to address any concerns the public may have about being able to identify which judge signs a search warrant,” said Leigh Anne Hiatt, spokesperson for the Administrative Office of the Courts. “This will ensure that the person receiving a warrant can readily identify the judge who signed it.”

Criminal justice experts and lawmakers agree that being able to identify the judge that approves a warrant is a simple, yet important, element necessary for transparency, accountability and trust. 

“There’s an overarching integrity question here,” said Brian Gallini, a criminal law professor and dean at Willamette University’s College of Law. “It’s not just about the public being able to see it for themselves; it’s also about the cultural message on the government side, that we want to enforce public trust in law enforcement and the judicial system, at large.”

KyCIR and WDRB News reviewed 231 warrants executed by police in Louisville since January 2019 and found more than 70%included an illegible signature from a judge.

At the time, Jefferson Circuit Court Chief Judge Angela McCormick Bisig dismissed concerns about the inability to readily identify a judge on a warrant. Bisig, who can implement local policies as chief judge, argued instead that a person could discern a judge’s identity by examining other public documents from a specific judge’s court and comparing signatures.

After that report was published, however, Bisig said she met with other Circuit Court judges, officials from the Administrative Office of the Courts and Jefferson District Court Chief Judge Anne Haynie to discuss improving the public’s ability to know who signed  a search warrant.

“We want the public to have confidence in the justice system,” she said. “Our term of judges is supportive of taking steps (to) make sure our signatures are clearly identified on search warrants moving forward.”

The new search warrant form was a result of those efforts, and was made available to law enforcement agencies across the state, with the Kentucky State Police issuing a high priority notification to agencies on Oct. 8 — a week after court officials had rolled out the forms — that said the revised form “should be used immediately.”

On Oct. 6, an LMPD officer obtained a warrant from District Judge Jennifer Wilcox to search a house in Pleasure Ridge Park following a shooting. A day later, an LMPD detective investigating allegations of child abuse obtained several warrants from District Judge Erica Lee Williams to search through social media accounts. And on Oct. 13, an LMPD officer obtained a search warrant from District Judge Eric Haner to search a man’s cell phone for threatening messages to a woman. None of these warrants were completed using the new form.

“Of course” the police department should use the revised form, said Angela Cooper, communications director for the ACLU of Kentucky. The public should “expect nothing less than the highest standards of compliance and transparency,” she said.

“This is yet another example of LMPD failing to engage in best practices and transparent behavior,” she said.

The Louisville Metro Police Department and Louisville Metro Animal Services have, collectively, obtained at least 44 search warrants since Oct. 1. All but one of those warrants were obtained by LMPD.

No other agency in Jefferson County had filed a search warrant with the clerk’s office between Oct. 1 and Oct. 23, so it’s unclear if the more than a dozen other agencies in the county are using the newly revised forms.

Kentucky State Sen. Whitney Westerfield acknowledged that court officials cannot mandate that law enforcement use the new forms, but he said that shouldn’t stop agencies from using them.

Westerfield, a Republican from Crofton and chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said the new forms would eliminate any concern or question about which judge signed a warrant. Using the new forms is simple — “for reasons that are self-evident,” he said. 

“We want to make sure warrants are lawfully issued and the only people empowered to do that are duly elected judges, and we need to be able to identify who made the ultimate decision on whether or not probable cause was present,” he said.

Westerfield’s colleague on the judiciary committee, Wil Shroder, a Republican from Wilder, is drafting legislation that would require judges’ names to be clearly and legibly printed on search warrants.

Schroder said the public has a right to know which judge is signing search warrants. After hearing the Administrative Office of the Courts had revised the search warrant form, he was hopeful law enforcement agencies would use the new form.

“If everyone would just start using those there would not be a need for legislation,” he said.

But the criminal justice system isn’t one that’s quick to lean in to transparency, said Howard Henderson, a professor of justice administration at Texas Southern University. Because of that, he said, reforms must be legally mandated to be effective.

Henderson said it’s unreasonable to assume law enforcement agencies would take such steps on their own.

One of the challenges that you have is this is a system that has never been forced to be transparent,” he said. “What you’re asking for, and what should be done, is not a matter of tradition, a matter of custom or a matter of law.”

The police, however, should not bear all the burden of promoting transparency, said Gene Paoline, a criminal justice professor at the University of Central Florida. 

“It’s got to be a dual criminal justice response,” he said. Judges should not assume their signatures are legible, Paoline said, but rather take it upon themselves to simply print their name next to their signature even if there is no designated space.

“Just write it out,” he said. “Just do it.”

At least six Jefferson District Court judges — Sarah Nicholson, Lisa L. Langford, Amber Wolf, Jennifer Leibson, Eric Haner, and Erica Lee Williams — are doing just that. 

None of the judges responded to an interview request. And none of those six were printing their names before KyCIR and WDRB News published the report last month.

But now, next to their signature on search warrants, the judges’ names are legibly printed.

This story was produced in collaboration with WDRB News. See more of their work at WDRB.comThis work was supported by a grant from the Fund for Investigative Journalism to KyCIR.

The post Kentucky Issued A Search Warrant Reform. Louisville Police Aren’t On Board Yet appeared first on Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.