LOUISVILLE, Ky. — One year since that fateful morning when the Louisville Metro Police detectives killed Breonna Taylor, protest ensued, and a national spotlight was put on the no-knock warrant. For years, no-knock warrants allowed police to make quicker entries without announcing or knocking, during raids.
Even one former Louisville Metro Police Department (LMPD) officer scrutinized how officers carried out the raid on Taylor’s apartment.
"It’s hard to second guess those officers,” retired officer Andre Bottoms admits. He explains how he claims his platoon could have handled it, based on how they usually served warrants.
“We tried to limit the warrants we did at night, do ‘em a lot earlier. We watched ‘em, and grab ‘em, and take the key and go back and open the door, you know, with them -- catch them coming and going. You know, and hindsight is 20/20," Bottoms offers.
In Taylor’s case, LMPD and Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron maintain the warrant was not served aKs a no-knock.
“Evidence shows that officers both knocked and announced their presence at the apartment,” Cameron said during his September 2020 press conference to announce the grand jury’s decision. It did not indict three officers involved in Taylor’s death.
When questioned in May by the LMPD Public Integrity Unit, Sgt. Jon Mattingly said, "I knocked on the door. (I) banged on it. We did announce the first couple because our intent was not to hit the door."
However, in police recordings, some neighbors cast doubt on that. One witness said, “No. Nobody ever identified themselves."
Another, said, "Nothing was said, that they just beat on the door."
The identities of the witnesses have been kept confidential by police.
In June, Louisville Metro Council responded unanimously, banning no-knock warrants in the city, in the landmark ordinance called "Breonna’s Law." The state is considering a statewide mandate.
State Representative Attica Scott (D) has a bill with the same name, which is House Bill 21 (HB 21) The name, "Breonna’s Law," is important to her.
“It will be the first time in the history of the Commonwealth of Kentucky that a piece of legislation would carry the name of a Black woman," Scott remarks.
However, another piece of legislation that made more progress than hers has: Senate President Robert Stivers’ bill, Senate Bill 4 (SB 4), made quick progress through the Senate.
When asked why Stivers' bill progressed further than hers, Scott said, “I understand institutional systemic racism and how it works, and the legislative body is no exemption to that reality.”
Stivers' said, “It wasn’t anything intentional or unintentional. Well, I guess it’d be unintentional. This was a thought process that I had formed over years of practice and years of experience here. There was nothing about it that was intentional. It was just (what) I was bringing to the table and what I felt I could do discussing with other individuals about the bill.”
There are some key differences between the early versions of the two pieces of legislation. Each bill would restrict the no-knock warrant, and require officers doing search warrants to wear body cameras.
The early version of HB 21:
- Requires police wait at least 10 seconds after knocking, before forcing in
- Requires police activate body cameras at least five minutes before and after the warrant
- Require drug and alcohol tests for officers involved in deadly encounters
On the notice, it provides people within the house or apartment, Scott said, "within 10 seconds you can get into that house or that apartment and get to someone before they flush (evidence) down the toilet."
There are some exemptions to knocking and announcing in Stivers’ early version.
The early version of SB 4 requires no warrant for entry without notice, unless:
- Responding to a violent crime
- Knocking and announcing could endanger a person’s life
- Knocking and announcing could allow the person inside to destroy evidence to implicate them in a violent crime
There’s now no chance of Scott’s Breonna’s Law passing. It’s too late in the legislative session, and the bill didn’t get far enough. However, there is a chance of Stivers’ bill passing. It could get some of those things from Scott’s version added to it.
Attorney Ted Shouse works in criminal justice and has volunteered to do pro bono help with The Bail Project in Louisville. The Bail Project offers free bail assistance to thousands of low-income people. Shouse has helped bail out protesters in last summer's protests including Rep. Scott.
Shouse feels those exceptions in Stivers’ version, though, render the bill useless.
“If you’re always concerned about the destruction of evidence, then you're always going to have an exception to the rule,” said Shouse. “Bottom line is, that Sen. Stivers' bill flew through the Senate, and Representative Scott's bill languished."
He believes Scott deserved more of a chance than her legislation had. But Shouse is hoping for change beyond banning the no-knock statewide.
“Obviously, the problems are systemic, but it’s how entrenched they are. So when you suggest even these minimal reforms, the push back is tremendous,” Shouse regrets.
He wants the entire search warrant process to be overhauled. That includes changes to how judges approve search warrants.
“As I’ve said publicly before, if I could pick the judge for every single one of my cases, I would. I don’t get to do that. My judges are randomly assigned,” Shouse said.
He wants judges randomly assigned for approval or disapproval of search warrants, instead of officers choosing. He also wants records kept of when a judge denies a warrant.
Meanwhile, Louisville has seen some change. As part of the $12 million settlement between Taylor’s family and the city, warrants now must be approved first by a commanding officer at LMPD. There’s also a new form to submit them through. The people pushing change are hoping that the officers are following this.