LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The U.S. Justice Department has found Louisville police have engaged in a pattern of violating constitutional rights following an investigation prompted by the fatal police shooting of Breonna Taylor.
Attorney General Merrick Garland made the announcement Wednesday. A Justice Department report found the Louisville/Jefferson County Metro Government and Louisville Metro Police Department “engage in a pattern or practice of conduct that deprives people of their rights under the Constitution and federal law.”
Garland said in a news conference, "Shortly after we opened the investigation, an LMPD leader told the department, 'Breonna Taylor was a symptom of problems that we have had for years.' The Justice Department’s findings and the report that we are releasing today bear that out."
The report said Louisville Police “discriminate against Black people in its enforcement activities,” uses excessive force and conducts searches based on invalid warrants.
The sweeping probe announced in April 2021 is known as a “pattern or practice” investigation — examining whether there is a pattern of unconstitutional or unlawful policing inside the department.
Garland went into specifics about what the investigation uncovered about officers saying, "Some have videotaped themselves throwing drinks at pedestrians from their cars, insulted people with disabilities and called Black people ‘monkeys,’ ‘animal,’ and ‘boy.’ This conduct is unacceptable. It is heartbreaking.”
Assistant Attorney General, Kristen Clarke, added, "Even when comparing traffic stops where Black and white drivers were engaged in similar behavior before the stop, Black drivers were almost 50% more likely to be searched than whites. LMPD charges Black people at higher rates than white people for the same misdemeanor offenses."
The DOJ has entered an agreement in principle with Louisville Metro and LMPD, which have committed to resolving the department’s findings through a court-enforceable consent decree with an independent monitor, rather than contested litigation.
In the official notice from the Justice Department, it finds LMPD:
Uses excessive force, including unjustified neck restraints and the unreasonable use of police dogs and tasers;
Conducts searches based on invalid warrants;
Unlawfully executes search warrants without knocking and announcing;
Unlawfully stops, searches, detains, and arrests people during street enforcement activities, including traffic and pedestrian stops;
Unlawfully discriminates against Black people in its enforcement activities;
Violates the rights of people engaged in protected free speech critical of policing; and
Along with Louisville Metro, discriminates against people with behavioral health disabilities when responding to them in crisis.
Garland said, “This unacceptable and unconstitutional conduct erodes the community trust necessary for effective policing. It is also an affront to the vast majority of officers who put their lives on the line to serve Louisville with honor. And it is an affront to the people of Louisville who deserve better. The Justice Department will work closely with Louisville Metro and LMPD to negotiate toward a consent decree and durable reforms that protect both the safety and civil rights of Louisville’s residents.”
“The findings are deeply troubling and sobering, and they compromise LMPD’s ability to serve and protect the people of Louisville,” said Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta.
On April 26, 2021, Garland announced that the Department of Justice had opened a pattern or practice investigation into the Louisville/Jefferson County Metro Government and the Louisville Metro Police Department.
Reaction to the announcement
Former Louisville mayor Greg Fischer wrote in a statement, "Today is another important inflection point to honor the pain of 2020 by further acknowledging – and continuing to act on – the fact that our community deserves a new era of public safety. This era requires the leadership of the many good officers who have dedicated their lives to keep us safe and are committed to working in partnership with the community to develop a new form of constitutionally sound policing embraced by all our city’s residents."
Gov. Andy Beshear posted his response on social media.
Rep. Morgan McGarvey (D-Louisville) wrote, “I fully support the Department of Justice’s consent decree to collaboratively work with Louisville Metro, Louisville Metro Police Department, and the community to begin righting these harmful wrongs. Excessive use of force and racial profiling in the Louisville Metro Police Department will continue to plague our community until we take decisive action to create true, lasting change. We simply cannot afford to wait.
Breonna Taylor's mother, Tamika Palmer plans to address the media Wednesday afternoon.
The Justice Department will conduct outreach to members of the Louisville community for their views on remedies to address the department’s findings. Individuals may also submit recommendations by email at Community.Louisville@usdoj.gov or by phone at 1-844-920-1460.
Louisville is not the only department under investigation by the DOJ. This is one of eight investigations into law enforcement agencies opened by the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. The department has ongoing investigations into the Minneapolis Police Department; the Phoenix Police Department; the Mount Vernon (NY) Police Department; the Louisiana State Police; the New York City Police Department’s Special Victims Division; the Worcester (MA) Police Department; and the Oklahoma City Police Department.
The Justice Department will hold a virtual community meeting at 7:00 p.m. ET. They encourage members of the public to attend to learn more about the findings. This is the link to the meeting.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.