WASHINGTON — Attorney General Merrick Garland announced Monday that the Justice Department will investigate whether police in Louisville, Kentucky — where 26-year-old Breonna Taylor was shot and killed during a police raid last year — have a pattern of civil rights violations and other abuses.
It’s the second time in less than a week that Garland has announced a sweeping probe into policing practices in cities with high-profile incidents of police killing Black residents; on April 21, just one day after a jury found former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin guilty of murdering George Floyd, Garland formally launched a civil investigation into the police department there.
Garland said the Louisville investigation will focus on whether police had a pattern of using unreasonable force, including during protests; whether police engaged in unconstitutional stops, searches, and seizures and whether the department unlawfully executed search warrants in private homes; and whether the police department engaged in racial discrimination or failed to provide public services that complied with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Investigators from the Civil Rights Division and the US attorney’s office in the Western District of Kentucky would seek feedback “from every corner of Louisville,” Garland said.
“All of these steps will be taken with one goal in mind: to ensure that policing policies and practices are constitutional and lawful,” Garland said.
A spokesperson for the Louisville Police Department did not immediately return a request for comment. Garland said the Justice Department had briefed the mayor and police chief before making the public announcement and, as was the case last week with officials in Minneapolis, "they, too, have pledged their support and cooperation."
Garland made one reference to Taylor by name, noting that the city of Louisville had reached a civil settlement with her family that included a commitment by officials to adopt certain reforms to policing practices. Garland said the Justice Department commended those measures and would factor them into the federal investigation.
Under the settlement, the city agreed to establish a housing credit program to incentivize officers to live in low-income census tracts and encourage officers to use two paid hours each pay period to volunteer with an organization in the community that they serve. The city also said it would create a program to dispatch social workers to certain calls for service and require a commanding officer to review and approve all search warrants and affidavits.
The civil investigation into policing in Louisville is separate from a federal criminal investigation by the FBI into Taylor's death, which was announced in May 2020 and is ongoing, according to a senior Justice Department official.
Sam Aguiar, an attorney for Taylor's family, told BuzzFeed News they were pleased to hear about the federal investigation.
"Ever since Breonna was killed, [her mother] Tamika [Palmer] has emphasized that measures need to be taken to assure that no other mothers have to endure what she’s been through at the hands of LMPD," Aguiar said in an email.
No officers have been charged directly over Taylor’s death. Louisville police fatally shot the 26-year-old EMT in her home just before 1 a.m. on March 13, 2020, while executing a search warrant that was part of a drug investigation. Officials have said that the officers knocked on the door multiple times and announced themselves before forcing entry into the home, but Taylor's family has disputed that account, saying police rammed down the door without warning.
In June, the city banned "no-knock" police raids under legislation called "Breonna's Law," prohibiting police from forcibly entering a home without first announcing themselves even if they have a warrant.
In September, a Kentucky grand jury indicted one of the three officers involved in the raid with wanton endangerment for firing shots through Taylor’s apartment and into her neighbor’s home, sparking another wave of protests across the country over the lack of charges in Taylor’s killing. One of the jurors later said that they were not asked to consider charges related to her death.
Authorities in Louisville have used extreme force in response to protests against police brutality. In June, police officers and the Kentucky National Guard shot into a crowd of protesters, killing local barbecue chef David McAtee. Louisville officers also shot a reporter with pepper balls while she was live on air, as well as a security guard who was filming police tackling protesters.
The Louisville probe is the fifth publicly confirmed "pattern-or-practice" investigation pending by the Civil Rights Divisions' Special Litigation Section. Under the Trump administration, the Justice Department scaled back its involvement in these types of investigations and placed new restrictions on the tools that attorneys had to enter into long-term settlements with police departments; Garland's back-to-back announcements signal a renewed focus on civil rights work.
A senior Justice Department official declined to specify precisely when the department first started looking into whether to open a broad policing probe in Louisville. The official said the department would publicly announce its findings once the investigation is finished.
If investigators do find a pattern of violations by Louisville, DOJ will negotiate with city officials to try to reach a settlement, as opposed to filing a lawsuit and asking a judge to impose an injunction. In most cases, these investigations lead to what's known as a consent decree — an agreement that features a set of policing reforms that a judge will then oversee and enforce. The Justice Department has 12 active consent decrees with police departments across the country, as well as four other agreements that were reached out of court.