DOJ Finds that LMPD “Deprives People of their Rights” and “Unlawfully Discriminates Against Black People”

On March 8th of this year, following two years of research, the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) finally released its findings on the state of law enforcement in Louisville. Initiated by the 2020 killing of Breonna Taylor and the subsequent protests, the scathing report details the ways in which the Louisville Metro Police Department (LMPD) has consistently violated the fourth amendment rights of suspects and has unfairly targeted Black citizens. The investigation sought out to answer several important questions regarding LMPD actions such as its alleged unlawful use of force, unlawful searches, racial and gender discrimination, curtailing of free speech, as well as how the department responds to issues of mental health. The DOJ also sought out to determine the roots of these issues and how they could be remedied.

In its review of 2,217 incidents of use of force, the DOJ found that LMPD “routinely uses force disproportionate to the threat or resistance posed.” The majority of these situations involved physical “takedowns/strikes.” In one such scenario, an LMPD officer allegedly responded to a call involving an intoxicated and crying woman sitting on a lawn by pushing the woman onto her back and holding her down under his foot. When the woman bit his boot, the officer allegedly beat her mercilessly with his flashlight before handcuffing her and dragging her into the back of his patrol car. Despite the officer’s reported act of unnecessary violence, he faced no disciplinary action. The report also identified multiple incidents of reckless neck restraints and taserings, deployment of police dogs on surrendering suspects, and unnecessary escalations of dangerous situations.

The DOJ’s investigation also found that a significant number of LMPD’s searches failed to meet the legal threshold of probable cause. Often, LMPD failed to establish the “detail and specificity” to conduct a search. In the area of drug trafficking, the DOJ reported that LMPD used broad generalities of how drug traffickers act as a basis to broaden searches to the property of the suspect’s friends and family. One such generality that was often cited was the frequency of “short stays.” If a residence received frequent visitors who left after a short stay, then LMPD would proceed with a search despite lacking proof of criminal activity. The DOJ also found an inordinate reliance on confidential informants, which resulted in unnecessary and fruitless searches.

The most troubling revelation in the DOJ’s report is that LMPD targets Black residents disproportionately. Black residents are the victims of the majority of the unethical and unconstitutional conduct outlined in the study. During traffic stops, Black motorists were 1.5 times as likely to be stopped and 2.6 times as likely to be subjected to searches than white drivers. In addition, these stops lasted longer and often went unreported. In December 2018, LMPD conducted 1,600 stops in Black neighborhoods but recorded only 400 in stop databases.

The DOJ also found that Black defendants were arrested and charged differently by LMPD for the same crimes. While public health data has long shown that Black and white adults use marijuana at roughly the same rate–22.6 percent and 20.2 percent, respectively–in 2021, Black drivers were nearly 10 times as likely to be charged with possession during stops for minor traffic violations. Black residents were also more likely to be charged with other misdemeanors such as loitering, disorderly conduct, or littering. Additionally, this discrimination is practiced across Louisville. Whether a neighborhood has a lower or higher crime rate, Black residents are more routinely searched, arrested, and charged.

For five consecutive years, from 2013 to 2017, internal reviews conducted by LMPD itself found that the department disproportionately stopped and searched Black drivers. All the while, leadership continued to employ and promote officers who had a history of impulsivity and racially insensitive comments. The most apparent example of this indifference was the selection of an officer who had been reprimanded for racist comments to lead the Violent Incident Prevention, Enforcement, and Response (VIPER) Unit. VIPER was created to address crime “hotspots” and was soon criticized for its overly-aggressive style of  policing. After protesters called for the end of VIPER, then-LMPD Chief Conrad rebranded VIPER as the Ninth Mobile Division. Conrad announced Ninth Mobile was created to go after “the worst of the worst” and deployed the controversial unit in predominantly Black neighborhoods.

Of course, it was issues such as these: unfounded warrants, reliance on shaky information, over-policing of Black neighborhoods, and unreasonable use of force that were factors in the tragedy of Breonna Taylor’s death. On March 13th 2020, police used a no-knock warrant to raid Taylor’s apartment. The warrant was based on an investigation of Taylor’s ex-boyfriend, and no criminal evidence was ever obtained from Taylor’s residence. LMPD’s failure to announce an aggressive entry into the apartment would ultimately lead to the fatal shooting of the 26-year-old EMT. Additionally, after peaceful demonstrations demanding policing reform, the report finds that LMPD violated the First Amendment rights of protestors who were subjected to excessive use of force for their LMPD-critical rhetoric.

The DOJ puts forward several potential solutions for these issues. The report provides several straightforward ideas that could be readily implemented such as requiring use and review of bodycam footage, creating new use-of-force training, mandatory documentation of traffic stops, and drafting new standards for use of confidential informants.

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