Louisville Was Supposed To Reform Its Policing. What Went Wrong? – LEO Weekly

By |2021-10-23T06:39:15-04:00October 23rd, 2021|Breonna Taylor, David McAtee|

This story was produced by the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting, a nonprofit newsroom by Louisville Public Media, in collaboration with Newsy. For more, visit KyCIR.org. When hundreds of people took to the streets in Louisville, Kentucky, in May 2020, they were protesting the police killing of Breonna Taylor — and a police department they felt unfairly targeted and mistreated Black residents. The protests stretched for months and helped launch a national reckoning about race, policing and public safety in America. This wasn’t supposed to happen in Louisville. These protests reflected the chasm of distrust between the Louisville Metro Police Department and the people they police, and followed five years of broken promises, unheeded warnings, and failed efforts to build a better relationship. In 2015, Louisville embarked on an ambitious plan to reform its police department. The Department of Justice offered Louisville concrete recommendations, grants and coaching. The LMPD said it had overhauled training, changed policies and completed hundreds of reform initiatives. City leaders were honored at the White House in 2016 for these efforts. Louisville portrayed itself as a model city that would show the rest of the nation how to maintain public safety while building community relationships and trust. In May 2020, that facade came crumbling down as the nation learned what many in Louisville already knew: LMPD had not meaningfully changed how it policed the city. The Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting and Newsy spent the last year reviewing thousands of pages of documents and interviewing dozens of people to understand how Louisville went from a national leader in policing reform to the face of a national movement protesting the police. The investigation found that Louisville took a “checkbox” approach to reform, focusing on attainable or easily documented reforms rather than actually changing how they policed. The LMPD claimed to have implemented some changes that never happened, or made little difference. At the same time, the department invested in controversial violent crime units and encouraged officers to aggressively patrol certain Black neighborhoods. When demonstrations broke out last May, the department relied on tactics that they’d specifically been warned against using. By the end of that first weekend of protests, another Black person was dead after a shooting involving LMPD and the National Guard. Longtime LMPD Chief Steve Conrad was fired after that shooting in June 2020 when it came to light that the LMPD officers who fired their weapons hadn’t activated their body cameras. Conrad did not respond to requests for comment and LMPD did not make current department leadership available for an interview. In a statement, they said the department successfully implemented reforms in some areas but faced challenges in others, due to changing demands from the community, economic issues and evolving technology. LMPD spokesperson Beth Ruoff noted the department’s current command staff is “committed to evolving and improving in those areas where it readily acknowledges improvement is needed.” Checked Boxes, But Little Change More than a month after a grand jury decided not to indict the Ferguson, Missouri police officer who shot and killed 18-year-old Michael Brown, President Barack Obama spoke about the need for change. “Ferguson laid bare a problem that is not unique to St. Louis or that area, and is not unique to our time,” Obama said in December 2014. “That is a simmering distrust that exists between too many police departments and too many communities of color.” In Louisville, that tension was felt most acutely in the city’s West End. The West End is predominately Black, and after decades of segregation and disinvestment, parts of it are extremely poor — about 40% of people in the West End live below the poverty line, compared to just 14% in the whole county. LMPD data show that parts of the West End have high rates of violent crime, and the police department has admitted to targeting some of these neighborhoods with aggressive patrols. Black residents are more likely to be stopped, cited and arrested citywide than white residents, according to a January 2021 audit from consulting firm Hillard Heintze commissioned by the city in the wake of the protests. Nearly half of all Black respondents surveyed for the audit said they don’t trust LMPD. This was the sort of “simmering distrust” that Obama had hoped to help cities address. His administration put together a policing reform task force, which consulted experts, activists, community leaders and law enforcement across the country to produce a 116-page guidebook on “21st Century Policing.” The report detailed how local police departments could build community relationships, gain legitimacy in the eyes of the people they serve and fight crime without burning trust. Louisville city and department officials were immediately on board. In 2016, they were invited to the White House as one of 15 cities that were going to model 21st Century Policing to the rest of the nation. In Louisville, Conrad called the 21st Century Policing report a “gift of best practices” that could change the way LMPD operated. “My hope is that together we will not only make our communities safer, but we will improve the relationships between police and the community we serve moving forward,” Conrad said in 2016. Over a series of community forums hosted by the department, Conrad acknowledged his department’s role in the broken relationship between the police and Louisville’s Black community. He said things would be different going forward: everyone in Louisville would be treated with dignity, respect and fairness by the police, no matter who they were or what neighborhood they lived in. Officers were going to be trained on having a “guardian,” rather than a “warrior” mindset, and seeking to build relationships. LMPD was going to focus on community policing — identifying problems and implementing solutions alongside the people most affected. “When I heard it, it was like a breath of fresh air,” said Bishop Dennis V. Lyons, a pastor at Gospel Missionary Church in the West End. “We [are] now going to get some justice with the police.” Lyons, a longtime civil rights leader, used his church bus to bring people to one of these forums. He even got his own copy of the task force report, which he still has, as tattered and torn as a well-loved teddy bear. By the time LMPD hosted these forums in 2016, the department had already overhauled its training curriculum and revised policies and procedures to better align with 21st Century Policing values. The department created a community policing unit, and started posting crime data online as part of their transparency efforts. Lyons felt like they’d just hosted those forums so they could document their community involvement efforts. He has come to see that this was indicative of the department’s whole approach to reform. “The police were always ready…for us to attend their seminars, but they were never willing to attend our seminars,” Lyons said. “It became one-sided, still, became that same mentality of master-slave.” Bishop Dennis V. Lyons Lyons also felt the department focused on good PR. An example was the Clergy Police Academy, a one-day workshop the department started hosting in 2016 to educate religious leaders about LMPD. Lyons signed up pastors hoping the police would call on them to help build community relationships. “Never one time [did they] call that team together,” he said. In a recent statement to KyCIR and Newsy, an LMPD spokesperson said they did call on the clergy on different occasions, and hoped to reinvigorate that effort going forward. By February 2017, less than two years after the 21st Century Policing report was released, Louisville claimed in internal documents that they had completed 351 different reform initiatives. The department did make some meaningful changes: they equipped most officers with body cameras, and according to a 2020 study from the University of Cincinnati and the International Association of Chief of Police, officer use-of-force reports have declined since 2015. But many of the promised reforms never happened. Several people with knowledge of LMPD’s reform efforts, including Lyons, described LMPD’s approach to 21st Century Policing the same way — checkbox reform. “They checked a bunch of boxes to say that they were 21st Century, and they put it on a wall, and the mayor had a big ceremony,” said Metro Council President and former LMPD detective David James. “And we hadn’t changed anything.” In its 21st Century Policing documentation, LMPD claimed to have an early warning system, a tool experts say can be one of the most important parts of a police department’s accountability system. But KyCIR/Newsy found that they never actually implemented it. Additionally, 21st Century Policing said law enforcement should require that a third party investigate police shootings. LMPD marked that recommendation as “already implemented,” even as the department’s internal investigative unit continued to handle those cases. They claimed that the unit’s capacity to adequately handle investigations was “greater than any external capacity.” The checkbox mentality was felt inside the department, too, as officers say they struggled to keep up with the flurry of new initiatives, training requirements and policy changes. “You can’t come into work and sit down at a computer for an hour and a half and fully read all of these policies…while runs are holding,” said Dave Mutchler, a retired LMPD sergeant and press secretary for the police union. “What you run into is [officers] click and move on. ‘I’ll look at it later.’” LMPD changed its use of force policy 10 times in five years, according to a recent audit, and failed to properly train officers on these changes. Former LMPD deputy chief Michael Sullivan, now a deputy commissioner at the Baltimore Police Department, helped oversee LMPD’s implementation of 21st Century Policing. He acknowledged in an interview with KyCIR/Newsy that the department didn’t do enough to determine whether new policies were translating into meaningful change. “You can have the best policies in the world,” he said. “But if you don’t know and can’t say with confidence that this policy is being followed…you can’t honestly say that that policy has changed anything.” ‘The House Is On Fire’ While documenting hundreds of reforms on paper, the department continued to invest in a style of policing that had the potential to damage trust. Back when Louisville was implementing 21st Century Policing, the department wasn’t just battling a crisis of legitimacy. They were also facing a homicide surge. Louisville had 117 homicides in 2016, the deadliest year they had seen in decades. Sullivan conceded that this took the department’s eye off of reform. “When the house is on fire, you have to put it out before you start rebuilding it,” Sullivan said. In 2016, the department moved resources away from neighborhood beats and into citywide violent crime units. Even as homicides declined over the next few years, LMPD continued to aggressively patrol parts of the West End. Sullivan said the department did see reductions in crime. “With that, the next question is, in Louisville, what was the cost of that crime reduction?” Sullivan said. “Was there a loss of community trust?” Tae-Ahn Lea was exactly the kind of person LMPD might have wanted to forge a relationship with. In 2018, he was 18, a young Black man who grew up in the West End, had no criminal record, and said he had no issue with the police. That changed when he left a gas station with a slushie — and was promptly pulled over by an LMPD officer for a wide turn. LMPD detectives Kevin Crawford and Gabe Hellard got Lea out of the car and patted him down. When a detective said the police dog registered a positive indication on Lea’s car, they handcuffed him. The traffic stop took nearly half an hour and found no drugs. During the stop, Hellard pointed out that Lea’s heart was racing and he’d gotten his mother on the phone. “When you do all that, that’s the same thing people do when they’re trying to hide something from the police,” Hellard said. Tae-Ahn Lea (right) with his mother, Tija Jackson. | Photo by Zed Saeed Lea later testified to Metro Council that he was scared and just trying to follow the precautions his mother had taught him “due to recent videos and encounters with other Black men and officers, shootings and everything like that.” Hellard described the stop as a small inconvenience for Lea — and just another day at work for these officers. “We deal with violent crime all day every day,” Hellard said. “We’re going to stop 30 more people after you.” Crawford and Hellard did not respond to requests for comment. But Crawford later said in a deposition that he believed Lea was involved in criminal activity because he was slow to pull over and when asked if he had any weapons, he didn’t tell the officers there was a baseball bat in the car. Body camera footage shows Lea putting on his blinker to pull over immediately after the sirens start. Hellard told LMPD investigators that Lea was “verbally aggressive” and created a safety issue for the officers when he answered the phone call from his mother. The detectives that stopped Lea were with the 9th Mobile Division, a citywide violent crime unit created in 2015. This unit became known for aggressive traffic stops, some of which generated lawsuits or resulted in evidence being thrown out by judges after the searches were ruled unconstitutional. KyCIR and Newsy found that 9th Mobile officers were at least 2.9 times as likely to be investigated for policy violations as the rest of the force. According to documentation of LMPD’s 21st Century Policing efforts, 9th Mobile was going to gain the community’s trust by issuing citations rather than making arrests “whenever possible.” But 9th Mobile was charged with making the city safer by getting the most violent criminals off the streets, Sullivan said. “That doesn’t include…throwing a wide net and scooping up people that don’t need to be scooped up and brought into the criminal justice system on low-level offenses,” Sullivan said. “That’s the one thing that doesn’t build trust.” But the LMPD was relying on this type of policing amid the homicide surge. Conrad called 9th Mobile the “the tip of the spear” of the LMPD’s crime fighting strategy. These tactics weren’t limited to this one unit. At a 2019 Metro Council hearing, Councilmember Bill Hollander read aloud from an email he’d received from LMPD Major Eric Johnson. Hollander said Johnson wrote that he’d directed his officers in parts of the West End to “take as much enforcement as possible” and “aggressively patrol” those neighborhoods. Three years before this hearing, Johnson had gone to the White House as part of the team that implemented 21st Century Policing in Louisville. And now, he was defending policing tactics the department knew had the potential to violate trust. That’s what happened with Tae-Ahn Lea, who left that traffic stop with a citation that was dismissed in court. He has a federal civil rights lawsuit pending against LMPD leadership and the officers who pulled him over. He declined an interview request through his lawyer.Advertisement Lea told the Metro Council in 2019 that he’d grown up believing that if you don’t do anything wrong, you don’t have anything to worry about with the police. “This experience has definitely changed my view,” he said. “That’s obviously not true in this situation.” After that hearing, Conrad changed LMPD’s traffic stop policy, specifying that merely being nervous or in a high-crime area did not justify getting drivers out of their car or handcuffing them. Understaffing Leaves Little Time For Community Policing While aggressively combatting the homicide surge, LMPD continued to promote its commitment to 21st Century Policing. In 2016, the department used a federal grant to hire 10 officers to create a Community Policing Unit. These officers handed out Christmas presents and books to kids, created a mentorship program for young girls and brought “DJ Justice” — an LMPD officer who moonlighted as a DJ — out to community events. Laurie O. Robinson, professor emerita at George Mason University and co-chair of the 21st Century Policing task force, said creating a community policing unit contradicts the report, which intentionally notes that the responsibility of community policing should not be placed on one designated unit. “Community policing has to be…the culture of the entire department,” she said. “It’s not setting up one unit that has five people on bicycles riding around.” LMPD leadership was portraying this community policing effort as a full-time, full-department initiative. Conrad said in July 2016 that the department had documented more than a thousand times that year that officers had gotten out of their cars to talk with community members. But that comes to about one interaction per officer. Former LMPD Sgt. Kevin Trees | Photo courtesy of KyCIR Officers wanted to have the time to get out of their cars and build community relationships, according to former LMPD Sergeant Kevin Trees. A recent audit found that 70% of LMPD officers surveyed said they believe LMPD’s role should be to build and sustain collaborative community relationships. But with low staffing and rising gun violence, Trees said the department didn’t make that possible. “We simply do not have the manpower to be able to get out on the streets and make the runs and get with the community and just be available, for anything,” said Trees, who retired in 2019 after 20 years with LMPD, most of it in the West End. “We just don’t have the time anymore.” For much of the last decade, LMPD has had around 1,200 sworn officers on staff — roughly the same number of officers as was budgeted for in 2004, even as homicides have surged and the city’s population has crept up. Louisville has struggled to recruit and retain officers, due in part to low salaries. Last summer, officers were given a significant raise in a short term contract, bringing starting salaries to $49,000. Taking inflation into account, that’s roughly the same starting salary the department offered in 2004. And starting salaries at LMPD are still much less than in similar sized cities. In Cincinnati, for example, officers start at just over $65,000 a year — a third more than in Louisville. Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer said in an interview earlier this year that Louisville’s budget is “lean” compared to comparable cities. “I would always like to have more money,” Fischer said. “But so the question then becomes, how do you balance what you have with public safety, with libraries, with trash pickup, with economic development, and all these other activities?” Greg Fischer during an interview with KyCIR/Newsy | Photo courtesy of KyCIR Officers and community members say these low salaries come at a real cost. “I don’t have a problem with paying them well,” said Louisville civil rights activist and mayoral candidate Shameka Parrish-Wright. “I don’t want no officer who feels underpaid patrolling my communities, because you’re going to come with the attitude, you’re going to be upset…you need to know that your job matters.” But Parrish-Wright said, in return, the department needs to hold all officers accountable when they engage in misconduct. Without that, she said, Louisville has seen this chasm of mistrust between police and Black communities only grow. LMPD’s legitimacy in the eyes of the community had been badly damaged in recent years. Three officers were convicted of various charges after being accused of sexually abusing minors in the department’s Youth Explorer program. Several traffic stops, including Tae-Ahn Lea’s, sparked outrage. For several years, it felt like the kindling was piling up — and all it would take was a spark to set the city ablaze. Protests Show LMPD Missed The Message On March 13, 2020, in the middle of the night, a group of LMPD officers gathered to serve a no-knock search warrant on the apartment of 26-year-old Breonna Taylor. When they busted down her door, her boyfriend fired a shot at them and they returned fire, killing Taylor in her hallway. Protests broke out more than two months later, hours after the Courier Journal released Taylor’s boyfriend’s 911 call and days after a Minneapolis Police officer murdered George Floyd. That night launched a months-long movement that showed the world just how far LMPD had fallen from the promises they’d made years prior. Hundreds of people gathered downtown, chanting, singing and marching. As night fell, the police and protesters began to clash. Protesters surrounded police cars and the city later said it looked like they were trying to get the officers out of the cars. Police were in riot gear, using sticks and shields as they marched on the crowds. Around 11:30 p.m., seven people were shot from within the crowd. In the chaos, someone set off fireworks. People were running and screaming. The police responded with flash-bangs, pepper balls and tear gas. This incident seemed to set the stage for the rest of the weekend. The vast majority of protesters were just peacefully trying to have their voices heard. But each night, some took things a step further — shattering windows, lighting trash cans on fire, and throwing fireworks. Someone threw a Molotov cocktail that caught an officers’ pant leg on fire. The city said police officers were shot at several times. There was vandalism and burglary at stores downtown. LMPD wore riot gear as they faced protesters.  |  Photo by Kathryn Harrington As the protests overwhelmed the police, they relied on crowd control techniques that 21st Century Policing specifically warned against using. 21st Century Policing emphasizes taking a demilitarized approach to mass demonstrations. Experts who testified to the task force cautioned against using tear gas or bringing rifles or armored vehicles to protests, all things LMPD did that first weekend. LMPD received some of this advice firsthand when Ron Davis, the executive director of the 21st Century Policing task force, visited in 2016. Davis declined an interview request. But Rashaad Abdur-Rahman, then-executive director of the Office for Safe and Healthy Neighborhoods, remembers Davis’s warning. “What stuck out to me and I’ll probably never forget, is that he specifically spoke about … protests, and how police need to stop using tanks and tear gas and rubber bullets and riot shields and billy clubs,” Abdur-Rahman said. “He was like, ‘You’ve got to stop doing that stuff. Because we have seen in Ferguson how this escalated situations and makes things worse.’” LMPD used tear gas every night for the first five nights; two weeks into the protests, the department changed its policy to require the chief or his designee to approve use of tear gas. The Kentucky State Police and National Guard came to assist LMPD, and the Mayor instituted a citywide curfew. Officers were armed with pepper ball guns, which LMPD policy says should be fired at the ground or above the crowd, rather than directly at people. But officers were seen shooting people with the less-than-lethal munitions at close range, from vantage points above the crowd, and at identified members of the media. LMPD Officer Katie Crews shared on Facebook a photo from the Courier Journal of a young woman offering her a flower the first night of protests; Crews wrote in a Facebook post that the girl was “doing a lot more than offering flowers.” “I hope the pepper balls that she got lit up with a little later on hurt,” Crews wrote. “Come back and get ya some more ole girl, I’ll be on the line again tonight.” Crews did not respond to a request for comment. On the fourth night of protests, after another night of tear gas, pepper balls and mass arrests by LMPD, downtown was mostly quiet. LMPD officials later said they got intelligence that protesters may have been planning to regroup in the West End. Crews was part of a group of LMPD officers and Guardsmen who went to 26th and Broadway, a well-known and rowdy intersection featuring a nightclub, a gas station and a barbecue restaurant called Yaya’s, owned by David McAtee. It wasn’t a protest, but it was a curfew violation, so the police started ordering people to leave. Some people ran into Yaya’s Barbecue, and Crews approached the restaurant. She fired pepper balls, at least one of which hit McAtee’s niece, who was standing in the doorway of the restaurant. “She was standing — I don’t wanna say in an aggressive manner, but as a manner that she was not gonna go inside,” Crews later told investigators. “After giving verbal commands, I did shoot more balls in her direction.”” Amid the chaos, McAtee leaned out the door and fired two shots. Crews, another officer and two Guardsmen fired back. McAtee, 53, was struck once in the chest and killed by a Guardsman’s bullet. McAtee’s death was a shock to the city. He had been known for feeding the police for free, in an effort to do exactly what the city had said for years they wanted to do — build a relationship between the police and the West End. David McAtee. | Photo by Walt and Marshae Smith. Crews, another LMPD officer and two Guardsmen who fired their weapons were cleared of criminal wrongdoing. Bishop Dennis V. Lyons’ funeral home prepared McAtee’s body for the funeral, dressing him in a crisp, white suit, laying him in a black coffin, tucking his long braids neatly under his head. Just five years after he’d optimistically attended those 21st Century Policing forums, Lyons stood behind a pulpit during McAtee’s service, trying to put into words the human toll of this city’s broken promises. He harkened back to 2015, when the newspaper proudly touted LMPD’s commitment to reform. “Here we are five years later with the same caption: ‘Police call for reform of the police department,’” he said. Lyons offered a grim warning to the city. “As long as we keep doing what we’re doing, we’ll keep getting what we’re getting.” The Answer Is Still 21st Century Policing Louisville today is facing even greater challenges than what the city experienced in 2016. In 2020, the city had 173 homicides, a nearly 50% increase from the previous high. This year is on track to surpass 2020. A recent audit called LMPD a “department in crisis” and found that 75% of officers would leave if they could. And the chasm between the police and the community seems wider than ever. Despite all this, Mayor Fischer says he has “never been more optimistic” about the city’s future. “The opportunity coming out of this is to be a model city in terms of police reform, police community legitimacy, co-production of safety with the police and the community, and then racial equity as well,” Fischer said. “That’s our goal. That’s what I’m going to continue to work on until my last day in office.” Fischer said he regretted not auditing the department’s reform efforts more closely. But he doesn’t see the events of 2020 as an indictment of the city’s past attempts at reform. “Things happen in life, no matter how perfect you are,” he said. “No matter how hard you try, it’s things outside of your control.” Fischer, a term-limited Democrat, will leave office in early January 2023. His pick to lead the police department, former Atlanta Police Chief Erika Shields, is a strong indication that he hopes the city will remain committed to 21st Century Policing. LMPD Police Chief Erika Shields Back in 2016, Atlanta was also chosen by the Obama Department of Justice to model 21st Century Policing for the rest of the country. LMPD did not make Shields available for an interview, but she spoke with a reporter briefly after a recent event. She said she thinks Atlanta had success with 21st Century Policing, and proposed a greater focus going forward on use-of-force training and transparency. “It was fantastic,” she said. “They need to come out with a 2.0…A lot has changed in the last six years.” Both Fischer and Shields have pointed to the numerous promises Louisville has made in the wake of the Breonna Taylor shooting as evidence of the city’s progress. But KyCIR and Newsy found that LMPD considered many of these reforms back when they were first rolling out 21st Century Policing. The city has now asked the Kentucky State Police to investigate LMPD shootings, and created a more significant civilian review apparatus. As part of a $12 million settlement with Taylor’s family, Fischer also agreed to finally activate the early warning system for officers and offer housing credits to encourage officers to live in low-income areas of the city, mostly in the West End. But even now, years after they were first considered, these more recent promises are falling short. The state police investigations have proven less transparent than LMPD’s. The state legislature didn’t grant the civilian review board subpoena power, so it’s not as strong as initially hoped. No officers have taken advantage of the housing credits, and the early warning system still hasn’t been activated. There is one notable difference now. In April 2021, five years after Louisville city officials were lauded by the Department of Justice for their policing reform efforts, the same federal agency opened a civil rights investigation into the city government and police department. If that investigation concludes that LMPD has engaged in a pattern or practice of violating its citizens’ civil rights, the city would likely be put under a consent decree — a legally binding reform plan that would require Louisville to meaningfully change how the department polices. Federal intervention may force Louisville to become the kind of police department it claimed for years to be. You can listen to KYCIR and Newsy’s podcast on this story below. Contact the reporters: eklibanoff@kycir.org | carrie.cochran@scripps.com | karen.rodriguez@scripps.com

The model city: Inside LMPD's failure to reform itself – 89.3 WFPL News Louisville

By |2021-10-22T07:01:10-04:00October 22nd, 2021|Breonna Taylor, David McAtee|

When hundreds of people took to the streets in Louisville, Ky. in May 2020, they were protesting the police killing of Breonna Taylor — and a police department they felt unfairly targeted and mistreated Black residents. The protests stretched for months and helped launch a national reckoning about race, policing and public safety in America. This wasn’t supposed to happen in Louisville. These protests reflected the chasm of distrust between the Louisville Metro Police Department and the people they police, and followed five years of broken promises, unheeded warnings, and failed efforts to build a better relationship. In 2015, Louisville embarked on an ambitious plan to reform its police department. The Department of Justice offered Louisville concrete recommendations, grants and coaching. The LMPD said it had overhauled training, changed policies and completed hundreds of reform initiatives. City leaders were honored at the White House in 2016 for these efforts. Louisville portrayed itself as a model city that would show the rest of the nation how to maintain public safety while building community relationships and trust. In May 2020, that facade came crumbling down as the nation learned what many in Louisville already knew: LMPD had not meaningfully changed how it policed the city. How did Louisville go from a national leader in policing to an epicenter of the movement for racial justice in the United States? Listen now and subscribe in your favorite podcast app. The Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting and Newsy spent the last year reviewing thousands of pages of documents and interviewing dozens of people to understand how Louisville went from a national leader in policing reform to the face of a national movement protesting the police. The investigation found that Louisville took a “checkbox” approach to reform, focusing on attainable or easily documented reforms rather than actually changing how they policed. The LMPD claimed to have implemented some changes that never happened, or made little difference. At the same time, the department invested in controversial violent crime units and encouraged officers to aggressively patrol certain Black neighborhoods. When demonstrations broke out last May, the department relied on tactics that they’d specifically been warned against using. By the end of that first weekend of protests, another Black person was dead after a shooting involving LMPD and the National Guard. Mayor Greg Fischer hugs David McAtee’s mother at the scene of his shooting on June 1, 2020. Longtime LMPD Chief Steve Conrad was fired after that shooting in June 2020 when it came to light that the LMPD officers who fired their weapons hadn’t activated their body cameras. Conrad did not respond to requests for comment and LMPD did not make current department leadership available for an interview. In a statement, they said the department successfully implemented reforms in some areas but faced challenges in others, due to changing demands from the community, economic issues and evolving technology. LMPD spokesperson Beth Ruoff noted the department’s current command staff is “committed to evolving and improving in those areas where it readily acknowledges improvement is needed.” Checked boxes, but little change More than a month after a grand jury decided not to indict the Ferguson, Missouri police officer who shot and killed 18-year-old Michael Brown, President Barack Obama spoke about the need for change. “Ferguson laid bare a problem that is not unique to St. Louis or that area, and is not unique to our time,” Obama said in December 2014. “That is a simmering distrust that exists between too many police departments and too many communities of color.” In Louisville, that tension was felt most acutely in the city’s West End. The West End is predominately Black, and after decades of segregation and disinvestment, parts of it are extremely poor — about 40% of people in the West End live below the poverty line, compared to just 14% in the whole county. LMPD data show that parts of the West End have high rates of violent crime, and the police department has admitted to targeting some of these neighborhoods with aggressive patrols. Black residents are more likely to be stopped, cited and arrested citywide than white residents, according to a January 2021 audit from consulting firm Hillard Heintze commissioned by the city in the wake of the protests. Nearly half of all Black respondents surveyed for the audit said they don’t trust LMPD. This was the sort of “simmering distrust” that Obama had hoped to help cities address. His administration put together a policing reform task force, which consulted experts, activists, community leaders and law enforcement across the country to produce a 116-page guidebook on “21st Century Policing.” The report detailed how local police departments could build community relationships, gain legitimacy in the eyes of the people they serve and fight crime without burning trust. Louisville city and department officials were immediately on board. In 2016, they were invited to the White House as one of 15 cities that were going to model 21st Century Policing to the rest of the nation. In Louisville, Conrad called the 21st Century Policing report a “gift of best practices” that could change the way LMPD operated. “My hope is that together we will not only make our communities safer, but we will improve the relationships between police and the community we serve moving forward,” Conrad said in 2016. Over a series of community forums hosted by the department, Conrad acknowledged his department’s role in the broken relationship between the police and Louisville’s Black community. He said things would be different going forward: everyone in Louisville would be treated with dignity, respect and fairness by the police, no matter who they were or what neighborhood they lived in. Officers were going to be trained on having a “guardian,” rather than a “warrior” mindset, and seeking to build relationships. LMPD was going to focus on community policing — identifying problems and implementing solutions alongside the people most affected. “When I heard it, it was like a breath of fresh air,” said Bishop Dennis V. Lyons, a pastor at Gospel Missionary Church in the West End. “We [are] now going to get some justice with the police.” Bishop Dennis V. Lyons Lyons, a longtime civil rights leader, used his church bus to bring people to one of these forums. He even got his own copy of the task force report, which he still has, as tattered and torn as a well-loved teddy bear. By the time LMPD hosted these forums in 2016, the department had already overhauled its training curriculum and revised policies and procedures to better align with 21st Century Policing values. The department created a community policing unit, and started posting crime data online as part of their transparency efforts. Lyons felt like they’d just hosted those forums so they could document their community involvement efforts. He has come to see that this was indicative of the department’s whole approach to reform. “The police were always ready…for us to attend their seminars, but they were never willing to attend our seminars,” Lyons said. “It became one-sided, still, became that same mentality of master-slave.” Lyons also felt the department focused on good PR. An example was the Clergy Police Academy, a one-day workshop the department started hosting in 2016 to educate religious leaders about LMPD. Lyons signed up pastors hoping the police would call on them to help build community relationships. “Never one time [did they] call that team together,” he said. In a recent statement to KyCIR and Newsy, an LMPD spokesperson said they did call on the clergy on different occasions, and hoped to reinvigorate that effort going forward. By February 2017, less than two years after the 21st Century Policing report was released, Louisville claimed in internal documents that they had completed 351 different reform initiatives. The department did make some meaningful changes: they equipped most officers with body cameras, and according to a 2020 study from the University of Cincinnati and the International Association of Chief of Police, officer use-of-force reports have declined since 2015. But many of the promised reforms never happened. Several people with knowledge of LMPD’s reform efforts, including Lyons, described LMPD’s approach to 21st Century Policing the same way — checkbox reform. “They checked a bunch of boxes to say that they were 21st Century, and they put it on a wall, and the mayor had a big ceremony,” said Metro Council President and former LMPD detective David James. “And we hadn’t changed anything.” Listen to “Dig” on Apple | Google | Spotify | Stitcher | RSS In its 21st Century Policing documentation, LMPD claimed to have an early warning system, a tool experts say can be one of the most important parts of a police department’s accountability system. But KyCIR/Newsy found that they never actually implemented it. Additionally, 21st Century Policing said law enforcement should require that a third party investigate police shootings. LMPD marked that recommendation as “already implemented,” even as the department’s internal investigative unit continued to handle those cases. They claimed that the unit’s capacity to adequately handle investigations was “greater than any external capacity.” The checkbox mentality was felt inside the department, too, as officers say they struggled to keep up with the flurry of new initiatives, training requirements and policy changes. “You can’t come into work and sit down at a computer for an hour and a half and fully read all of these policies…while runs are holding,” said Dave Mutchler, a retired LMPD sergeant and press secretary for the police union. “What you run into is [officers] click and move on. ‘I’ll look at it later.’” LMPD changed its use of force policy 10 times in five years, according to a recent audit, and failed to properly train officers on these changes. Former LMPD deputy chief Michael Sullivan, now a deputy commissioner at the Baltimore Police Department, helped oversee LMPD’s implementation of 21st Century Policing. He acknowledged in an interview with KyCIR/Newsy that the department didn’t do enough to determine whether new policies were translating into meaningful change. “You can have the best policies in the world,” he said. “But if you don’t know and can’t say with confidence that this policy is being followed…you can’t honestly say that that policy has changed anything.” ‘The house is on fire’ While documenting hundreds of reforms on paper, the department continued to invest in a style of policing that had the potential to damage trust. Back when Louisville was implementing 21st Century Policing, the department wasn’t just battling a crisis of legitimacy. They were also facing a homicide surge. Louisville had 117 homicides in 2016, the deadliest year they had seen in decades. Sullivan conceded that this took the department’s eye off of reform. “When the house is on fire, you have to put it out before you start rebuilding it,” Sullivan said. In 2016, the department moved resources away from neighborhood beats and into citywide violent crime units. Even as homicides declined over the next few years, LMPD continued to aggressively patrol parts of the West End. Sullivan said the department did see reductions in crime. “With that, the next question is, in Louisville, what was the cost of that crime reduction?” Sullivan said. “Was there a loss of community trust?” Tae-Ahn Lea was exactly the kind of person LMPD might have wanted to forge a relationship with. Tae-Ahn Lea in 2019 In 2018, he was 18, a young Black man who grew up in the West End, had no criminal record, and said he had no issue with the police. That changed when he left a gas station with a slushie — and was promptly pulled over by an LMPD officer for a wide turn. LMPD detectives Kevin Crawford and Gabe Hellard got Lea out of the car and patted him down. When a detective said the police dog registered a positive indication on Lea’s car, they handcuffed him. The traffic stop took nearly half an hour and found no drugs. During the stop, Hellard pointed out that Lea’s heart was racing and he’d gotten his mother on the phone. “When you do all that, that’s the same thing people do when they’re trying to hide something from the police,” Hellard said. Lea later testified to Metro Council that he was scared and just trying to follow the precautions his mother had taught him “due to recent videos and encounters with other Black men and officers, shootings and everything like that.” Hellard described the stop as a small inconvenience for Lea — and just another day at work for these officers. “We deal with violent crime all day every day,” Hellard said. “We’re going to stop 30 more people after you.” Crawford and Hellard did not respond to requests for comment. But Crawford later said in a deposition that he believed Lea was involved in criminal activity because he was slow to pull over and when asked if he had any weapons, he didn’t tell the officers there was a baseball bat in the car. Body camera footage shows Lea putting on his blinker to pull over immediately after the sirens start. Hellard told LMPD investigators that Lea was “verbally aggressive” and created a safety issue for the officers when he answered the phone call from his mother. The detectives that stopped Lea were with the 9th Mobile Division, a citywide violent crime unit created in 2015. This unit became known for aggressive traffic stops, some of which generated lawsuits or resulted in evidence being thrown out by judges after the searches were ruled unconstitutional. KyCIR and Newsy found that 9th Mobile officers were at least 2.9 times as likely to be investigated for policy violations as the rest of the force. According to documentation of LMPD’s 21st Century Policing efforts, 9th Mobile was going to gain the community’s trust by issuing citations rather than making arrests “whenever possible.” But 9th Mobile was charged with making the city safer by getting the most violent criminals off the streets, Sullivan said. “That doesn’t include…throwing a wide net and scooping up people that don’t need to be scooped up and brought into the criminal justice system on low-level offenses,” Sullivan said. “That’s the one thing that doesn’t build trust.” But the LMPD was relying on this type of policing amid the homicide surge. Conrad called 9th Mobile the “the tip of the spear” of the LMPD’s crime fighting strategy. These tactics weren’t limited to this one unit. At a 2019 Metro Council hearing, Councilmember Bill Hollander read aloud from an email he’d received from LMPD Major Eric Johnson. Hollander said Johnson wrote that he’d directed his officers in parts of the West End to “take as much enforcement as possible” and “aggressively patrol” those neighborhoods. Three years before this hearing, Johnson had gone to the White House as part of the team that implemented 21st Century Policing in Louisville. And now, he was defending policing tactics the department knew had the potential to violate trust. That’s what happened with Tae-Ahn Lea, who left that traffic stop with a citation that was dismissed in court. He has a federal civil rights lawsuit pending against LMPD leadership and the officers who pulled him over. He declined an interview request through his lawyer. Lea told the Metro Council in 2019 that he’d grown up believing that if you don’t do anything wrong, you don’t have anything to worry about with the police. “This experience has definitely changed my view,” he said. “That’s obviously not true in this situation.” After that hearing, Conrad changed LMPD’s traffic stop policy, specifying that merely being nervous or in a high-crime area did not justify getting drivers out of their car or handcuffing them. Understaffing leaves little time for community policing While aggressively combatting the homicide surge, LMPD continued to promote its commitment to 21st Century Policing. In 2016, the department used a federal grant to hire 10 officers to create a Community Policing Unit. These officers handed out Christmas presents and books to kids, created a mentorship program for young girls and brought “DJ Justice” — an LMPD officer who moonlighted as a DJ — out to community events. Laurie O. Robinson, professor emerita at George Mason University and co-chair of the 21st Century Policing task force, said creating a community policing unit contradicts the report, which intentionally notes that the responsibility of community policing should not be placed on one designated unit. “Community policing has to be…the culture of the entire department,” she said. “It’s not setting up one unit that has five people on bicycles riding around.” LMPD leadership was portraying this community policing effort as a full-time, full-department initiative. Conrad said in July 2016 that the department had documented more than a thousand times that year that officers had gotten out of their cars to talk with community members. But that comes to about one interaction per officer. Former LMPD Sgt. Kevin Trees Officers wanted to have the time to get out of their cars and build community relationships, according to former LMPD Sergeant Kevin Trees. A recent audit found that 70% of LMPD officers surveyed said they believe LMPD’s role should be to build and sustain collaborative community relationships. But with low staffing and rising gun violence, Trees said the department didn’t make that possible. “We simply do not have the manpower to be able to get out on the streets and make the runs and get with the community and just be available, for anything,” said Trees, who retired in 2019 after 20 years with LMPD, most of it in the West End. “We just don’t have the time anymore.” For much of the last decade, LMPD has had around 1,200 sworn officers on staff — roughly the same number of officers as was budgeted for in 2004, even as homicides have surged and the city’s population has crept up. Greg Fischer during an interview with KyCIR/Newsy Louisville has struggled to recruit and retain officers, due in part to low salaries. Last summer, officers were given a significant raise in a short term contract, bringing starting salaries to $49,000. Taking inflation into account, that’s roughly the same starting salary the department offered in 2004. And starting salaries at LMPD are still much less than in similar sized cities. In Cincinnati, for example, officers start at just over $65,000 a year — a third more than in Louisville. Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer said in an interview earlier this year that Louisville’s budget is “lean” compared to comparable cities. “I would always like to have more money,” Fischer said. “But so the question then becomes, how do you balance what you have with public safety, with libraries, with trash pickup, with economic development, and all these other activities?” Officers and community members say these low salaries come at a real cost. “I don’t have a problem with paying them well,” said Louisville civil rights activist and mayoral candidate Shameka Parrish-Wright. “I don’t want no officer who feels underpaid patrolling my communities, because you’re going to come with the attitude, you’re going to be upset…you need to know that your job matters.” But Parrish-Wright said, in return, the department needs to hold all officers accountable when they engage in misconduct. Without that, she said, Louisville has seen this chasm of mistrust between police and Black communities only grow. LMPD’s legitimacy in the eyes of the community had been badly damaged in recent years. Three officers were convicted of various charges after being accused of sexually abusing minors in the department’s Youth Explorer program. Several traffic stops, including Tae-Ahn Lea’s, sparked outrage. For several years, it felt like the kindling was piling up — and all it would take was a spark to set the city ablaze. Protests show LMPD missed the message On March 13, 2020, in the middle of the night, a group of LMPD officers gathered to serve a no-knock search warrant on the apartment of 26-year-old Breonna Taylor. When they busted down her door, her boyfriend fired a shot at them and they returned fire, killing Taylor in her hallway. Protests broke out more than two months later, hours after the Courier Journal released Taylor’s boyfriend’s 911 call and days after a Minneapolis Police officer murdered George Floyd. That night launched a months-long movement that showed the world just how far LMPD had fallen from the promises they’d made years prior. Hundreds of people gathered downtown, chanting, singing and marching. As night fell, the police and protesters began to clash. Protesters surrounded police cars and the city later said it looked like they were trying to get the officers out of the cars. Police were in riot gear, using sticks and shields as they marched on the crowds. Police fire tear gas and pepper balls on protesters after seven were shot in downtown Louisville on May 28, 2020. Around 11:30 p.m., seven people were shot from within the crowd. In the chaos, someone set off fireworks. People were running and screaming. The police responded with flash-bangs, pepper balls and tear gas. This incident seemed to set the stage for the rest of the weekend. The vast majority of protesters were just peacefully trying to have their voices heard. But each night, some took things a step further — shattering windows, lighting trash cans on fire, and throwing fireworks. Someone threw a Molotov cocktail that caught an officers’ pant leg on fire. The city said police officers were shot at several times. There was vandalism and burglary at stores downtown. As the protests overwhelmed the police, they relied on crowd control techniques that 21st Century Policing specifically warned against using. 21st Century Policing emphasizes taking a demilitarized approach to mass demonstrations. Experts who testified to the task force cautioned against using tear gas or bringing rifles or armored vehicles to protests, all things LMPD did that first weekend. LMPD received some of this advice firsthand when Ron Davis, the executive director of the 21st Century Policing task force, visited in 2016. Davis declined an interview request. But Rashaad Abdur-Rahman, then-executive director of the Office for Safe and Healthy Neighborhoods, remembers Davis’s warning. Chief Steve Conrad, center, speaks during a 2016 press conference. Behind is Rashaad Abdur-Rahman and Ron Davis of the COPS office. “What stuck out to me and I’ll probably never forget, is that he specifically spoke about … protests, and how police need to stop using tanks and tear gas and rubber bullets and riot shields and billy clubs,” Abdur-Rahman said. “He was like, ‘You’ve got to stop doing that stuff. Because we have seen in Ferguson how this escalated situations and makes things worse.’” LMPD used tear gas every night for the first five nights; two weeks into the protests, the department changed its policy to require the chief or his designee to approve use of tear gas. The Kentucky State Police and National Guard came to assist LMPD, and the Mayor instituted a citywide curfew. Carmen Jones shows an injury she said is from being struck by a pepper ball round prior to her arrest. Officers were armed with pepper ball guns, which LMPD policy says should be fired at the ground or above the crowd, rather than directly at people. But officers were seen shooting people with the less-than-lethal munitions at close range, from vantage points above the crowd, and at identified members of the media. LMPD Officer Katie Crews shared on Facebook a photo from the Courier Journal of a young woman offering her a flower the first night of protests; Crews wrote in a Facebook post that the girl was “doing a lot more than offering flowers.” “I hope the pepper balls that she got lit up with a little later on hurt,” Crews wrote. “Come back and get ya some more ole girl, I’ll be on the line again tonight.” Crews did not respond to a request for comment. On the fourth night of protests, after another night of tear gas, pepper balls and mass arrests by LMPD, downtown was mostly quiet. LMPD officials later said they got intelligence that protesters may have been planning to regroup in the West End. Crews was part of a group of LMPD officers and Guardsmen who went to 26th and Broadway, a well-known and rowdy intersection featuring a nightclub, a gas station and a barbecue restaurant called Yaya’s, owned by David McAtee. It wasn’t a protest, but it was a curfew violation, so the police started ordering people to leave. Some people ran into Yaya’s Barbecue, and Crews approached the restaurant. She fired pepper balls, at least one of which hit McAtee’s niece, who was standing in the doorway of the restaurant. In this still from surveillance video, David McAtee (at top) is leaning out the door after the people in the foreground rushed in. “She was standing — I don’t wanna say in an aggressive manner, but as a manner that she was not gonna go inside,” Crews later told investigators. “After giving verbal commands, I did shoot more balls in her direction.”” Amid the chaos, McAtee leaned out the door and fired two shots. Crews, another officer and two Guardsmen fired back. McAtee, 53, was struck once in the chest and killed by a Guardsman’s bullet. McAtee’s death was a shock to the city. He had been known for feeding the police for free, in an effort to do exactly what the city had said for years they wanted to do — build a relationship between the police and the West End. Chef David McAtee Crews, another LMPD officer and two Guardsmen who fired their weapons were cleared of criminal wrongdoing. Bishop Dennis V. Lyons’ funeral home prepared McAtee’s body for the funeral, dressing him in a crisp, white suit, laying him in a black coffin, tucking his long braids neatly under his head. Just five years after he’d optimistically attended those 21st Century Policing forums, Lyons stood behind a pulpit during McAtee’s service, trying to put into words the human toll of this city’s broken promises. He harkened back to 2015, when the newspaper proudly touted LMPD’s commitment to reform. “Here we are five years later with the same caption: ‘Police call for reform of the police department,’” he said. Lyons offered a grim warning to the city. “As long as we keep doing what we’re doing, we’ll keep getting what we’re getting.” The answer is still 21st Century Policing Louisville today is facing even greater challenges than what the city experienced in 2016. In 2020, the city had 173 homicides, a nearly 50% increase from the previous high. This year is on track to surpass 2020. A recent audit called LMPD a “department in crisis” and found that 75% of officers would leave if they could. And the chasm between the police and the community seems wider than ever. Despite all this, Mayor Fischer says he has “never been more optimistic” about the city’s future. “The opportunity coming out of this is to be a model city in terms of police reform, police community legitimacy, co-production of safety with the police and the community, and then racial equity as well,” Fischer said. “That’s our goal. That’s what I’m going to continue to work on until my last day in office.” Fischer said he regretted not auditing the department’s reform efforts more closely. But he doesn’t see the events of 2020 as an indictment of the city’s past attempts at reform. “Things happen in life, no matter how perfect you are,” he said. “No matter how hard you try, it’s things outside of your control.” Fischer, a term-limited Democrat, will leave office in early January 2023. His pick to lead the police department, former Atlanta Police Chief Erika Shields, is a strong indication that he hopes the city will remain committed to 21st Century Policing. LMPD Chief Erika Shields Back in 2016, Atlanta was also chosen by the Obama Department of Justice to model 21st Century Policing for the rest of the country. LMPD did not make Shields available for an interview, but she spoke with a reporter briefly after a recent event. She said she thinks Atlanta had success with 21st Century Policing, and proposed a greater focus going forward on use-of-force training and transparency. “It was fantastic,” she said. “They need to come out with a 2.0…A lot has changed in the last six years.” Both Fischer and Shields have pointed to the numerous promises Louisville has made in the wake of the Breonna Taylor shooting as evidence of the city’s progress. But KyCIR and Newsy found that LMPD considered many of these reforms back when they were first rolling out 21st Century Policing. The city has now asked the Kentucky State Police to investigate LMPD shootings, and created a more significant civilian review apparatus. As part of a $12 million settlement with Taylor’s family, Fischer also agreed to finally activate the early warning system for officers and offer housing credits to encourage officers to live in low-income areas of the city, mostly in the West End. But even now, years after they were first considered, these more recent promises are falling short. The state police investigations have proven less transparent than LMPD’s. The state legislature didn’t grant the civilian review board subpoena power, so it’s not as strong as initially hoped. No officers have taken advantage of the housing credits, and the early warning system still hasn’t been activated. There is one notable difference now. In April 2021, five years after Louisville city officials were lauded by the Department of Justice for their policing reform efforts, the same federal agency opened a civil rights investigation into the city government and police department. If that investigation concludes that LMPD has engaged in a pattern or practice of violating its citizens’ civil rights, the city would likely be put under a consent decree — a legally binding reform plan that would require Louisville to meaningfully change how the department polices. Federal intervention may force Louisville to become the kind of police department it claimed for years to be. Rosie Cima and Mark Fahey of Newsy contributed reporting. A grant from the Fund for Investigative Journalism supported KyCIR’s work.

The model city: Inside LMPD's failure to reform itself

By |2021-10-22T07:01:32-04:00October 22nd, 2021|Breonna Taylor, David McAtee|

J. Tyler FranklinLMPD SRT officers and protesters in late May 2020 When hundreds of people took to the streets in Louisville, Ky. in May 2020, they were protesting the police killing of Breonna Taylor — and a police department they felt unfairly targeted and mistreated Black residents. The protests stretched for months and helped launch a national reckoning about race, policing and public safety in America. This wasn’t supposed to happen in Louisville. These protests reflected the chasm of distrust between the Louisville Metro Police Department and the people they police, and followed five years of broken promises, unheeded warnings, and failed efforts to build a better relationship. In 2015, Louisville embarked on an ambitious plan to reform its police department. The Department of Justice offered Louisville concrete recommendations, grants and coaching. The LMPD said it had overhauled training, changed policies and completed hundreds of reform initiatives. City leaders were honored at the White House in 2016 for these efforts. Louisville portrayed itself as a model city that would show the rest of the nation how to maintain public safety while building community relationships and trust. In May 2020, that facade came crumbling down as the nation learned what many in Louisville already knew: LMPD had not meaningfully changed how it policed the city. How did Louisville go from a national leader in policing to an epicenter of the movement for racial justice in the United States? Listen now and subscribe in your favorite podcast app. The Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting and Newsy spent the last year reviewing thousands of pages of documents and interviewing dozens of people to understand how Louisville went from a national leader in policing reform to the face of a national movement protesting the police. The investigation found that Louisville took a “checkbox” approach to reform, focusing on attainable or easily documented reforms rather than actually changing how they policed. The LMPD claimed to have implemented some changes that never happened, or made little difference. At the same time, the department invested in controversial violent crime units and encouraged officers to aggressively patrol certain Black neighborhoods. When demonstrations broke out last May, the department relied on tactics that they’d specifically been warned against using. By the end of that first weekend of protests, another Black person was dead after a shooting involving LMPD and the National Guard. Eleanor KlibanoffMayor Greg Fischer hugs David McAtee’s mother at the scene of his shooting on June 1, 2020. Longtime LMPD Chief Steve Conrad was fired after that shooting in June 2020 when it came to light that the LMPD officers who fired their weapons hadn’t activated their body cameras. Conrad did not respond to requests for comment and LMPD did not make current department leadership available for an interview. In a statement, they said the department successfully implemented reforms in some areas but faced challenges in others, due to changing demands from the community, economic issues and evolving technology. LMPD spokesperson Beth Ruoff noted the department’s current command staff is “committed to evolving and improving in those areas where it readily acknowledges improvement is needed.” Checked boxes, but little change More than a month after a grand jury decided not to indict the Ferguson, Missouri police officer who shot and killed 18-year-old Michael Brown, President Barack Obama spoke about the need for change. “Ferguson laid bare a problem that is not unique to St. Louis or that area, and is not unique to our time,” Obama said in December 2014. “That is a simmering distrust that exists between too many police departments and too many communities of color.” In Louisville, that tension was felt most acutely in the city’s West End. The West End is predominately Black, and after decades of segregation and disinvestment, parts of it are extremely poor — about 40% of people in the West End live below the poverty line, compared to just 14% in the whole county. LMPD data show that parts of the West End have high rates of violent crime, and the police department has admitted to targeting some of these neighborhoods with aggressive patrols. Black residents are more likely to be stopped, cited and arrested citywide than white residents, according to a January 2021 audit from consulting firm Hillard Heintze commissioned by the city in the wake of the protests. Nearly half of all Black respondents surveyed for the audit said they don’t trust LMPD. This was the sort of “simmering distrust” that Obama had hoped to help cities address. His administration put together a policing reform task force, which consulted experts, activists, community leaders and law enforcement across the country to produce a 116-page guidebook on “21st Century Policing.” The report detailed how local police departments could build community relationships, gain legitimacy in the eyes of the people they serve and fight crime without burning trust. Louisville city and department officials were immediately on board. In 2016, they were invited to the White House as one of 15 cities that were going to model 21st Century Policing to the rest of the nation. In Louisville, Conrad called the 21st Century Policing report a “gift of best practices” that could change the way LMPD operated. “My hope is that together we will not only make our communities safer, but we will improve the relationships between police and the community we serve moving forward,” Conrad said in 2016. Over a series of community forums hosted by the department, Conrad acknowledged his department’s role in the broken relationship between the police and Louisville’s Black community. He said things would be different going forward: everyone in Louisville would be treated with dignity, respect and fairness by the police, no matter who they were or what neighborhood they lived in. Officers were going to be trained on having a “guardian,” rather than a “warrior” mindset, and seeking to build relationships. LMPD was going to focus on community policing — identifying problems and implementing solutions alongside the people most affected. “When I heard it, it was like a breath of fresh air,” said Bishop Dennis V. Lyons, a pastor at Gospel Missionary Church in the West End. “We [are] now going to get some justice with the police.” Bishop Dennis V. Lyons Lyons, a longtime civil rights leader, used his church bus to bring people to one of these forums. He even got his own copy of the task force report, which he still has, as tattered and torn as a well-loved teddy bear. By the time LMPD hosted these forums in 2016, the department had already overhauled its training curriculum and revised policies and procedures to better align with 21st Century Policing values. The department created a community policing unit, and started posting crime data online as part of their transparency efforts. Lyons felt like they’d just hosted those forums so they could document their community involvement efforts. He has come to see that this was indicative of the department’s whole approach to reform. “The police were always ready…for us to attend their seminars, but they were never willing to attend our seminars,” Lyons said. “It became one-sided, still, became that same mentality of master-slave.” Lyons also felt the department focused on good PR. An example was the Clergy Police Academy, a one-day workshop the department started hosting in 2016 to educate religious leaders about LMPD. Lyons signed up pastors hoping the police would call on them to help build community relationships. “Never one time [did they] call that team together,” he said. In a recent statement to KyCIR and Newsy, an LMPD spokesperson said they did call on the clergy on different occasions, and hoped to reinvigorate that effort going forward. By February 2017, less than two years after the 21st Century Policing report was released, Louisville claimed in internal documents that they had completed 351 different reform initiatives. The department did make some meaningful changes: they equipped most officers with body cameras, and according to a 2020 study from the University of Cincinnati and the International Association of Chief of Police, officer use-of-force reports have declined since 2015. But many of the promised reforms never happened. Several people with knowledge of LMPD’s reform efforts, including Lyons, described LMPD’s approach to 21st Century Policing the same way — checkbox reform. “They checked a bunch of boxes to say that they were 21st Century, and they put it on a wall, and the mayor had a big ceremony,” said Metro Council President and former LMPD detective David James. “And we hadn’t changed anything.” Listen to “Dig” on Apple | Google | Spotify | Stitcher | RSS In its 21st Century Policing documentation, LMPD claimed to have an early warning system, a tool experts say can be one of the most important parts of a police department’s accountability system. But KyCIR/Newsy found that they never actually implemented it. Additionally, 21st Century Policing said law enforcement should require that a third party investigate police shootings. LMPD marked that recommendation as “already implemented,” even as the department’s internal investigative unit continued to handle those cases. They claimed that the unit’s capacity to adequately handle investigations was “greater than any external capacity.” The checkbox mentality was felt inside the department, too, as officers say they struggled to keep up with the flurry of new initiatives, training requirements and policy changes. “You can’t come into work and sit down at a computer for an hour and a half and fully read all of these policies…while runs are holding,” said Dave Mutchler, a retired LMPD sergeant and press secretary for the police union. “What you run into is [officers] click and move on. ‘I’ll look at it later.’” LMPD changed its use of force policy 10 times in five years, according to a recent audit, and failed to properly train officers on these changes. Former LMPD deputy chief Michael Sullivan, now a deputy commissioner at the Baltimore Police Department, helped oversee LMPD’s implementation of 21st Century Policing. He acknowledged in an interview with KyCIR/Newsy that the department didn’t do enough to determine whether new policies were translating into meaningful change. “You can have the best policies in the world,” he said. “But if you don’t know and can’t say with confidence that this policy is being followed…you can’t honestly say that that policy has changed anything.” ‘The house is on fire’ While documenting hundreds of reforms on paper, the department continued to invest in a style of policing that had the potential to damage trust. Back when Louisville was implementing 21st Century Policing, the department wasn’t just battling a crisis of legitimacy. They were also facing a homicide surge. Louisville had 117 homicides in 2016, the deadliest year they had seen in decades. Sullivan conceded that this took the department’s eye off of reform. “When the house is on fire, you have to put it out before you start rebuilding it,” Sullivan said. In 2016, the department moved resources away from neighborhood beats and into citywide violent crime units. Even as homicides declined over the next few years, LMPD continued to aggressively patrol parts of the West End. Sullivan said the department did see reductions in crime. “With that, the next question is, in Louisville, what was the cost of that crime reduction?” Sullivan said. “Was there a loss of community trust?” Tae-Ahn Lea was exactly the kind of person LMPD might have wanted to forge a relationship with. Tae-Ahn Lea in 2019 In 2018, he was 18, a young Black man who grew up in the West End, had no criminal record, and said he had no issue with the police. That changed when he left a gas station with a slushie — and was promptly pulled over by an LMPD officer for a wide turn. LMPD detectives Kevin Crawford and Gabe Hellard got Lea out of the car and patted him down. When a detective said the police dog registered a positive indication on Lea’s car, they handcuffed him. The traffic stop took nearly half an hour and found no drugs. During the stop, Hellard pointed out that Lea’s heart was racing and he’d gotten his mother on the phone. “When you do all that, that’s the same thing people do when they’re trying to hide something from the police,” Hellard said. Lea later testified to Metro Council that he was scared and just trying to follow the precautions his mother had taught him “due to recent videos and encounters with other Black men and officers, shootings and everything like that.” Hellard described the stop as a small inconvenience for Lea — and just another day at work for these officers. “We deal with violent crime all day every day,” Hellard said. “We’re going to stop 30 more people after you.” Crawford and Hellard did not respond to requests for comment. But Crawford later said in a deposition that he believed Lea was involved in criminal activity because he was slow to pull over and when asked if he had any weapons, he didn’t tell the officers there was a baseball bat in the car. Body camera footage shows Lea putting on his blinker to pull over immediately after the sirens start. Hellard told LMPD investigators that Lea was “verbally aggressive” and created a safety issue for the officers when he answered the phone call from his mother. The detectives that stopped Lea were with the 9th Mobile Division, a citywide violent crime unit created in 2015. This unit became known for aggressive traffic stops, some of which generated lawsuits or resulted in evidence being thrown out by judges after the searches were ruled unconstitutional. KyCIR and Newsy found that 9th Mobile officers were at least 2.9 times as likely to be investigated for policy violations as the rest of the force. According to documentation of LMPD’s 21st Century Policing efforts, 9th Mobile was going to gain the community’s trust by issuing citations rather than making arrests “whenever possible.” But 9th Mobile was charged with making the city safer by getting the most violent criminals off the streets, Sullivan said. “That doesn’t include…throwing a wide net and scooping up people that don’t need to be scooped up and brought into the criminal justice system on low-level offenses,” Sullivan said. “That’s the one thing that doesn’t build trust.” But the LMPD was relying on this type of policing amid the homicide surge. Conrad called 9th Mobile the “the tip of the spear” of the LMPD’s crime fighting strategy. These tactics weren’t limited to this one unit. At a 2019 Metro Council hearing, Councilmember Bill Hollander read aloud from an email he’d received from LMPD Major Eric Johnson. Hollander said Johnson wrote that he’d directed his officers in parts of the West End to “take as much enforcement as possible” and “aggressively patrol” those neighborhoods. Three years before this hearing, Johnson had gone to the White House as part of the team that implemented 21st Century Policing in Louisville. And now, he was defending policing tactics the department knew had the potential to violate trust. That’s what happened with Tae-Ahn Lea, who left that traffic stop with a citation that was dismissed in court. He has a federal civil rights lawsuit pending against LMPD leadership and the officers who pulled him over. He declined an interview request through his lawyer. Lea told the Metro Council in 2019 that he’d grown up believing that if you don’t do anything wrong, you don’t have anything to worry about with the police. “This experience has definitely changed my view,” he said. “That’s obviously not true in this situation.” After that hearing, Conrad changed LMPD’s traffic stop policy, specifying that merely being nervous or in a high-crime area did not justify getting drivers out of their car or handcuffing them. Understaffing leaves little time for community policing While aggressively combatting the homicide surge, LMPD continued to promote its commitment to 21st Century Policing. In 2016, the department used a federal grant to hire 10 officers to create a Community Policing Unit. These officers handed out Christmas presents and books to kids, created a mentorship program for young girls and brought “DJ Justice” — an LMPD officer who moonlighted as a DJ — out to community events. Laurie O. Robinson, professor emerita at George Mason University and co-chair of the 21st Century Policing task force, said creating a community policing unit contradicts the report, which intentionally notes that the responsibility of community policing should not be placed on one designated unit. “Community policing has to be…the culture of the entire department,” she said. “It’s not setting up one unit that has five people on bicycles riding around.” LMPD leadership was portraying this community policing effort as a full-time, full-department initiative. Conrad said in July 2016 that the department had documented more than a thousand times that year that officers had gotten out of their cars to talk with community members. But that comes to about one interaction per officer. Former LMPD Sgt. Kevin Trees Officers wanted to have the time to get out of their cars and build community relationships, according to former LMPD Sergeant Kevin Trees. A recent audit found that 70% of LMPD officers surveyed said they believe LMPD’s role should be to build and sustain collaborative community relationships. But with low staffing and rising gun violence, Trees said the department didn’t make that possible. “We simply do not have the manpower to be able to get out on the streets and make the runs and get with the community and just be available, for anything,” said Trees, who retired in 2019 after 20 years with LMPD, most of it in the West End. “We just don’t have the time anymore.” For much of the last decade, LMPD has had around 1,200 sworn officers on staff — roughly the same number of officers as was budgeted for in 2004, even as homicides have surged and the city’s population has crept up. Greg Fischer during an interview with KyCIR/Newsy Louisville has struggled to recruit and retain officers, due in part to low salaries. Last summer, officers were given a significant raise in a short term contract, bringing starting salaries to $49,000. Taking inflation into account, that’s roughly the same starting salary the department offered in 2004. And starting salaries at LMPD are still much less than in similar sized cities. In Cincinnati, for example, officers start at just over $65,000 a year — a third more than in Louisville. Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer said in an interview earlier this year that Louisville’s budget is “lean” compared to comparable cities. “I would always like to have more money,” Fischer said. “But so the question then becomes, how do you balance what you have with public safety, with libraries, with trash pickup, with economic development, and all these other activities?” Officers and community members say these low salaries come at a real cost. SubmittedShameka Parrish-Wright “I don’t have a problem with paying them well,” said Louisville civil rights activist and mayoral candidate Shameka Parrish-Wright. “I don’t want no officer who feels underpaid patrolling my communities, because you’re going to come with the attitude, you’re going to be upset…you need to know that your job matters.” But Parrish-Wright said, in return, the department needs to hold all officers accountable when they engage in misconduct. Without that, she said, Louisville has seen this chasm of mistrust between police and Black communities only grow. LMPD’s legitimacy in the eyes of the community had been badly damaged in recent years. Three officers were convicted of various charges after being accused of sexually abusing minors in the department’s Youth Explorer program. Several traffic stops, including Tae-Ahn Lea’s, sparked outrage. For several years, it felt like the kindling was piling up — and all it would take was a spark to set the city ablaze. Protests show LMPD missed the message On March 13, 2020, in the middle of the night, a group of LMPD officers gathered to serve a no-knock search warrant on the apartment of 26-year-old Breonna Taylor. When they busted down her door, her boyfriend fired a shot at them and they returned fire, killing Taylor in her hallway. Protests broke out more than two months later, hours after the Courier Journal released Taylor’s boyfriend’s 911 call and days after a Minneapolis Police officer murdered George Floyd. That night launched a months-long movement that showed the world just how far LMPD had fallen from the promises they’d made years prior. Hundreds of people gathered downtown, chanting, singing and marching. As night fell, the police and protesters began to clash. Protesters surrounded police cars and the city later said it looked like they were trying to get the officers out of the cars. Police were in riot gear, using sticks and shields as they marched on the crowds. Ryan Van VelzerPolice fire tear gas and pepper balls on protesters after seven were shot in downtown Louisville on May 28,2020. Around 11:30 p.m., seven people were shot from within the crowd. In the chaos, someone set off fireworks. People were running and screaming. The police responded with flash-bangs, pepper balls and tear gas. This incident seemed to set the stage for the rest of the weekend. The vast majority of protesters were just peacefully trying to have their voices heard. But each night, some took things a step further — shattering windows, lighting trash cans on fire, and throwing fireworks. Someone threw a Molotov cocktail that caught an officers’ pant leg on fire. The city said police officers were shot at several times. There was vandalism and burglary at stores downtown. As the protests overwhelmed the police, they relied on crowd control techniques that 21st Century Policing specifically warned against using. 21st Century Policing emphasizes taking a demilitarized approach to mass demonstrations. Experts who testified to the task force cautioned against using tear gas or bringing rifles or armored vehicles to protests, all things LMPD did that first weekend. LMPD received some of this advice firsthand when Ron Davis, the executive director of the 21st Century Policing task force, visited in 2016. Davis declined an interview request. But Rashaad Abdur-Rahman, then-executive director of the Office for Safe and Healthy Neighborhoods, remembers Davis’s warning. Chief Steve Conrad, center, speaks during a 2016 press conference. Behind is Rashaad Abdur-Rahman and Ron Davis of the COPS office. “What stuck out to me and I’ll probably never forget, is that he specifically spoke about … protests, and how police need to stop using tanks and tear gas and rubber bullets and riot shields and billy clubs,” Abdur-Rahman said. “He was like, ‘You’ve got to stop doing that stuff. Because we have seen in Ferguson how this escalated situations and makes things worse.’” LMPD used tear gas every night for the first five nights; two weeks into the protests, the department changed its policy to require the chief or his designee to approve use of tear gas. The Kentucky State Police and National Guard came to assist LMPD, and the Mayor instituted a citywide curfew. Ryan Van VelzerCarmen Jones shows an injury she said is from being struck by a pepper ball round prior to her arrest. Officers were armed with pepper ball guns, which LMPD policy says should be fired at the ground or above the crowd, rather than directly at people. But officers were seen shooting people with the less-than-lethal munitions at close range, from vantage points above the crowd, and at identified members of the media. LMPD Officer Katie Crews shared on Facebook a photo from the Courier Journal of a young woman offering her a flower the first night of protests; Crews wrote in a Facebook post that the girl was “doing a lot more than offering flowers.” “I hope the pepper balls that she got lit up with a little later on hurt,” Crews wrote. “Come back and get ya some more ole girl, I’ll be on the line again tonight.” Crews did not respond to a request for comment. On the fourth night of protests, after another night of tear gas, pepper balls and mass arrests by LMPD, downtown was mostly quiet. LMPD officials later said they got intelligence that protesters may have been planning to regroup in the West End. Crews was part of a group of LMPD officers and Guardsmen who went to 26th and Broadway, a well-known and rowdy intersection featuring a nightclub, a gas station and a barbecue restaurant called Yaya’s, owned by David McAtee. It wasn’t a protest, but it was a curfew violation, so the police started ordering people to leave. Some people ran into Yaya’s Barbecue, and Crews approached the restaurant. She fired pepper balls, at least one of which hit McAtee’s niece, who was standing in the doorway of the restaurant. In this still from surveillance video, David McAtee (at top) is leaning out the door after the people in the foreground rushed in. “She was standing — I don’t wanna say in an aggressive manner, but as a manner that she was not gonna go inside,” Crews later told investigators. “After giving verbal commands, I did shoot more balls in her direction.”” Amid the chaos, McAtee leaned out the door and fired two shots. Crews, another officer and two Guardsmen fired back. McAtee, 53, was struck once in the chest and killed by a Guardsman’s bullet. McAtee’s death was a shock to the city. He had been known for feeding the police for free, in an effort to do exactly what the city had said for years they wanted to do — build a relationship between the police and the West End. Crews, another LMPD officer and two Guardsmen who fired their weapons were cleared of criminal wrongdoing. Bishop Dennis V. Lyons’ funeral home prepared McAtee’s body for the funeral, dressing him in a crisp, white suit, laying him in a black coffin, tucking his long braids neatly under his head. Just five years after he’d optimistically attended those 21st Century Policing forums, Lyons stood behind a pulpit during McAtee’s service, trying to put into words the human toll of this city’s broken promises. He harkened back to 2015, when the newspaper proudly touted LMPD’s commitment to reform. “Here we are five years later with the same caption: ‘Police call for reform of the police department,’” he said. Lyons offered a grim warning to the city. “As long as we keep doing what we’re doing, we’ll keep getting what we’re getting.” The answer is still 21st Century Policing Louisville today is facing even greater challenges than what the city experienced in 2016. In 2020, the city had 173 homicides, a nearly 50% increase from the previous high. This year is on track to surpass 2020. A recent audit called LMPD a “department in crisis” and found that 75% of officers would leave if they could. And the chasm between the police and the community seems wider than ever. Despite all this, Mayor Fischer says he has “never been more optimistic” about the city’s future. “The opportunity coming out of this is to be a model city in terms of police reform, police community legitimacy, co-production of safety with the police and the community, and then racial equity as well,” Fischer said. “That’s our goal. That’s what I’m going to continue to work on until my last day in office.” Fischer said he regretted not auditing the department’s reform efforts more closely. But he doesn’t see the events of 2020 as an indictment of the city’s past attempts at reform. “Things happen in life, no matter how perfect you are,” he said. “No matter how hard you try, it’s things outside of your control.” Fischer, a term-limited Democrat, will leave office in early January 2023. His pick to lead the police department, former Atlanta Police Chief Erika Shields, is a strong indication that he hopes the city will remain committed to 21st Century Policing. Chelsea KetchumLMPD Chief Erika Shields Back in 2016, Atlanta was also chosen by the Obama Department of Justice to model 21st Century Policing for the rest of the country. LMPD did not make Shields available for an interview, but she spoke with a reporter briefly after a recent event. She said she thinks Atlanta had success with 21st Century Policing, and proposed a greater focus going forward on use-of-force training and transparency. “It was fantastic,” she said. “They need to come out with a 2.0…A lot has changed in the last six years.” Both Fischer and Shields have pointed to the numerous promises Louisville has made in the wake of the Breonna Taylor shooting as evidence of the city’s progress. But KyCIR and Newsy found that LMPD considered many of these reforms back when they were first rolling out 21st Century Policing. The city has now asked the Kentucky State Police to investigate LMPD shootings, and created a more significant civilian review apparatus. As part of a $12 million settlement with Taylor’s family, Fischer also agreed to finally activate the early warning system for officers and offer housing credits to encourage officers to live in low-income areas of the city, mostly in the West End. But even now, years after they were first considered, these more recent promises are falling short. The state police investigations have proven less transparent than LMPD’s. The state legislature didn’t grant the civilian review board subpoena power, so it’s not as strong as initially hoped. No officers have taken advantage of the housing credits, and the early warning system still hasn’t been activated. There is one notable difference now. In April 2021, five years after Louisville city officials were lauded by the Department of Justice for their policing reform efforts, the same federal agency opened a civil rights investigation into the city government and police department. If that investigation concludes that LMPD has engaged in a pattern or practice of violating its citizens’ civil rights, the city would likely be put under a consent decree — a legally binding reform plan that would require Louisville to meaningfully change how the department polices. Federal intervention may force Louisville to become the kind of police department it claimed for years to be. Rosie Cima and Mark Fahey of Newsy contributed reporting. A grant from the Fund for Investigative Journalism supported KyCIR’s work.

‘In Conversation’ talks policing and police reform

By |2021-10-20T23:21:32-04:00October 20th, 2021|Breonna Taylor, David McAtee|

Policing and police reform have had a particularly bright spotlight on them in recent years, and the Louisville Metro Police Department has gotten more than its share of attention.  At one point, Louisville aspired to “model city” status when it came to policing. Five years later, the killing of Breonna Taylor and then David McAtee stamped out that hope, as the relationship between LMPD and Louisville’s Black communities became even more fractured.  A new season of Louisville Public Media’s podcast, “Dig,” explores that. In a joint KyCIR/Newsy investigation, insiders and documents reveal the systemic barriers and choices made by city leaders and LMPD that led to its failure to meaningfully change. This week on “In Conversation” host Rick Howlett talks with those who made the podcast and who are a part of what “Dig” explores.  Join us Friday morning at 11:00 EST on 89.3 WFPL and wfpl.org. Call us with your questions and thoughts at 502-814-TALK.  There’s a lot going on in Louisville, and WFPL’s “In Conversation” with Rick Howlett gives people a platform to talk — both to each other, and with the larger community — about the biggest issues facing our city, state and region. Live at 11 a.m. every Friday on 89.3 WFPL. Call 502-814-TALK to join the conversation. Miss the show? Listen here as a weekly podcast:Apple Podcasts | Google Podcasts | NPR | Spotify | Stitcher | RadioPublic | RSS Support In Conversation

4 Takeaways From Louisville Magazine's Massive Profile Of LMPD Police Chief Erika …

By |2021-10-01T19:44:01-04:00October 1st, 2021|Breonna Taylor, David McAtee|

This week’s LEO Weekly featured a cover story from Louisville Magazine — a massive, five-month profile of LMPD Police Chief Erika Shields. Titled “Who Is The Real Erika Shields,” it deeply dove into the juxtaposition of someone who talks about police culture progressively, while often being surrounded in controversy. Here are four takeaways from the story — reported by Josh Wood (who just joined LEO Weekly as a staff writer).  1) Her proponents think Shields says all of the right things, is a progressive law enforcement leader and talks about police culture in a refreshing way, but critics think that it’s a facade, and that the police chief — who has often been embattled in controversy — isn’t capable of the action to back it up. In the profile, Metro Council President David James said that the committee who recommend Shields as police chief, a panel made up of mostly people of color, was impressed with what she said in the interview process: “Everyone picked Shields as No. 1. She was just saying all the right things.” James recalls how Shields discussed the history of policing and how policing relates to African Americans and other people of color — something he says none of the other candidates did. “She recognized it, she knew it — I knew it because I was a police officer, and I’m Black,” James says. “The fact that she recognized that and knew that spoke volumes to me.” Shameka Parrish-Wright, an activist and candidate for mayor, is quoted as being much more cautionary of whether Shields’ actions meet her words.  Parrish-Wright says, “To me, you can say one thing, but do your actions match that? So, you know what to say because you come from Atlanta, which has a larger Black population than we have.” (Regarded as a Black mecca, Atlanta is more than a third African American, and Shields was the city’s first white police chief since 1990. Louisville, by comparison, is about 22% Black.) “She says one thing, but we still have someone that was beat up right outside our Hall of Justice by police for simply standing out in the street with a cross.” 2) Shields thinks federal charges are coming for the LMPD. From the story: In an interview in June, Shields told me she expects more federal charges — particularly charges for actions by police on the night David McAtee was killed at his barbecue restaurant at 26th and Broadway, across the street from Dino’s Food Mart. Soon after LMPD officers and National Guard soldiers moved in to disperse a non-protest crowd gathered in violation of curfew, in the early moments of June 1, 2020, LMPD officer Katie Crews began firing pepper balls in the direction of people in front of McAtee’s restaurant. As patrons retreated into his kitchen, McAtee stepped into the doorway and fired a pistol twice (what his family’s attorney said were warning shots into the air), prompting LMPD officers and National Guard members to fire back, with a National Guard soldier killing him with a bullet from a M4A1 assault rifle. (McAtee’s family has said he would never intentionally fire at police.)Advertisement Shields says the firing of pepper balls at 26th and Broadway the night McAtee was killed “really jump-started the chaos that ensued” and characterized it as the result of the decision-making of one individual. “I think you’re going to see that there had been a culture that had allowed for last summer to really go sideways on multiple fronts,” she says. 3) Shields said that Breonna Taylor was killed as a result of the decision making of the LMPD. She said most of the blame relies on the officers that secured the warrant.  From the story: “I was heartbroken,” [Shields] says. “I saw a young lady who was dead who should not be dead. There’s no two ways about it: It was because of the decision-making of a police department she was dead.” I asked Shields where blame lies in Taylor’s killing. “I would put the bulk of the responsibility on the individuals who secured the warrant,” she says. 4) She talked openly about how her ideas of policing have changed since the days she was undercover in Atlanta. From the story: “At the time, oh my god, I loved it. It was an adrenaline rush serving drug search warrants, locking somebody up who had the drugs on them,” she says. “At the time I enjoyed it. I didn’t know better.” Decades later, Shields says she had gained a broader perspective on addiction and the failures of that kind of policing. When the opioid epidemic arrived — and was comparatively seen as a public-health crisis — Shields saw racial disparity in how it was treated. “We got into the heroin-opioid crisis — that directly mirrors crack — and yet the rules of enforcement are markedly different,” she says. “And it is no coincidence that it’s related to race.” To read the entire profile, visit Louisville Magazine’s website.

Say Her Name: Breonna Taylor Will Live On With Some Of These Stunning Commemorative Pieces

By |2021-09-12T15:45:46-04:00September 12th, 2021|Breonna Taylor, David McAtee|

SpeakHER Breonna TaylorSource: MN / MadameNoireOn March 13, 2020, Breonna Taylor was fatally shot by officer Brett Hankison alongside Myles Cosgrove and Jonathan Mattingly after the three Louisville Metro Police Department officials broke into the apartment she shared with her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker as a part of a drug bust. The event sparked a national outcry for social justice and a summer filled with contentious protests demanding for police reform. Breonna Taylor was only 28-years-old during the time of her death.In the months following her tragic passing. Taylor’s name became a symbol of change and a central pillar of the Black Lives Matter movement. Murals of the young EMT worker popped up all across the country to commemorate her short but meaningful life, including one in her hometown of Louisville.LOUISVILLE, KY - AUGUST 1: Kimberly King and Genevieve Bell walSource: The Washington Post / GettyArtists Whitney Holbourn, Andrew Thompson, and Braylon “Resko” Stewart created the stunning piece right in the city’s downtown area on 11th and Main St. Additionally, the mural which stands at 100 feet wide and 30 feet tall features the faces of other victims who have died at the hands of police brutality including George Floyd, Sandra Bland, and David McAtee. The mural includes the words “Say their names,” a powerful quote spearheaded by the Black Lives Matter movement forcing officials to acknowledge their unwarranted deaths.“These faces are faces of beauty, not faces of hate, not faces of anger or faces of fear,” Stewart told CBS at the time.“I want them to feel empowerment, I want them to feel proud, just to see that these stories are being broadcast. That they’re not being forgotten about,” she added.Now it appears that a new portrait of the social justice warrior will officially make its way into the Smithsonian this Friday. The precious art piece was created by Amy Sherald, the same artist who painted Michelle Obama’s stunning mural. The commemorative artwork will hang on the fourth floor of the National Museum of African American History and Culture as a part of the museum’s new exhibition “Reckoning: Protest. Defiance. Resilience.”The stellar painting which was featured on the cover of Vanity Fair Magazine in September of 2020, pictures Taylor wearing a turquoise dress and the engagement ring that her boyfriend Kenneth Walker planned to purpose to her with before her untimely demise, The Hill notes.The museum shared that they purchased the artwork from Sherald who planned to donate proceeds from the art piece to social justice causes. Coincidentally, the debut of the portrait falls on the museum’s fifth anniversary.There are several other places where you can find beautiful murals and artwork in honor of Taylor’s legacy.Annapolis, Maryland Breonna Taylor Mural In Historically Black Maryland NeighborhoodSource: Patrick Smith / GettyA group of over a dozen volunteers banned together to create a 7,000-square-foot mural of Breonna Taylor on July 4 of 2020. The surreal image was constructed after Annapolis-based social change non-profit Future History Now partnered with the Banneker-Douglas Museum and the Maryland Commission on African American History and Culture to find a space, sponsors, and volunteers, the Capital Gazette. reported.The spray-painted mural sprawls across the basketball courts in Annapolis’ Chambers Park.Jefferson Square, LouisvilleIt was the mural that stood at the center of the Breonna Taylor protests in the city. Taylor’s legendary mural in Louisville’s Jefferson Park became the pulse of her contentious court case against all three officers who were eventually found not guilty of her unlawful murder. Surrounded by City Hall, Metro Hall, and the courthouse, Breonna’s mural stands in the middle of what the city later referred to as “Injustice Square,” CBS reported.“They chose that park because, guess what, it’s right in the middle of everything,” Taylor’s aunt Bianca Austin explained of the coveted symbol, the report notes.“That statement is that the injustice that y’all done to this woman, here it is, every day when you come to work, you need to be reminded of Breonna.”The beautiful mural was later moved from the city’s downtown area to a nearby museum called the Roots 101 African American Museum, where it permanently hangs as a tribute to Taylor, WDRB added.Louisville Prepares For Possible Unrest As Grand Jury Decision In Breonna Taylor Case NearsSource: Brandon Bell / GettyDenver, ColoradoTwo local artists named Detour and Hiero Viega painted a stunning mural of Taylor in the city’s River North district on 29th and Walnut street.Both artists told the city’s local news station that they hoped to use color to breathe life back into Taylor’s powerful story.“For me, I always tell artists that we are the visual historians of current times, so really using our artwork to tell what’s happening in our current time,” Detour explained to News 9.Milwaukee, WisconsinA tattoo artist by the name of Chris Burke constructed a beautiful mural of Breonna in the Harambee neighborhood of Milwaukee. The precious piece stands tall right on the corner of E. Locust Avenue and N.Holton street.Burke called Taylor a “true American hero” and shared with Urban Milwaukee that he believes her life deserved to “be celebrated.” The mural rests on a building owned by Ihsan Atta who explained that he wanted the artwork to be a conversation starter and to hopefully act as a catalyst for community building.“People need to educate themselves and need to get out of their comfort zone and become friends or befriend people of color,” Atta told the news site.RELATED CONTENT: SpeakHER Honors Breonna Taylor, Essential Worker And Unintended Martyr For Change

Former Brown-Forman Exec. Joins Louisville's Mightily, Adding to a Roster of Big Time … – EIN News

By |2021-09-09T15:32:43-04:00September 9th, 2021|Breonna Taylor, David McAtee|

LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY, UNITED STATES, September 9, 2021 /EINPresswire.com/ -- Industry trailblazer Mightily, a premiere full-service Advertising Agency, announces hire of Jonathan Salazar as VP of Strategy and Analytics. Salazar brings with him an impressive nine years of experience as former Marketing and Analytics Executive at Brown-Forman. This latest addition by Mightily is yet another big move highlighting the award-winning agency’s aggressive approach in assembling one of the strongest teams of talent in the Industry. “I have said from the beginning, in order to standout and really succeed in an industry that is full of exceptional talent, we need to pull together a collective brain trust that is bold, unafraid, and proven. Similar to our portfolio of cutting-edge creative, our approach to identifying talent pushes boundaries and delivers our distinctive signature of elevated services to Mightily clients. Jonathan is no exception. His ability to realize trends and ideate solutions in an ever-changing consumer market is invaluable. Brown-Forman is a giant in the spirt industry and Jonathan’s contributions during his tenure are notable. As thrilled as I am to boast his addition to Mightily, I am even more excited for our team to have a front row seat to his particular brand of brilliance.” – Lesa Seibert, Mightily CEO Salazar is an Indiana University Southeast grad, where he not only double majored in marketing and international business but also received his MBA. At Brown-Forman, he was instrumental in the establishment and execution of the Jack Daniel’s global creative “Make It Count”. He is an expert in understanding the nuances required in a growing a brand at any perspective, having executed marketing strategies at a regional, national, and global scale.Originally from Mexico, Salazar considers himself “culturally hybrid” after moving with his family to southern Indiana when he was seven years old. Because his roots are significant to who he is, Salazar co-led COPA, an employee research group at Brown-Forman, which represents the Latino employee population at Brown-Forman.“Professionally, I’m excited about the potential that Mightily has. Even within the name, it makes me think of small but mighty… That excites me. Personally, I see it as a challenge for me to take that step from a leader in the sense of leading processes, structures, strategy, and brands to moving into an organizational leadership position… Our past experiences are what makes us who we are today. That’s a reason why I am a strong advocate for diversity in the workforce - because of those experiences that people bring. The more that we can ensure that the experiences are different and varied, the more unique thinking we will have when we come together.” – Jonathan Salazar, Mightily VP of Strategy and AnalyticsAbout Mightily“Anti-established since 2013,” Mightily quickly garnered attention in Louisville and the industry with its recognizable aesthetic and creative attitude, servicing clients with brand strategy and identity, creative writing, customer experiences, websites, marketing strategy and consulting, research, media buying, and social media consulting and management. Mightily’s notable accolades include a Silver National Addy Award for their poster campaign honoring the lives of Breonna Taylor and David McAtee, commissioned by the Louisville Urban League during the height of protests for social justice across the United States in 2020.Clients include American Printing House for the Blind, Trilogy Health Services, Old Forester, Park Community Credit Union, Hosparus Health, Pallitus Health Partners, Zappos! Unboxed, Zappos! Outlet, The Parklands of Floyds Fork, TeamSense, HR Affiliates, Greater Louisville Inc., Frost Brown Todd, MCM CPAs, Newport News / Williamsburg Airport, Kentucky League of Cities, Shepherd Therapeutics, and Eckerts.Niki DecHGPR Inc.+1 310-859-8870email us hereVisit us on social media:FacebookTwitter You just read: News Provided By September 09, 2021, 17:54 GMT Share This Article EIN Presswire's priority is source transparency. We do not allow opaque clients, and our editors try to be careful about weeding out false and misleading content. As a user, if you see something we have missed, please do bring it to our attention. Your help is welcome. EIN Presswire, Everyone's Internet News Presswire™, tries to define some of the boundaries that are reasonable in today's world. Please see our Editorial Guidelines for more information. Submit your press release

Pay boost, raises part of tentative LMPD contract deal | In-depth | wdrb.com

By |2021-08-23T17:57:47-04:00August 20th, 2021|Breonna Taylor, David McAtee, Election 2020|

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Louisville Metro Police officers and supervisors will receive pay increases and guaranteed raises under tentative contract deals reached Friday between Mayor Greg Fischer and the head of the local police union.In addition, the collective bargaining agreements have significant reforms and more oversight within the department, including retaining past findings of officer misconduct, enhanced discipline and mandatory alcohol and drug testing after "critical" incidents, such as shootings.The department has been heavily scrutinized and criticized since the March 13, 2020 fatal shooting of Breonna Taylor and the death of businessman David McAtee during city-wide protests against police months later."These changes align the police department with the best practices of reform-minded police forces across the country," Fischer said in a statement.The agreements still need the approval of members of the River City Fraternal Order of Police lodge and the Metro Council. They would then go to Fischer for the final sign-off.At issue are a contract for officers and sergeants that the council extended last fall after the union and Fischer approved it; and a contract for lieutenants that expired in 2018.The mayor's office said the full proposals will be made public after they are sent to union members in the coming days. The FOP is expected to vote the week of Sept. 6, according to a news release.FOP President Ryan Nichols said the tentative contracts will help the department recruit "the most qualified candidates and retain our outstanding officers."The salary increases are an effort to retain and bring new and more experienced officers to the department. Chief Erica Shields has said LMPD should have about 1,300 officers but is around 250 short of what the department is authorized to have.New officers now make about $49,500. By the July 2023, officers' salaries will range from $51,000 to nearly $79,000 -- for an officer at the end of his or her career.And salaries for sergeants and lieutenants will also climb. Sergeants' salaries will be between $78,700 and $93,500 in the 2023 fiscal year, while lieutenants' salaries will be $98,000 to $123,100.In particular, the contract would mandate that all union members get raises every two years. In an example provided by Fischer's office, a new recruit who joins now could make roughly $65,000 within two years."With the challenges we face on gun violence and staffing, our city needs highly motivated officers, and the competitive salary pieces of this contract will help us achieve that," Shields said.Fischer said his administration's goal was to ensure "that we have a pay scale that allows us to recruit and retain the most talented people possible, while also making reforms to further trust between the police and the community they serve.""My hope is that the men and women of LMPD see this as an investment in them, that those considering law enforcement see it as an invitation to a fulfilling career, and that our residents see it as evidence of our commitment to bring major reformative changes to address accountability and community trust," he said.Along with reforms outlined in the tentative contract, the announcement noted LMPD has already changed its policies on handling search warrants and seizures, resumed random drug testing and started a practice of completing internal investigations even if an officer leaves the department while the investigation is ongoing. The department also has implemented required training to internal affairs investigators.Fischer said the reforms show "that we've heard and are responding to calls in the community for greater accountability and transparency. Together we've taken a contract that hasn't been significantly changed in decades and re-worked it to realize our goal of having the best police department in the nation."A report by consultant Hilliard Heintze -- ordered by Fischer in 2020 and released earlier this year -- noted that officers are leaving LMPD for other departments because of higher pay.The contract for officers and sergeants approved by the Metro Council last year included pay raises and a $5,000 housing incentive for police officers who live in areas they patrol. That provision was included in the city's settlement with Taylor's family.This story will be updated.Copyright 2021 WDRB Media. All rights reserved.

Former Louisville cop pleads guilty to hitting kneeling Breonna Taylor protester in head

By |2021-08-04T18:26:24-04:00August 4th, 2021|Breonna Taylor, David McAtee|

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Former Louisville Metro Police Department officer Cory Evans pleaded guilty Wednesday in federal court to a felony committed while on the job, admitting he struck a kneeling protester in the back of the head with a riot stick.Evans, 33 of Sellersburg, Indiana, was charged June 9 with deprivation of rights under color of law for the incident, which took place around May 31, 2020, in the early days of widespread protests over the death of Breonna Taylor, an unarmed Black woman who LMPD officers killed in her apartment March 2020 during a search for drugs and cash.District Judge Rebecca Grady Jennings will sentence Evans at 10 a.m. Nov. 23. He will remain free on bond until then, with Grady Jennings saying Evans was unlikely to flee.Evans and his defense attorney Brian Butler agreed to a plea deal with Assistant U.S. Attorney Amanda Gregory, but it has yet to be accepted by the judge.As a part of the agreement, Evans would have to pay $1,962.85 in restitution and would not be sentenced to serve more than four years in prison.The charge's maximum penalty can carry up to 10 years imprisonment, a $250,000 fine, three years of supervised release and restitution.“While the vast majority of law enforcement officers are hardworking professionals who work conscientiously to protect the public, Cory Evans was simply not one of those officers,” Acting Special Agent in Charge Edward Gray of the FBI’s Louisville Field Office said in a news release after the hearing."This case provides another example that abusing that power and authority will not be tolerated in Louisville.”If the case had gone to trial, Gregory said the prosecution would have presented testimony, video and other evidence proving Evans' guilt.Gregory said Evans was working curfew duty for the LMPD Special Response Team when they encountered a group of protesters — including the victim, who is identified only as M.C. — near Brook Street and Broadway in downtown Louisville.M.C. had kneeled and raised their hands to surrender when Evans struck them in the back of the head, creating a gash that required stitches at the hospital that night.M.C. did not make a request to be heard in court.As a part of his bond, Evans is required to submit to supervision and surrender his passport and any guns he owns. Grady Jennings indicated she will allow Evans to travel to Texas for three weeks in order to train for a new job he will soon begin.Evans resigned from LMPD less than a week after being charged and after the department moved to fire him.The U.S. Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division can charge individuals under nine Title 18 civil rights statutes, including deprivation of rights under the color of law.That makes it a crime for anyone acting on behalf of the law, including police officers or other public officials, to deprive someone of their Constitutional rights.Evans was previously scheduled to be arraigned and enter a "change of plea" on July 14, but the judge agreed to delay the hearing after a joint motion from the case's attorneys.According to Kentucky law, police officers lose their certification with the state for pleading guilty to or being convicted of a felony offense.A Courier Journal analysis of Evans' use of force history shows he was involved in at least 27 incidents in his roughly seven years as a sworn officer — including two that took place after he is accused of hitting the demonstrator.In fact, 21 of those incidents took place between the beginning of 2018 and June 2020. LMPD did not limit Evans' policing powers until July 23 when he was placed on administrative reassignment."A professional standards investigation was initiated," a LMPD spokesperson said. "However, it was stayed in deference of the federal investigations to ensure it would not impede the federal process."Evans is not the only LMPD officer under federal scrutiny.Dusten Dean, captured on video shooting pepper balls at a local TV news crew, is under federal investigation for those actions, The Courier Journal previously reported.These probes are in addition to the FBI's ongoing investigations into the fatal police shooting of Taylor, a 26-year-old Black woman killed in her home last March, and the death of David McAtee, who was shot by a member of the Kentucky National Guard.Reach Tessa Duvall at tduvall@courier-journal.com and 502-582-4059. Twitter: @TessaDuvall.

Dino's Food Mart, once ordered to vacate as nuisance, sues Metro Council members

By |2021-07-29T18:27:35-04:00July 29th, 2021|Breonna Taylor, David McAtee|

Dino's Food Mart, a convenience store in the West End that fought off a public nuisance order, has filed a lawsuit alleging defamation by members of the Louisville Metro Council.  Metro Council President David James, former Councilwoman Denise Bentley and District 5 Councilwoman Donna Purvis — who represents the district the store is in, at 2601 W. Broadway in Russell — are listed as defendants. The suit was filed last week and accuses the three of engaging "in a civil conspiracy wherein they were involved in the unlawfulcorrupt combination or agreement to slander, defame, and deprive Plaintiffs of their property," according to court records.Lawsuits represent one one side of a case.Purvis declined to comment on the lawsuit. James said he has not read the lawsuit, and Bentley, who is a legislative assistant for Purvis, said she has not received anything and that the council does not comment on pending litigation. The three are accused by the store and its landlord, SHM 2601, of making several allegations about the establishment, such as the premises are unsanitary, it allowed for the sale of "spice and crack" and prostitution and that the landlord was the "cause of the shooting of David McAtee."More:Southern Indiana man killed in accidental explosion outside his homeMcAtee was fatally shot June 1, 2020, at his barbecue restaurant across the street when police and the National Guard responded to the scene to disperse a crowd gathered at the food mart after curfew. The curfew had been enacted following several nights of protests over the murder of Breonna Taylor.The store and gas station had been served a public nuisance order in April 2020 following complaints from nearby residents. It was then given an additional citation and ordered to vacate when the city's Department of Codes and Regulations denied its appeal in August.That additional citation listed several reports of assault and drug possession as an additional basis for its qualification as a public nuisance.The Metro Code Enforcement Board upheld in February the order for Dino's to vacate its premises, but the decision was denied by the Jefferson District Court judge in April. City hall:Advocates caught off guard by Louisville plans to address homelessness"The real responsibility for crime in the community is not a small neighborhood store, but the Louisville Metro Police Department and Louisville Metro Government are not allocating the proper resources to deal with crime in that neighborhood," the attorney for Dino's, Nader Shunnarah, said at the time. James, Purvis and Bentley are all being sued for negligence, defamation, invasion of privacy, tortious interference of a business, wrongful use of civil proceedings, abuse of process and civil conspiracy. The suit lists a slew of statements James allegedly said, such as "nothing rarely good happens there" and the store is "a vampire, sucking the life out of west Louisville." The business and its landlord also accuse the council members of being discriminatory."Defendants have openly advocated the closure of the middle eastern businesses so that the businesses may be operated by persons of African-American descent," the suit says. Dino's and SHM 2601 said they have suffered from lost business and damage to their reputation and esteem. They are seeking compensatory and punitive damages because the council members' actions "were so oppressive, malicious, willful, wanton, and outrageous," the suit says.Reporter Ben Tobin contributed to this article. How to watch:Gov. Andy Beshear to give update on COVID-19 delta variant in KentuckyContact Ayana Archie at aarchie@courier-journal.com or follow on Twitter @AyanaArchie. Support strong local journalism by subscribing to The Courier Journal. 

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