Newswire: Justice Dept. opens policing probe over Breonna Taylor Death

Louisville demonstration for Breonna Taylor

By: Michael Balsamo, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Justice Department is opening a sweeping probe into policing in Louisville, Kentucky, over the March 2020 death of Breonna Taylor, who was shot to death by police during a raid at her home, Attorney General Merrick Garland announced Monday. It’s the second such probe into a law enforcement agency by the Biden administration in a week; Garland also announced an investigation into the tactics of the police in Minneapolis following the death of George Floyd. The attorney general has said there is not yet equal justice under the law and promised to bring a critical eye to racism and legal issues when he took the job. Few such investigations were opened during the Trump administration. The 26-year-old Taylor, an emergency medical technician who had been studying to become a nurse, was roused from sleep by police who came through the door using a battering ram. Her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, fired once. A no-knock warrant was approved as part of a narcotics investigation. No drugs were found at her home. Investigation looks for ‘pattern or practice’ The investigation announced Monday is into the Louisville-Jefferson County Metro Government and the Louisville Metro Police Department. It is known as a “pattern or practice” — examining whether there is a pattern or practice of unconstitutional or unlawful policing — and will be a more sweeping review of the entire police department. Sam Aguiar, an attorney for Breonna Taylor’s family, posted a celebratory message on social media shortly after the announcement. “Boom. Thank you,” he wrote. Aguiar and other attorneys negotiated a $12 million settlement in September with the city of Louisville over Taylor’s death. The investigation will specifically focus on whether the Louisville Metro Police Department engages in a pattern of unreasonable force, including against people engaging in peaceful activities, and will also examine whether the police department conducts unconstitutional stops, searches and seizures and whether the department illegally executes search warrants, Garland said. The probe will also look at the training that officers receive, the system in place to hold officers accountable and “assess whether LMPD engages in discriminatory conduct on the basis of race,” among other things, he said. Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was convicted last week of murder in Floyd’s death, but no one has been charged in Taylor’s, though her case, too, fueled protests against police brutality and systemic racism. “No-knock” warrants debated nationally Her death prompted a national debate about the use of so-called “no knock” search warrants, which allow officers to enter a home without waiting and announcing their presence. The warrants are generally used in drug cases and other sensitive investigations where police believe a suspect might be likely to destroy evidence. But there’s been growing criticism in recent years that the warrants are overused and abused. Prosecutors will speak with community leaders, residents and police officials as part of the Louisville probe and will release a public report, if a pattern or practice of unconstitutional conduct is discovered, Garland said. He noted that the department has implemented some changes after a settlement with Taylor’s family and said the Justice Department’s investigation would take those into account. “It is clear that the public officials in Minneapolis and Louisville, including those in law enforcement, recognize the importance and urgency of our efforts,” Garland said. Louisville hired Atlanta’s former police chief, Erika Shields, in January. She became the fourth person to lead the department since Taylor’s death on March 13, 2020. Longtime chief Steve Conrad was forced out in the summer after officers responding to a shooting during a protest failed to turn on their body cameras. Two interim appointments followed before Shields was given the job. Shields stepped down from the top Atlanta post in June after the death of Rayshard Brooks, a Black man who was shot in the back by police in a restaurant parking lot. Shields remained with the Atlanta department in a lesser role. Kentucky’s lawmakers passed a partial ban on no-knock warrants last month. The measure would only allow no-knock warrants to be issued if there was “clear and convincing evidence” that the “crime alleged is a crime that would qualify a person, if convicted, as a violent offender.” Warrants also would have to be executed between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. Associated Press Writer Dylan Lovan in Louisville contributed to this report. 

Newswire: ‘Couldn’t possibly be silent’: These women are carrying a torch for Breonna Taylor

Rep. Attica Scott in Louisville, KY. With photo of Breonna Taylor

By Chloe Atkins, NBC News LOUISVILLE, Ky. — One year ago, Breonna Taylor, 26, an emergency room technician, was shot and killed in her home by Louisville Metro Police officers who were serving a “no-knock” search warrant. The shooting provoked a national outcry. No charges were brought in direct connection with Taylor’s death; still, she has become one of the few Black women whose deaths have been flashpoints in the racial justice movement. In Louisville, Black women stepped up to lead the fight, organizing rallies, applying pressure to officials and drafting legislation. But above all, they emphasized the message that Black women are not an afterthought. “It has given a lot of women a voice who didn’t realize they had one or didn’t know how to use it,” said Tamika Palmer, Taylor’s mother. “To see so many women become part of something and stand up and not feel ashamed or powerless because they’re women — that’s a blessing, and Breonna would’ve loved to see it.” As demonstrations erupted across Louisville in late May, state Rep. Attica Scott, a Democrat and one of just two Black women in the Legislature, joined her constituents and marched through the streets demanding answers in Taylor’s death and an end to aggressive policing. “I have a responsibility to the people that I represent. … I certainly will not leave my constituents without any elected official walking alongside them in this movement,” Scott said. Since May, she said, she has attended over 100 marches and rallies related to racial justice and Taylor. In September, Scott and her daughter Ashanti Scott were arrested while protesting the grand jury’s decision. Scott initially was charged with felony rioting, failure to disperse and unlawful assembly; the charges were dropped later. She said the arrest was traumatic, but she continued to show up at demonstrations to seek justice for Taylor. Since last year, Scott has been pushing a statewide version of Breonna’s Law, which, she said, is an effort to “answer the protesters’ calls for police reform.” “I’m a mom of Black children, and I didn’t want any other mother to experience the pain Tamika Palmer is feeling,” Scott said. “I couldn’t possibly be silent and let down my own children and community.” The bill would ban no-knock search warrants statewide and require officers to activate their body cameras when serving warrants. Police officers would also have to undergo mandatory drug and alcohol testing if they were involved in deadly incidents or discharged their firearms. The Legislature is moving forward with a Republican-sponsored bill to limit no-knock search warrants to potentially violent cases, not Scott’s version. Scott said she is working with her Republican colleagues to help “prevent a similar tragedy from ever happening again.” “Kentucky still has a lot to reckon with” when it comes to the treatment of Black women, Scott said, adding that the state “needs to ask itself what are you doing for the lives of Black women to make sure they are safe.” Keturah Herron, 40, a policy strategist for the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky, said she felt hopeless after she learned that Taylor was shot to death. While activists gathered to organize protests, Herron decided to take on the tool that allowed police to enter Taylor’s apartment: no-knock search warrants. Louisville police Lt. Ted Eidem said officers knocked several times and “announced their presence as police who were there with a search warrant.” After they entered the premises, they were met by gunfire, Eidem said. However, Kenneth Walker, Taylor’s boyfriend, has said he did not hear police identify themselves and feared that someone was breaking in. He called 911, grabbed a gun and fired, striking an officer in the leg. He had a license to carry and kept firearms in the home. Taylor was unarmed. Herron helped draft Louisville’s Breonna’s Law ordinance, and in June, the City Council unanimously passed a ban on no-knock search warrants. Shortly afterward, Mayor Greg Fischer signed the measure, which immediately took effect. “It was the right thing for me to do, and it was the only thing for me to do,” Herron said. “I am proud of this legislation, but I also feel sad that it had to be on the back of a Black woman that we were able to accomplish something.” Breonna’s Law has inspired legislation and policy changes throughout the country. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., introduced a bill in June to end no-knock search warrants. In July, police departments in Indianapolis and Orlando, Florida, announced that they would ban such practices. In December, Breonna’s Law was passed in Virginia, making it the first state to pass it since Taylor died. “We as a society need to recognize and understand that women’s voices are needed, and we must listen to women, specifically Black women,” Herron said.

Newswire: Breonna Taylor’s family to receive $12 million settlement from Louisville; no police charged yet

Breonna Taylor

by Derek Major, Black Enterprise News Service

Six months after the night Breonna Taylor was killed by Louisville police officers, city officials have agreed to pay her family $12 million as part of a wrongful death settlement.
The settlement of the lawsuit brought by Taylor’s family was announced Tuesday by the family’s legal team and city officials. In addition to the multi-million-dollar settlement, the city of Louisville has agreed to institute a number of reforms to the city’s policing tactics.
The changes include imposing more scrutiny on officers during the execution of search warrants. The settlement will also make safeguards that should have been followed by officers, mandatory.
Taylor and her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, were asleep the night of March 13 when Louisville Metro Police barged into her home with a no-knock warrant in relation to a drug investigation. The noise woke Taylor, who believed someone was trying to break-in. Walker, who is a registered gun owner, fired a shot toward their bedroom door.
The police responded, firing a bevy of shots toward the couple and hitting Taylor five times. One of the three officers who fired shots at Taylor has been fired for displaying “an extreme indifference to the value of human life” when he “wantonly and blindly fired 10 rounds into the apartment of Breonna Taylor,” according to the officer’s termination letter, which was posted to the Louisville Metro Police Department’s Twitter account.
Taylor’s death and George Floyd’s, who was killed by Minneapolis police in May, kicked off a summer of nationwide protests supporting the Black Lives Matter movement as well calls to defund the police in many states and reallocate funds into social services.
Both the former first lady Michelle Obama and vice-presidential nominee Kamala Harris called out Taylor’s name at the Democratic National Convention last month. Oprah Winfrey erected dozens of billboards demanding justice,  WNBA players have placed her name on their jerseys, and 2020 U.S. Open Champion Naomi Osaka wore the name of Taylor and other Black victims of police brutality on her face masks in her pre- and post-match interviews.
Many are still waiting to see if charges will be brought against the three officers who shot Taylor.
Attorney General Daniel Cameron announced last week that he will present Taylor’s case before a Louisville grand jury at an undisclosed location. According to the Times, however, since the officers were fired upon first, legal experts say their actions may be protected under a state statute allowing officers to use lethal force as self-defense.
Once the grand jury decides if the case will go forward, Cameron will make a public announcement to share his office’s investigative findings and the grand jury’s decision on possible indictments for the three officers who fired their weapons that night.
Ben Jealous, president of People For the American Way said the settlement was pertinent but that does not mean the issue has been finalized. “Today’s civil settlement between the city of Louisville, Kentucky, and Breonna Taylor’s family is appropriate and necessary in the pursuit of justice, but no amount of money can replace the life of a loved one. While police reforms are included in the settlement, justice has not been fully served because the police officers who killed Breonna remain free. Those officers must be criminally charged and banned from law enforcement. We believe all communities deserve to be safe and Breonna Taylor deserves justice.”

Newswire: Breonna Taylor’s family claims no aid was offered after she was fatally shot

By: Stephanie Guerilus, The Grio

Breonna Taylor

Breonna Taylor’s family is not only holding the Louisville police responsible for her death but they are now alleging that medical aid wasn’t offered to the young woman after she was fatally shot eight times.

The bombshell claim was made Sunday in a new 31-page legal filing by the family of Taylor, The New York Times reported. It is their belief that the EMT technician suffered in agony for up to six minutes during what they believe was a “botched” raid in March.

“In the six minutes that elapsed from the time Breonna was shot, to the time she died, we have no evidence suggesting that any officer made entry in an attempt to check and assist her,” Sam Aguiar, the family’s lawyer, said in an interview. “She suffered.”

Taylor died on March 13 during a botched drug raid that she was not the target of. Taylor, who worked at two local hospitals, was shot as police were serving a ‘no-knock warrant’ related to a narcotics investigation.

Kenneth Walker, Taylor’s boyfriend, called 911 to report someone was breaking into their apartment. As police fired on the couple, Walker returned fire and Taylor was shot eight times. She died at the scene.

Walker was arrested at the scene for attempted murder but the charges against him were later dropped. No narcotics were found in the home and her family filed a lawsuit against the three police officers involved in the shooting.

Officials with the city have pushed back against the suggestion that she was left to die, insisting it is a “gross mischaracterization.”

The coroner who performed Taylor’s autopsy stated that Taylor experienced life ending injuries and any intervention on the 26-year-old would have been in vain. She believed that Taylor died “less than a minute,” after being shot. “Even if it had happened outside of an ER we couldn’t have saved her,” Dr. Barbara Weakley-Jones said.

The filing also declared that Taylor’s death was due to gentrification and not a drug raid gone wrong. It was alleged that Mayor Greg Fischer wanted the land Taylor lived on for redevelopment and officers were tasked with clearing out the area.

“People needed to be removed and homes needed to be vacated so that a high-dollar, legacy-creating real estate development could move forward,” Taylor’s family said.

The mayor denied the “outrageous” allegations through his spokeswoman Jean Porter. “They are insulting to the neighborhood members of the Vision Russell initiative and all the people involved in the years of work being done to revitalize the neighborhoods of west Louisville.”