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Justice Department report faults Louisville police for civil rights violations

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And we're going now to Louisville, Ky., where the U.S. Justice Department has faulted the local police for a pattern of violating civil rights.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

The federal investigation started after the 2020 death of Breonna Taylor, who was killed by police in her apartment during a botched raid.

INSKEEP: Let's talk about all this with Morgan Watkins of Louisville Public Media. Welcome.

MORGAN WATKINS, BYLINE: Hi. Thanks for having me.

INSKEEP: OK. We're going to hear about what the community thinks. But first, the findings - what does the Justice Department say?

WATKINS: Well, they found the Louisville Metro Police Department has discriminated against Black people and repeatedly failed to deal with those disparities. The Justice Department said it found issues with excessive use of force, including police dogs, tasers and neck restraints. They also said Louisville officers unlawfully carried out search warrants. Attorney General Merrick Garland came to the city to speak about the findings and said they found a pattern of police wrongdoing.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MERRICK GARLAND: Shortly after we opened the investigation, an LMPD leader told the department Breonna Taylor was a symptom of problems that we have had for years.

INSKEEP: Well, is that how Louisville residents see it?

WATKINS: Yes. Soon afterwards, there was a gathering at a park, one that was central to the protests that we had for months here in Louisville after Breonna Taylor's death a few years ago. And let's remember, Taylor was in her apartment at night when officers burst in. They were carrying out a search warrant. Taylor's boyfriend, fearing intruders, fired a single shot and struck an officer in the leg. Officers returned fire, killing Taylor. That search warrant, we learned later, should never have been issued. The Justice Department's findings vindicated people who were upset with the police department about Taylor's death and a lot of other issues. Here's Raoul Cunningham, president of the Louisville NAACP.

RAOUL CUNNINGHAM: It validates what we've been saying. It encourages us to make sure that it is implemented in a fair and just manner.

WATKINS: The mother of Breonna Taylor, Tamika Palmer, said it was heartbreaking that it took losing her daughter for this investigation to happen.

INSKEEP: Well, what happens now with the Louisville police?

WATKINS: Well, city officials agreed to negotiate a legally binding consent decree that would require various reforms. In the meantime, the DOJ made over 30 recommendations for the department, things like ensuring officers comply with constitutional limits when they're doing traffic stops, also requiring stricter rules and oversight when officers carry out search warrants.

INSKEEP: Well, you did say city officials agreed to work out ways that this would happen. Do residents believe that these changes will happen?

WATKINS: They recognize this is a big deal for the federal government to come in and basically agree with what they've been saying for years about the Louisville Police Department. But there is skepticism. One major issue is the trust has been broken in this community because of the police's behavior. Garland emphasized the need for people here to work with the city on developing some of these reforms.

INSKEEP: Morgan Watkins of Louisville Public Media. Thanks for joining us early, really appreciate it.

WATKINS: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Morgan Watkins