THE LOUISVILLE METROPOLITAN POLICE DEPARTMENT: A ROGUE, OUT-OF-CONTROL LAW ENFORCEMENT AGENCY
The circumstances of the tragic March 13, 2020, shooting death of Breonna Taylor by the Louisville Metropolitan Police Department (LMPD) signaled that the department was a rogue, out-of-control law enforcement agency.
That night a group of plainclothes officers conducted a no-knock-forced entry drug raid on Taylor’s apartment. A Jefferson County Circuit Judge approved five search warrants for raids at different locations where Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, was suspected of dealing drugs.
One of those locations was Taylor’s apartment.
At least seven LMPD officers participated in the raid on Taylor’s apartment. Three officers—Jonathan Mattingly, Brett Hankison, and Myles Cosgrove—participated in a shootout that ensued once the officers forced entry into Taylor’s apartment.
Saying he did not hear any knock at the door and believing the officers were intruders, Walker grabbed a legally owned gun and shot Mattingly in the leg. The officers returned fire with 32 bullets—five struck Taylor, killing her, while none struck Walker. Ten of those 32 bullets were fired by Hankison outside Taylor’s apartment as he blindly fired through a side window and patio door of the dwelling. Some of Hankison’s bullets entered a neighboring apartment where a pregnant woman, a man, and a child were present.
In the aftermath of Breonna Taylor’s killing, which drew national and international public outrage, Walker was charged with first-degree assault by the Louisville district attorney’s office—a charge the DA was forced to dismiss with prejudice 12 months later. The City of Louisville settled a wrongful death lawsuit brought by Taylor’s family for $12 million. The LMPD fired Hankison for blindly firing into Taylor’s apartment, after which a grand jury indicted him on “wanton first-degree endangerment” charges by endangering the lives of the three people in the neighboring apartment.
An ensuing LMPD investigation determined that Cosgrove fired the five bullets that fatally struck Taylor. The LMPD fired him because the 16 bullets he fired that night violated departmental policy.
As for Jonathan Mattingly, he retired from the LMPD 14 months after Taylor’s killing.
Six months after Taylor’s death, a state grand jury refused to bring homicide charges against any of the officers involved in her death.
In January 2021, three grand jurors filed an impeachment petition with the state legislature against Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron, accusing him of misleading the public about the grand jury proceedings, saying the attorney general never presented homicide charges to the jurors.
Then in August 2022, the U.S. Justice Department (DOJ) announced that a federal grand jury had indicted four current and former LMPD officers on various charges, including civil rights offenses, unlawful conspiracies, obstruction offenses, and use of excessive force.
Brett Hankison was the only on-scene officer involved in Taylor’s shooting death that was indicted. The other three officers—Sgt. Kyle Meany, a former LMPD detective named Joshua Jaynes, and current LMPD Detective Kelly Goodlett—were indicted for their roles in falsifying search warrant-related documents and offense reports in a criminal effort to cover up the details of the Taylor shooting death.
The LMPD and the Metro City Government of Louisville (Metro) received their most devastating blow when the U.S. Justice Department, on March 8, 2023, released the findings of its post-Breonna Taylor shooting investigation.
That investigation found that both LMPD and Metro engage “in a pattern or practice of conduct that deprives people of their rights under the Constitution and federal law.”
A summary of those findings includes:
- LMPD uses excessive force, including unjustified neck restraints and unreasonable use of police dogs and tasers.
- LMPD conducts searches based on invalid warrants.
- LMPD unlawfully executes search warrants without knocking and announcing.
- LMPD unlawfully stops, searches, detains and arrests people during street encounters, including traffic and pedestrian stops.
- LMPD violates the rights of people engaged in protected speech critical of police.
- Louisville Metro and LMPD discriminate against people with behavioral and mental health disabilities when responding to them in crisis.
The DOJ found that these unconstitutional and unlawful activities by LMPD and Metro have been going on for years at the expense of public safety. The DOJ announced that the Louisville police department would operate under a consent decree under the supervision of an independent monitor overseeing department reforms.
It is unclear how many innocent Louisville residents have been killed, seriously injured, or wrongfully convicted by the criminal conduct of these two governmental entities—not to mention criminal defendants being physically abused and railroaded into prison through manufactured or the suppression of mitigating evidence.
The DOJ said its findings were based on “Louisville Metro’s and LMPD’s own data, many thousands of documents, and thousands of hours of body-worn camera footage. Importantly, our findings are also based on conversations with hundreds of LMPD officers, Louisville Metro employees, and community members.”
The DOJ found that a “lack of leadership” allowed these unlawful activities to occur, and even when occasional solutions were put forth by LMPD and Metro to rein in these activities, neither entity had the moral leadership to implement them.
Put simply, the good cops were afraid of the bad cops—which is exactly the dynamic that turns good cops into bad criminals, including the government officials who protect these law enforcement criminals.
The DOJ report issued 36 recommendations and remedial measures to the LMPD and Metro about how to address and identify the root causes of the constitutional and statutory violations outlined in its report.
Whether Metro has the moral leadership and the LMPD has the ethical willingness to implement some, most, or all of the DOC recommendations and remedial measures remains to be seen.
The DOJ has put these two governmental entities on notice that it will indict those who continue down the criminal paths exhibited in the tragic Breonna Taylor killing.
But some cities and police departments are so corrupt that criminal activity and routine constitutional violations represent their law enforcement model. Take New Orleans, for example.
In 2011, a DOJ investigation found, just as it did with the LMPD, that the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) had engaged in a pattern of unlawful uses of excessive force, executing illegal search warrants, and pursuing discriminatory policing practices.
That particular DOJ investigation ended with the NOPD being placed under a federal “consent decree”—a judicial monitoring program.
What was the result of that monitoring?
In a March 7, 2023 article for The Appeal, Meg O’Connor answered that question with the following report:
“Between 2014 and 2020, a complaint of sexual misconduct, intimate partner violence, or harassment was made against New Orleans police officers about every ten days, according to a report published late last year by the Umbrella Coalition, a coalition of local and national nonprofit and civil rights organizations. According to the report, nearly 190 New Orleans police officers had complaints of this nature filed against them with the department’s public integrity unit. But, in that time, the department sustained only 3 percent of complaints involving sexual or intimate partner violence, according to a spokesperson for the New Orleans Police Department.
“The Umbrella Coalition found that, among other claims, officers were accused of watching pornography at work, sexually assaulting arrestees, stalking former partners, sexually harassing a restaurant server while drinking alcohol on duty, posting revenge porn of a woman, threatening a former partner with a gun, sexually harassing fellow employees, beating a child, punching a woman in the jaw, and numerous other allegations of domestic battery and rape, including one incident in which an officer allegedly sexually assaulted someone while another officer watched. The department currently employs about 950 officers, but that number fluctuated during the years the Umbrella Coalition studied, and at least 500 officers who worked for NOPD during those years have since resigned.”
The criminality was, and remains, so ingrained in the NOPD that the DOJ had to bring federal criminal charges in September 2022 against a former NOPD officer named Ricky Vicknair for sexually assaulting a 14-year-old rape victim in 2020.
After pleading guilty in October 2022, expecting a sentence in the range of 84 months, U.S. District Court Judge Lance Africk, on March 8, 2023, informed Vicknair and government prosecutors that he believed the sentence recommendation was too lenient. He delayed sentencing until March 14, 2023, when he was sentenced to 14 years in federal prison.
The residents of Louisville will now have to wait to see if Metro and the LMPD will follow the lead of the City of New Orleans and the NOPD, both of which put public safety at risk on a daily basis.