Justice Department to investigate whether Louisville police engaged in abuse

The Justice Department has launched a wide-ranging investigation that will look at whether the Louisville Police Department engaged in a pattern of abuse.

The investigation will examine whether Louisville police officers used unreasonable force, including during peaceful protests, engaged in unconstitutional stops and seizures, unlawful search warrant executions in houses and discriminated against people based on race. Attorney General Merrick Garland said Greg Fischer and Louisville Police Chief Erika Shields, have been told of the investigation and are cooperating.

Garland did not say whether the investigation was prompted by Breonna Taylor’s deat. But in brief remarks Monday, Garland acknowledged the settlement the city has reached with Taylor’s family.

Earline K. (left) and Rosie Henderson work to collect and cover the Breonna Taylor memorial with a tarp to protect it from rain Sept. 27, 2020, in downtown Louisville, Ky. (Photo: Max Gersh, Louisville Courier Journal via USA TODAY NETWORK)

The Justice Department under Garland is moving swiftly to reinvigorate federal oversight of police departments after it languished during the Trump administration.

Monday’s announcement came just days after Garland announced a similar, far-reaching investigation of the Minneapolis Police Department. That inquiry, prompted by the murder of George Floyd at the hands of former police officer Derek Chauvin, will examine officers’ excessive use of force, discriminatory actions involving those with mental health problems, department training policies and supervision.

Justice Department intervention in local policing matters was largely stalled during the Trump administration, but Garland reversed that policy earlier this month, signaling that the Biden administration intends to more aggressively investigate police departments accused of civil rights violations amid deepening distrust of law enforcement. A memo issued by Garland rescinded a previous directive by former Attorney General Jeff Sessions that ordered Justice Department attorneys to limit the use of so-called consent decrees, which are court-enforced agreements that enable federal judges to ensure promised reforms are underway.

Last May, then-U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, along with Rep. Lucy McBath of Georgia, had requested the Justice Department open an investigation into Louisville police, but the agency in July indicated an immediate investigation was unlikely.

The federal lawmakers said at the time that the fatal police shooting of 26-year-old Breonna Taylor required an immediate federal investigation. An ongoing federal investigation with the FBI and Department of Justice looking at Taylor’s death for possible civil rights charges.

Rallies and protests around the U.S. honor the life of Breonna Taylor on the anniversary of her death.


Contributing: Darcy Costello, The Louisville Courier-Journal

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