U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland will investigate the Louisville Metro Police Department and Metro government to see whether the LMPD has a “pattern or practice” of using excessive force and violating constitutional rights.
The investigation will be led by the civil rights division of the U.S. Attorney General’s Office, and conducted in conjunction with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the western District of Kentucky.
It will include a comprehensive review of the department’s policies and training as well as assess the effectiveness of the supervision of officers — and accountability for their actions.
“If violations are found, the justice department will aim to work with the city and police department to arrive at a set of mutually agreeable steps that they can take to correct and prevent unlawful patterns or practices,” Garland said.
Garland said officials plan to assess whether LMPD engages in a practice of using unreasonable force against people who are involved in peaceful protests, unconstitutional stops and seizures, unlawfully executed search warrants, racial discrimination based or failure to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Garland said the DOJ will issue a public report and will move forward with a civil lawsuit if violations are found and the city and the federal government can’t reach an agreement.
Louisville Metro police have faced increased scrutiny following an overnight raid last year where officers shot and killed Breonna Taylor. The racial justice protests that followed resulted in the use of tear gas and pepper balls and hundreds of arrests, with protesters accusing LMPD of excessive force and retaliation.
Among those arrested was State Rep. Attica Scott, who was accused of rioting in September. She was livestreaming her walk downtown when she and others encountered police and were quickly arrested and charged with felonies. Those charges were later dropped.
As recently as a week ago, cell phone video showed an LMPD officer taking a protester to the ground and repeatedly punching him in the face.
In September, Mayor Greg Fischer announced a historic $12 million settlement with Taylor’s family that included several policing reforms. In the Monday announcement, Garland said he commends the city for those actions, and they’d be taken into account.
The announcement is a departure from the U.S. Department of Justice under former President Donald Trump, which basically abandoned interventions against police misconduct.
Garland’s announcement could precede use of one of the most powerful tools for curbing police misconduct: consent decrees. The consent decree begins with the “pattern-or-practice” investigation, which will focus on broad, systemic problems within police departments.