Daniel Cameron Promised Search Warrants Analysis 8 Months Ago. It Hasn’t Started

May 7, 2021

Credit Kate Howard

Moments after Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron acknowledged a grand jury wasn’t charging the police officers who killed Breonna Taylor for her death, he made a promise.

He stood at a podium last September, surrounded by reporters from across the world, and pledged to form a task force to review the process for securing and executing search warrants like the one that led to Taylor’s death.

Cameron indicated a sense of urgency, saying he would issue an executive order “in the coming days.”

But that didn’t happen until four months later. And nearly eight months later, the task force has yet to even meet.

The first meeting hasn’t been scheduled. Six members told the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting they have received little guidance from the Attorney General and are unsure what the specific aim of the task force will be, beyond it’s broad goal of examining the state’s disjointed search warrant system. 

The task force assembled by Cameron could be a mechanism to understand the full scope of search warrant processes in Kentucky — which can vary from county to county and judge to judge.

It’s just not doing anything.

“I’m disappointed,” said Damon Preston, the state’s Public Advocate and member of the task force.


Public Advocate Damon Preston

The time is now to put the entire search warrant system under the microscope, Preston said.

Presumably, the task force would do just that, according to an executive order issued by Cameron on January 21 — about four months after he initially pledged to assemble the group. 

The group’s members stem from the most powerful corners of the criminal justice system: legislators, judges, prosecutors, and police.

Such a group could be instrumental in ushering in any search warrant reforms in the future, said state Sen. Whitney Westerfield, a task force member and Republican chair of the Senate’s judiciary committee.

But he’s yet to get an invite to any meeting to begin the work.

“The point of the group is to function, to serve its purpose,” he said. “It needs to be doing that.”

 

Taylor’s death thrust into the forefront the process by which search warrants are obtained and executed. Police killed the 26-year-old Black woman in her home while executing a so-called no knock search warrant, though LMPD officials insist the officers knocked anyway.  

The killing led the Louisville Metro Council to ban the use of no knock warrants locally, and state lawmakers passed legislation to limit the use of such warrants. 

Cameron’s office was appointed the special prosecutor after Louisville’s commonwealth’s attorney recused himself. One officer, Brett Hankison, was indicted by a grand jury on reckless endangerment charges for bullets that traveled into a neighboring apartment, but Cameron’s prosecutors didn’t seek any charges related to Taylor’s death.

Elizabeth Kuhn, Cameron’s spokesperson, said the task force’s lack of action is due to a few reasons, chief among them the desire to wait until the General Assembly concluded. The session started in January 5, about three months after Cameron’s announcement and concluded on March 30.

“Given that the law on search warrants was likely to change, the decision was made that the Task Force would not convene until the conclusion of the session so that the group could review all current law regarding the search warrant process,” she said in an emailed statement.

“Moreover, we’ve been looking forward to the day where in-person meetings could be possible for those who choose to do so,” she added.

In January, Cameron issued a list detailing which agencies would be represented on the group, though he didn’t name the members. 

Written at the bottom of the memo: The group’s first meeting would be set in the coming weeks.

“I would have expected much more traction for an initiative like this,” said Ramon McGee, a Louisville attorney and task force member who will represent the Kentucky Conference of the NAACP.

“We need a blueprint for what we are doing and that blueprint needs to come from the top down,” he said.

The processes by which search warrants are obtained and executed are largely hidden from the public, McGee said.

Opening that process up for review can make way for the candid conversations McGee said are needed to understand why police so often believe “this most invasive type of investigative procedure” is necessary.

McGee also hopes to examine the system for how police present warrants to judges for approval, in addition to data on how many warrants are applied for, how many are issued, and where warrants are executed.

Presently, police officers will apply for a warrant by presenting an affidavit of investigative findings of probable cause to a judge. McGee said law enforcement can create a perception of the need for search and seizure by simply painting a community as dangerous.

He said judges can grow to be desensitized to the effect of the search warrant. 

“This is the real problem,” McGee said. “This is not a criticism of the judiciary, but of the system.”

Jefferson Circuit Court Judge Charles Cunningham, who will represent the Kentucky Court of Justice on the task force, said he won’t be coming in with a fixed focus on any reforms.

But he’s anxious to get to work.

“I haven’t heard anything,” he said. “So I don’t know.”

On Thursday, Kuhn issued a press release which for the first time listed the members of the task force.

In it, there was another promise.

“The task force will announce the date of its first meeting in the coming days.”

Contact Jacob Ryan at jryan@kycir.org.

Search Warrants Task Force members:    

  •   Denise Bentley, Former Louisville Metro Councilwoman and current advisor to the Louisville Metro Council Democratic Caucus, representing citizens at-large
  •         Sergeant Bryan Bogard, Covington Police Department, representing the Kentucky Fraternal Order of Police
  •         Colonel Phillip Burnett, Jr., Commissioner, Kentucky State Police
  •         Judge Foster Cotthoff, District Court Judge, Christian County, representing the Kentucky Court of Justice
  •         Judge Charles Cunningham, Circuit Court Judge, 30th Judicial Circuit, Jefferson County, representing the Kentucky Court of Justice
  •         Jeff Gregory, Mayor, City of Elizabethtown, representing the Kentucky League of Cities
  •         Nicolai Jilek, Commissioner, Kentucky Department of Criminal Justice Training
  •         Representative Ed Massey, Chair, House Judiciary Committee
  •         Ramon McGee, Attorney, The Law Office of Ramon McGee, representing the Kentucky Conference of the NAACP
  •         Chief Joe Monroe, University of Kentucky Police Department, representing the Kentucky Association of Chiefs of Police
  •         David Nicholson, Circuit Court Clerk, Jefferson County, representing the Kentucky Association of Counties
  •         Damon Preston, Public Advocate
  •         Joseph Ross, County Attorney, Logan County, representing the Kentucky County Attorneys Association
  •         Rob Sanders, Commonwealth’s Attorney, 16th Judicial Circuit, representing the Kentucky Commonwealth’s Attorneys’ Association
  •         Sheriff Walt Sholar, Bullitt County Sheriff’s Office, representing the Kentucky Sheriffs’ Association
  •         Detective Elizabeth Thomas, Lexington Police Department, representing the Kentucky Narcotics Officers Association
  •         Senator Whitney Westerfield, Chair, Senate Judiciary Committee
  •         George Wright, Professor, Senior Adviser to the President, and Vice President for Institutional Diversity, University of Kentucky, representing citizens at-large