Attorney General Merrick Garland on Monday announced a "pattern or practice" investigation into the Louisville Metro Police Department, which has faced intense scrutiny and criticism in the 13 months since officers of the department killed Breonna Taylor inside her own apartment as they served a no-knock warrant.
"Today, the Justice Department is opening a civil investigation into the Louisville-Jefferson County metro government and the Louisville Metro Police Department to determine whether LMPD engages in a pattern or practice of violations of the constitution or federal law," Garland said at a press conference.
"The investigation will assess whether LMPD engages in a pattern or practice of using unreasonable force, including with respect to people involved in peaceful, expressive activities. It will determine whether LMPD engages in unconstitutional stops searches and seizures, as well as whether the department unlawfully executes search warrants on private homes," Garland said.
"It will also assess whether LMPD engages in discriminatory conduct on the basis of race or fails to provide public services that comply with the Americans with Disability Act. Investigation will include comprehensive review of the Louisville Police Department's policies and training. It will also assess the effectiveness of LMPD supervision of officers and systems of accountability," he added.
Garland said that if violations are found, the 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."
"If an agreement cannot be reached, the Justice Department has the authority to bring a civil lawsuit seeking injunctive relief to address the violations," he said.
The probe marks the second “pattern or practice” investigation launched by the Justice Department in recent days. Last week, the Justice Department opened an investigation into the policing practices of the Minneapolis Police Department, less than 24 hours after a jury convicted former police officer Derek Chauvin in the death of George Floyd.
That investigation will determine whether the police department engages in a pattern or practice of policing that violates the Constitution or federal civil rights laws.
Taylor, 26, an emergency medical technician, was killed after police with a no-knock warrant broke down the door to her apartment seeking evidence in a narcotics investigation. The target of the probe was an ex-boyfriend of Taylor's, who lived at a different address.
Taylor was with boyfriend Kenneth Walker when the plainclothes officers entered.
Walker, who had a license to carry a weapon, called 911 believing the home was being invaded by criminals and opened fire, wounding one of the officers in the leg.
That's when police returned fire and Taylor was killed.
Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer, during a press conference later Monday, pledged his city's cooperation with the probe.
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“I strongly welcome the investigation," said Fischer, noting his city's police department had "taken a number of steps to improve police legitimacy" since Taylor's killing, including the hiring of Erika Shields as the city's new police chief. "We have more work to do," he said.
Shields, speaking after Fischer, said the Justice Department's involvement was "a good thing."
Despite the outcry against Taylor's shooting, no criminal charges were brought in direct connection to her death. Former Louisville police detective Brett Hankison, who was fired in June, was charged for allegedly firing blindly into an apartment and recklessly endangering Taylor’s neighbors.
In January, the Louisville Metro Police Department fired two officers involved in the botched raid that resulted in Taylor's death: former detectives Joshua Jaynes and Myles Cosgrove.
The city of Louisville reached a $12 million settlement with Taylor's family in September.
Civil rights groups praised the opening of the probe.
"For far too long, killings at the hands of police have only led to one hashtag after another. But true justice comes with accountability and action. We applaud the Justice Department’s new investigation into the Louisville Metro Police Department for the murder of Breonna Taylor and their ongoing practices," NAACP National President Derrick Johnson said. "No police officer or police department is above the law," he added.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told reporters Monday that "there have been significant challenges there," and added that it's "certainly not inappropriate for the Justice Department to take a look at it."
Garland’s launching the investigations marks a dramatic departure from the approach of the Trump administration, whose Justice Department dramatically scaled back its police investigations.
Trump’s first attorney general, Jeff Sessions, issued a directive discouraging the use of the pattern-or-practice authority. Garland rescinded the memorandum.
Following widespread protests after the televised police beating of Rodney King in Los Angeles 30 years ago, Congress in 1994 gave the Justice Department the authority to conduct such investigations of local police departments and sheriff's offices. Since then, the government has opened 70 investigations, entering into 40 formal reform agreements.
Some local police departments have welcomed Justice Department investigations; others have balked at the government's findings. Under the 1994 law, the government has authority to get court orders to require reforms.