By Sarah N. Lynch and Rami Ayyub
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The Louisville, Kentucky, police force routinely discriminates against Black residents, uses excessive force and conducts illegal searches, the U.S. Justice Department said on Wednesday, following a probe prompted by Breonna Taylor’s killing in 2020.
The department’s findings come nearly two years after U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland launched the civil rights probe into the department, whose officers shot Taylor dead after bursting into her apartment on a no-knock warrant, as well as the Louisville-Jefferson County government.
The probe found a wide-ranging pattern of misconduct by police, including using dangerous neck restraints and police dogs against people who posed no threat, and allowing the dogs to continuing biting people after they surrendered.
At a news conference, Garland said the department had reached a “consent decree” with the Louisville police, which will require the use of an independent monitor to oversee policing reforms.
“This conduct is unacceptable. It is heartbreaking. It erodes the community trust necessary for effective policing,” Garland said. “And it is an affront to the people of Louisville, who deserve better.”
It is the first probe of U.S. policing begun and completed by the Biden administration, which had promised to focus on racial justice in law enforcement after a spate of high-profile police killings of Black Americans. The deaths of Taylor and George Floyd, in particular, drew national outrage and sparked the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020.
“I don’t even know what to say today. To know that this thing should never have happened and it took three years for anybody else to say that it shouldn’t have,” Taylor’s mother, Tamika Palmer, told a news conference after the findings were released.
The investigation found the police department used aggressive tactics selectively against Black people, who comprise roughly one in four Louisville residents, as well as other vulnerable people, such as those with behavioral health challenges.
Police cited people for minor offenses like wide turns and broken taillights, while serious crimes like sexual assault and homicide went unsolved, the probe found, adding minor offenses were used as a pretext to investigate unrelated criminal activity.
Some Louisville police officers even filmed themselves insulting people with disabilities and describing Black people as “monkeys,” the Justice Department said. It also found that officers quickly resorted to violence.
Louisville Mayor Craig Greenburg told reporters the Justice Department’s report brought back “painful memories” and vowed to implement reforms.
“Our city has wounds that have not yet healed and that’s why this report… is so important and so necessary,” he said.
Taylor, a 26-year-old emergency medical technician, was asleep in bed with her boyfriend on March 13, 2020, when Louisville police executing a no-knock warrant burst into her apartment.
Her boyfriend fired at them believing they were intruders and police returned fire, fatally shooting Taylor.
The killings of both Taylor and Floyd prompted the Justice Department in 2021 to open civil rights investigations, known as “pattern or practice” probes, into the police departments in Louisville and Minneapolis to determine if they engaged in systemic abuses. The results of the Minneapolis review have not yet been released.
Under Garland’s leadership, the Justice Department has sought to reinvigorate its civil rights enforcement program, an area civil rights advocates say was left in tatters by former U.S. President Donald Trump.
During the Trump administration, for instance, former Attorney General Jeff Sessions moved to curtail the use of consent decrees with police departments, saying they reduced morale.
The Justice Department has since restored their use, and launched multiple civil rights investigations into police departments, local jails and prisons across the country.
The department’s 90-page investigative report recommended 36 measures for Louisville police, including revamping policies on search warrants, new use-of-force training for officers, requiring body-worn cameras to be activated, documenting all police stops, and improving civilian oversight.
In 2021, Garland also announced new policies for federal law enforcement agencies including the FBI, which now prohibit them from conducting “no-knock” entries like the one used against Taylor by local police.
In August, federal prosecutors charged four current and former Louisville, Kentucky, police officers for their roles in the botched 2020 raid.
One of those, former Louisville detective Kelly Goodlett, pleaded guilty to federal criminal charges that she helped falsify the search warrant that led to Taylor’s death.
(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch, additional reporting by Rami Ayyub and Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Scott Malone and Deepa Babington)