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Justice Department launches investigation into Louisville policing practices

The police department has come under intense scrutiny in the year since officers killed Breonna Taylor inside her own apartment.
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Attorney General Merrick Garland announced a "pattern or practice" investigation Monday into the Louisville, Kentucky, Metro Police Department, which has faced intense scrutiny and criticism in the 13 months since officers killed Breonna Taylor in 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 news 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 said.

Garland said that 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."

"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 inquiry is the second "pattern or practice" investigation launched by the Justice Department in recent days. Last week, it opened an investigation into policing in Minneapolis, 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.

The development was first reported by ABC News.

Taylor, 26, an emergency medical technician, was killed after police with a so-called no-knock warrant broke down the door to her apartment seeking evidence in a narcotics investigation. The target of the investigation was an ex-boyfriend of Taylor's, who lived at a different address.

Taylor was with a new 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. Police returned fire, and Taylor was killed.

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer pledged that the city will cooperate with the investigation at a news conference later Monday.

"I strongly welcome the investigation," Fischer said, noting that the police department had "taken a number of steps to improve police legitimacy" since Taylor was killed, including the hiring of Erika Shields as police chief. "We have more work to do," he said.

Shields, speaking after Fischer, said the Justice Department's involvement was "a good thing."

No criminal charges were brought in direct connection to Taylor's death. Former Louisville police Detective Brett Hankison, who was fired in June, was charged with firing blindly into an apartment and recklessly endangering Taylor's neighbors.

In January, the police department fired two officers involved in the botched raid: 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 investigation.

"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."

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told reporters Monday that "there have been significant challenges there" and that it was "certainly not inappropriate for the Justice Department to take a look at it."

Garland's launching of 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 police departments and sheriff's offices. Since then, the government has opened 70 investigations, entering into 40 formal reform agreements.

Some police departments have welcomed the investigations; others have balked at the government's findings. Under the 1994 law, the government has the authority to get court orders to require reforms.