Case: DOJ Investigation of the Louisville Metro Police Department and Louisville Metro Government

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Case Summary

This is a Department of Justice investigation into a  pattern or practice of discriminatory police conduct in Louisville, Kentucky, and subsequent settlement agreement. On April 26, 2021, the Department of Justice (DOJ) opened an investigation into Louisville County Metro Government (Louisville Metro) and the Louisville Metro Police Department (LMPD) under the Violent Crime and Law Enforcement Act, the Safe Streets Act of 1968, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, and Title II of the Americans wit…

This is a Department of Justice investigation into a  pattern or practice of discriminatory police conduct in Louisville, Kentucky, and subsequent settlement agreement. On April 26, 2021, the Department of Justice (DOJ) opened an investigation into Louisville County Metro Government (Louisville Metro) and the Louisville Metro Police Department (LMPD) under the Violent Crime and Law Enforcement Act, the Safe Streets Act of 1968, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The investigation was initiated after the  fatal shooting of Breonna Taylor by Louisville police in 2020, and it lasted over two years. On March 8, 2023, the DOJ issued a 90-page report summarizing its findings, and announced that the parties had reached an agreement in principle to enter into a court-enforceable consent decree. 

The DOJ found seven major types of violations: 1) use of excessive force; 2) searches conducted based on invalid warrants; 3) unlawful execution of search warrants; 4) unlawful stops, searches, and arrests during street enforcement activities; 5) unlawful discrimination against black people in enforcement activities; 6) violations of the rights of people engaged in protected free speech critical of policing; and 7) along with Louisville Metro, discrimination against people with behavioral health disabilities when responding to them in crisis. The DOJ also identified deficiencies in LMPD’s response to and investigation of domestic violence and sexual assault cases, including its responses to allegations that LMPD officers engaged in sexual misconduct or domestic violence. Deficiencies in policies, training, supervision, and accountability were found to have contributed to LMPD and Louisville Metro’s unlawful conduct.The DOJ compiled detailed findings regarding each of the violations. 

LMPD was found to regularly engage in several practices of unlawful, excessive force that violated the Fourth Amendment. Some of these practices had to do with the treatment of citizens who posed no threat; LMPD was found to have used dangerous neck restraints and recklessly deployed police dogs against these individuals, permitting dogs to continue biting and injuring individuals after they had surrendered. The DOJ also uncovered patterns of unreasonable and unsafe use of tasers, the use of takedowns and strikes disproportionate to the threat or resistance, and the unnecessary escalation of encounters leading to excessive force. 

Additional Fourth Amendment violations were found in LMPD’s practices and procedures related to applying for and executing search warrants. LMPD was found to frequently conduct searches based on warrants that were invalid; some lacked the detail and specificity necessary to establish probable cause, other warrants were overly broad in scope and failed to establish probable cause for everyone included. In more than a third of LMPD’s search warrant applications, the DOJ found evidence of the use of confidential informants with little to no information explaining the reliability of the informant, the information provided, or how many informants were used during the investigation. This suggested to the DOJ that officers made minimal effort to ensure that informants were telling the truth and there was enough evidence to justify a warrant. When executing warrants, officers were found to regularly serve warrants without knocking and announcing their presence, even though LMPD’s procedures required officers to knock loudly and long enough to be heard by occupants and announce themselves as law enforcement. LMPD officers also had a pattern of executing warrants late at night without court approval. The unlawful warrant executions were found to be the result of poor planning, supervision, and oversight. Officers regularly failed to complete risk assessments prior to executing warrants, and rarely recorded warrant executions on body cameras. Supervisor reviews of and reports on warrant executions were rarely meaningful.

The DOJ also found issues with LMPD’s patterns and practices surrounding street enforcement. Overall, systemic violations were found to reflect an overly aggressive approach to policing encouraged by LMPD’s own training materials. The Fourth Amendment prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures; “articulable suspicion” of criminal activity connected to the individual is necessary to stop someone, and reasonable suspicion that an individual is armed and dangerous is required to frisk or pat someone down. Frisks can turn into a search if items are found that can be weapons or are otherwise incriminating. LMPD officers were found to unlawfully stop, frisk, detain, search, and arrest people, subjecting them to intrusive encounters. Minor violations and traffic stops were used as pretext to investigate suspected but unrelated criminal activity. Officers turned frisks into unlawful searches, reaching inside individuals’ pockets to remove items that could not be mistaken for a weapon and were not immediately incriminating. LMPD was also found to have a history of coercing individuals into allowing searches, instead of obtaining voluntary consent. Officers employed tactics that were not unlawful on their own, but combined with others, made traffic stops more coercive and undermined the voluntariness of any consent. Such tactics included threatening to deploy police dogs even when they weren’t required, sometimes with minors in the car, requesting consent to a search while already patting someone down, and deploying multiple cars for minor violations as an intimidation tactic. Other violations included unnecessarily long stops, unlawful seizure of the belongings of people experiencing homelessness, unlawful searches without warrants, and questioning people in custody without providing timely Miranda warnings.

The DOJ also found First Amendment violations. t. When responding to protected speech against police action, both during the 2020 protests and in other contexts, LMPD officers were found to be aggressive. During the 2020 protests, officers sometimes used riot sticks, less-lethal munitions, or chemical agents against protesters who did nothing more than passively resist or disperse more slowly than officers liked. They also made improper, warrantless arrests and unlawfully used force against protesters who had surrendered; actions which, absent adequate justification, constituted repeated retaliation against protected speech in violation of the First Amendment. More generally, in different settings against different kinds of people, LMPD was found to regularly engage in retaliatory practices against lawful verbal challenges to police conduct. This included the unnecessary use of chemical agents,  tackling unresisting individuals, forcibly seizing and pushing people, slamming an individual’s head against the ground, and even punching a man who had already been detained. These problems were found to be the result of various deficiencies: a complete lack of policy on managing lawful demonstrations; poor, inadequate training on civil disturbances and a lack of meaningful review of actions taken during protests. Planning documents showed LMPD planned more aggressive responses to police protests than other protests. 

Finally, the DOJ found reasonable cause to believe that LMPD officers engaged in discrimination, on the basis of both race and disability. The Department identified significant racial disparities across a range of LMPD’s documented enforcement activities. From minor traffic offenses and searches to prolonged detentions and unreported encounters, black drivers were significantly more likely to be subjected to pretextual enforcement activities than similarly situated white drivers. Additionally, LMPD maintained practices that resulted in disparate treatment of black residents, including a failure to document and report thousands of traffic stops in black neighborhoods that didn’t result in citations or arrests, and citing black drivers for marijuana possession at six times the rate of white drivers. LMPD was also found to have failed to appropriately respond to and discipline officers who expressed explicit racial bias against and made derogatory comments about black people. LMPD’s response to individuals with disabilities also reflected patterns of discrimination. Officers were overly aggressive and engaged in unavoidable arrests in response to behavioral health issues in lieu of engaging in de-escalation tactics, thereby violating the ADA, which required reasonable modifications of policies and practices when responding to individuals with disabilities. 

The DOJ also expressed concerns about LMPD’s investigation of and response to sexual assault and domestic violence. The department found numerous instances where LMPD failed to open administrative investigations that corresponded to the criminal investigations into reports of sexual misconduct and domestic violence by officers. In cases where investigations were opened, investigators often failed to gather or seemed to disregard crucial evidence. When responding to violence or assault in the community, officers and detectives were found to engage in practices that discouraged reporting and prevented survivors from receiving advocacy services. Evidence of gender stereotyping and reliance on sex-based assumptions was also found in body camera footage. LMPD’s investigation practices in these cases were found to be inadequate; evidence was improperly disregarded or excluded, and injuries and interviews with key witnesses went undocumented.

Deficient training and supervision, inadequate support and resources, a failure to investigate and discipline, and a lack of sufficient external oversight and accountability were all found to be contributing causes to LMPD’s systemic legal violations. Unclear or missing policies on constitutional policing practices, poor training, improper facilities, lack of support for health and well being, inadequate supervisor training, and a failure to correct problems early on were evidence to the DOJ of LMPD’s failure to adequately support and supervise its officers. LMPD’s internal accountability systems were found to be lacking: investigations into possible misconduct often went uninitiated; investigations lacked impartiality and thoroughness; supervisors failed to detect and address misconduct; civilian complaints faced unnecessary burdens; and appropriate disciplinary measures were rarely imposed. The DOJ also found that Louisville Metro’s external accountability systems failed to compensate for LMPD’s internal deficiencies. 

The Department recommended 36 remedial measures for Louisville Metro and the LMPD to implement in order to make improvements. These recommendations broadly included improving policies, creating new, improved training, enhancing accountability mechanisms, consistently reviewing body cam footage, improving records keeping and data analysis, expanding non-emergency response options in behavioral health cases, and establishing an external review panel. 

The agreement in principle committed the parties to negotiating reforms over a period of several months. The DOJ agreed to recommend measures in keeping with initiatives already in the process of being implemented. The parties also agreed to discuss mechanisms that would facilitate the ongoing participation of community members in the reform process. Following additional negotiations, a consent decree was to be entered in the United States District Court for the Western District of Kentucky, and an independent third-party monitor would be selected to oversee compliance.  As of October 2023, additional negotiations appear to be ongoing.

Summary Authors

Simran Takhar (9/30/2023)

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Docket

Last updated Aug. 30, 2023, 1:25 p.m.

Docket sheet not available via the Clearinghouse.

Case Details

State / Territory: Kentucky

Case Type(s):

Policing

Disability Rights

Key Dates

Case Ongoing: Yes

Plaintiffs

Plaintiff Description:

The Department of Justice Civil Rights Division

Plaintiff Type(s):

U.S. Dept of Justice plaintiff

Attorney Organizations:

U.S. Dept. of Justice Civil Rights Division

Public Interest Lawyer: Yes

Filed Pro Se: No

Class Action Sought: No

Class Action Outcome: Not sought

Defendants

Louisville Metro Police Department, City

Louisville County Metro Government, County

Defendant Type(s):

Law-enforcement

Case Details

Causes of Action:

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12111 et seq.

Violent Crime and Law Enforcement Act, 34 U.S.C. § 12601 (previously 42 U.S.C. § 14141)

Title VI, Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000d et seq.

Constitutional Clause(s):

Unreasonable search and seizure

Freedom of speech/association

Special Case Type(s):

Out-of-court

Available Documents:

Injunctive (or Injunctive-like) Relief

Findings Letter/Report

Outcome

Prevailing Party: Plaintiff

Nature of Relief:

None yet

Source of Relief:

None yet

Issues

General/Misc.:

Aggressive behavior

Disciplinary procedures

Failure to discipline

Failure to supervise

Failure to train

Pattern or Practice

Racial profiling

Record-keeping

Records Disclosure

Restraints : chemical

Restraints : physical

Retaliation

Search policies

Staff (number, training, qualifications, wages)

Disability and Disability Rights:

disability, unspecified

Intellectual/developmental disability, unspecified

Mental impairment

Reasonable Modifications

Discrimination Basis:

Disability (inc. reasonable accommodations)

Race discrimination

Discrimination Area:

Disparate Treatment

Affected Race(s):

Black

Medical/Mental Health Care:

Mental health care, general

Policing:

Excessive force

False arrest

Improper treatment of mentally ill suspects

Improper use of canines

Inadequate citizen complaint investigations and procedures

Pepper/OC Spray (policing)

Traffic Stops