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Attorney General Merrick B. Garland Delivers Remarks on Civil Rights Violations by the Louisville Metro Police Department and Louisville/Jefferson County Metro Government


Louisville, KY
United States

Remarks as Delivered

Good morning, everyone.

On April 26, 2021, I announced that the Justice Department had opened a civil investigation into the Louisville/Jefferson County Metro Government and the Louisville Metro Police Department. Our investigation sought to determine whether those entities engage in a pattern or practice of violations of the Constitution or federal law.

I am here today to announce the findings of that investigation. I am also announcing that the Justice Department, Louisville Metro, and LMPD have agreed in principle to negotiate toward a consent decree.

Here with me from the Justice Department are Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta and Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke, who is in charge of our Civil Rights Division.

I also want to acknowledge Mayor Greenberg, Council President Winkler, and Interim Chief of Police Gwinn-Villaroel – thank you for joining us today. 

In 2020, LMPD officers shot and killed Breonna Taylor in her own home in the middle of the night. The officers were executing a search warrant but found no evidence of any crime. In a separate criminal case, we have charged that the officers involved in obtaining the warrant knew that the affidavit that supported the warrant contained false and misleading information. Ms. Taylor’s death brought immeasurable pain both to her family and this community.  

In April 2021, our Civil Rights Division opened the pattern or practice investigation that I have just referenced.

Shortly after we opened the investigation, an LMPD leader told the Department: “Breonna Taylor was a symptom of problems that we have had for years.”

The Justice Department’s findings in the report that we are releasing today bear that out.

The Department has concluded that there is reasonable cause to believe that Louisville Metro and LMPD engaged in a pattern or practice of conduct that violates the First and Fourth Amendments of the Constitution. 

There is also reasonable cause to believe that they engage in conduct that violates Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Safe Streets Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act. 

Specifically, the report finds that LMPD:

  • Uses excessive force, including unjustified neck restraints and the unreasonable use of police dogs and tasers;
  • Conducts searches based on invalid warrants;
  • Unlawfully executes warrants without knocking and announcing;
  • Unlawfully stops, searches, detains, and arrests people;
  • Unlawfully discriminates against Black people in enforcement activities;
  • Violates the rights of people engaged in protected speech critical of policing;
  • And, along with Louisville Metro, discriminates against people with behavioral health disabilities when responding to them in crisis.

The Justice Department has also identified deficiencies in LMPD’s response to and investigation of domestic violence and sexual assault.

LMPD has relied heavily on pretextual traffic stops in Black neighborhoods.  

In these stops, officers use the pretense of making a stop for a minor traffic offense in order to investigate for other crimes.  

Some officers have demonstrated disrespect for the people they are sworn to protect. Some have videotaped themselves throwing drinks at pedestrians from their cars; insulted people with disabilities; and called Black people “monkeys,” “animal,” and “boy.”

This conduct is unacceptable. It is heartbreaking. It erodes the community trust necessary for effective policing. And it is an affront to the vast majority of  officers who put their lives on the line every day to serve Louisville with honor.

And it is an affront to the people of Louisville, who deserve better.

As the report states, most Metro employees and LMPD officers are dedicated public servants who work hard to promote public safety. But Louisville Metro and LMPD have failed to ensure that all employees uphold the Constitutional and statutory rights of the people in Louisville.

Louisville Metro and LMPD have also failed to provide police officers and other employees with the support and resources that they need to do their jobs effectively and lawfully. 

Our investigation uncovered deficient training, substandard facilities and equipment, and inadequate support for officer mental health and wellness. Police officers already have difficult jobs. These inadequacies have made those jobs even harder, and less safe.

Our report also describes unlawful law enforcement practices by LMPD patrol officers and by members of a specialized unit that was first called the VIPER Unit. The unit was later rebranded as Ninth Mobile Division and the Criminal Interdiction Division. 

Officers in this specialized unit frequently made pretextual traffic stops in Black neighborhoods. 

Federal and state courts have found that officers in the unit violated residents’ Fourth Amendment rights. 

The report concludes that the unit’s activities were part of an overall enforcement approach that resulted in significant and unlawful racial disparities. 

LMPD’s conduct has undermined its public safety mission and strained its relationship with the community it is meant to protect and serve. 

In an important step toward reform, I am pleased to announce that the City of Louisville has signed an Agreement in Principle with the Department of Justice. 

This agreement commits the City and LMPD to work with the Justice Department, the community, police officers, and other stakeholders to address the problems that we have identified. 

And this agreement commits us to negotiate a legally binding consent decree with an independent monitor.

Louisville Metro and LMPD have already instituted a number of changes through the settlement with the family of Breonna Taylor, as well as through other measures. 

The city enacted a law that prohibits LMPD from seeking no-knock warrants.

A limited pilot program has started sending behavioral health professionals to certain 911 calls. 

And the city has expanded community-based violence prevention services. 

LMPD has also announced plans to revamp its training, support for officers’ health and wellness, and internal auditing.  

These efforts are commendable, and we credit Louisville Metro and LMPD for acknowledging that change is necessary.  

But more must be done.

The Justice Department recommends 36 remedial measures that provide a starting framework for changes that are necessary to improve public safety, build community trust, and comply with the Constitution and federal law.

To the officers of LMPD: the Justice Department is acutely aware of the integral role that law enforcement officers play in our society and the dangers you face to keep your community safe. 

So, it is imperative that your police department sets you up for success.

Your department needs to provide you with clear policies and consistent training that explain constitutional boundaries and responsibilities. 

You need equipment and facilities that help you meet those responsibilities. 

And you need supervisors and a chain of command that enables you to achieve the highest standards of your profession.

To the people of Louisville: you have shown meaningful engagement on issues of reform.  

During the investigation, the Department met with many community members, including people who had encounters with the police, religious leaders, advocates, criminal defense attorneys, prosecutors, judges, and service providers.

I want to thank you for sharing your experiences with us. We could not have completed this investigation without your contributions.

And I ask that you continue to engage with these issues in the months ahead. Your involvement is critical to our success.

Together, we can make true progress and ensure the durability of reforms. Together, we can ensure that constitutional policing also results in safer communities.

Finally, to the career staff of the Civil Rights Division and of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Kentucky who conducted this investigation, thank you for your extraordinary hard work, which will make Louisville a better and better place for all of its residents.

As I mentioned when I announced the opening of this investigation, the Justice Department is charged with ensuring that the constitutional and federal statutory rights of the people are protected.

Congress authorized the Department to conduct pattern-or-practice investigations to help it fulfill this responsibility.

But those investigations, and the recommendations that ensue, do not only protect individuals’ civil rights. They also assist police departments in developing measures to increase transparency and accountability.

Those qualities are necessary to building trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve. And community trust is essential to making both communities and policing  safer.

The Justice Department looks forward to working with Louisville Metro and LMPD to achieve these ends.

I am now pleased to turn the podium over to Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta.

Civil Rights
Updated March 8, 2023