(CN) — The Louisville Metro Police Department systematically abused and used excessive force against Black people in the years leading up to the killing of Breonna Taylor in 2020, according to the findings of a Justice Department investigation published Wednesday.
The 90-page investigation report found that the police force in Kentucky's most populous city routinely uses excessive force, conducts unlawful searches and discriminates against Black people and disabled people in the course of its policing activities. It also found that the department systematically violated protesters’ First Amendment rights during the protests against police brutality that followed Taylor’s killing and that of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
“For years, LMPD has practiced an aggressive style of policing that it deploys selectively, especially against Black people, but also against vulnerable people across the city,” the report states. “LMPD cites people for minor offenses, like wide turns and broken taillights, while serious crimes like sexual assault and homicide go unsolved. Some officers demonstrate disrespect for the people they are sworn to protect. Some officers have videotaped themselves throwing drinks at pedestrians from their cars; insulted people with disabilities; and called Black people 'monkeys,' 'animal,' and 'boy.' This conduct erodes community trust.”
Department leadership, according to the report, had allowed and even endorsed this conduct, and when Louisville saw widespread protests following Taylor’s killing the department unlawfully cracked down on lawful speech opposing its practices.
“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,” U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said at a Wednesday press conference following the report’s release. “And it is an affront to the people of Louisville, who deserve better.”
Taylor, a 26-year-old Black woman, was killed during a no-knock raid by Louisville police in March of 2020. Police had a search warrant, but found no evidence of a crime. Taylor, sleeping in bed, was killed when police opened fire at her boyfriend, who said he had not heard them announce they were police and fired a warning shot when they forced entry. Police dispute this account, saying that they had announced themselves. The boyfriend, unhurt, was charged with assault and attempted murder of a police officer, but all charges against him were dismissed.
After being shot six times, Taylor died on the scene. Four officers have been federally charged for violations of Taylor’s civil rights. one pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy in August.
The investigation found particular issue with a unit within the department, called the Violent Incident Prevention, Enforcement and Response, or VIPER, Unit, which specifically concentrated such enforcement in neighborhoods with large Black populations. The unit, whose members were known by residents of those neighborhoods as “jump out boys,” operated from 2012 through 2015 until protesters demanded its end. It was “repeatedly rebranded, but never disbanded," the report states.
VIPER’s lieutenant during most of that period was well-known for making racist comments at the time he was appointed, including one occasion where he called another officer a “chink” and told him “that’s why we killed all your people with the bomb back in Japan.” The lieutenant resigned in 2014 after an internal investigation found that his officers routinely displayed pornographic material in the office and that he regularly exposed himself to other officers “as a joke.”
Rather than disband the unit in 2015, the department’s then-Chief Steve Conrad rebranded it as the Ninth Mobile Division, which he described as “the next iteration” of VIPER. The new division, like its predecessor, was pressured to generate stop and arrest “stats” in Black neighborhoods and, like its predecessor, went almost completely unmonitored for signs of discrimination or unlawful conduct. Certain officers within the unit did not complete any documentation of their vehicle stops in 2018 – an oversight that earned 23 officers a written reprimand in February 2020.