LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The recent revelations about the search warrant that led to Breonna Taylor’s death have reopened old wounds in Louisville’s black community and disrupted the city’s efforts to rebuild trust in the police department.
Former Louisville officer Kelly Goodlett admitted in federal court that she and another officer falsified information in the warrant. This confirmed to many, including US Attorney General Merrick Garland, that Taylor should never have been visited by armed officers on March 13, 2020.
Protest leaders who took to the streets of Kentucky’s largest city after being shot by police said Goodlett’s confession confirmed their suspicions that Louisville police could not be trusted and that the issues systemic were profound. They say officers abused protesters after the botched raid and his fatal shooting is just one of many reasons the community remains suspicious.
“What disturbs me so incredibly is that so many lives have been lost because of this lie,” said Hannah Drake, Louisville poet and leader in a campaign for justice after Taylor’s death. “They don’t even understand the vast tentacles of what they’ve done.”
More than once during this long, hot summer, individual officers have aggravated rather than alleviated a situation.
After a black man was shot dead by police in the kitchen of his restaurant, an officer who injured the man’s niece mocked protesters on social media, daring them to defy police, and been fired. Another Louisville officer is facing a federal charge for hitting a kneeling protester in the back of the head with a baton.
“We were right to protest,” Louisville Urban League President Sadiqa Reynolds tweeted shortly after Goodlett’s call. “People died and lives were turned upside down because of a bunch of lies.”
Some Louisville officers have been disciplined, fired and even charged with felonies for abusing protesters, in addition to the four officers now federally charged in connection with the botched raid. But the problems can’t be blamed on a few rogue officers, according to a lawsuit filed by Taylor’s white neighbors, who were nearly hit by gunfire during the raid.
They accuse the department of having a “warrior culture” and cultivating an “us versus them” mentality. In a lawsuit, the family of the man shot dead at the restaurant alleges that police assault during a curfew caused his death.
Louisville is working on many reforms, implementing a new 911 diversion program, increasing leadership reviews of search warrant requests, and improving officer training. The city banned the no-knock warrants, conducted an independent audit and paid Taylor’s mother $12 million in a civil settlement. A new police chief, Erika Shields, was hired in 2021.
Such reforms have been implemented as part of an ongoing US Justice Department investigation into LMPD policing practices, which could land at any time.
The chief called Taylor’s death “horrible” and said in an interview with The Associated Press that she welcomes the federal investigations, which led to charges against Goodlett and the other officers. “I think we’re in an important place that needed to be reached before moving on,” she said.
Mayor Greg Fischer, whose 12-year run ends this year, said city officials turned the investigations over to state and federal authorities “because the community was rightly saying the LMPD shouldn’t be investigating the LMPD, and I agree with that”.
Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron’s investigation later concluded with no officers directly charged in Taylor’s death. It took federal prosecutors to convict Goodlett — she pleaded guilty to conspiracy and admitted helping create a false connection between Taylor and a wanted drug dealer. Goodlett resigned the day before his charges were announced in August and awaits sentencing next month.
In August, federal prosecutors said another former officer, Joshua Jaynes, inserted the crucial information in the warrant application that lured Taylor into the narcotics squad investigation – claiming a postal inspector had verified that the drug dealer was receiving packages at Taylor’s apartment.
Goodlett and Jaynes knew it was fake, as did their sergeant, Kyle Meany, when he signed the request, Garland said.
“Breonna Taylor should be alive today,” Garland said.
Goodlett, Jaynes and Meany were all fired, as was a fourth officer, Brett Hankison, who faces federal charges for indiscriminately shooting Taylor’s home through a side door and window. He was cleared of similar state charges earlier this year. Jaynes and Meany are tried together. That trial, along with Hankison’s, is scheduled for next year. Goodlett is expected to testify against Jaynes.
Metro Council President David James, a former police officer, said that to restore trust, Louisville’s black community ‘just wants the police to treat them the same way they would treat people in any other part from the city”.
No incident has highlighted the racial divide more than the fatal shooting of black restaurant owner David McAtee as police sought to enforce the city’s curfew in a predominantly African-American neighborhood far from the center of the Taylor protests.
Just before midnight on May 31, 2020, Louisville officers and members of the Kentucky National Guard were dispatched to a staging area near McAtee’s YaYa BBQ ‘for a show of force (and) intimidation,’ alleges McAtee’s family in a lawsuit.
A few nights earlier, officer Katie Crews had been pictured in a row of police as a protester offered her a handful of flowers. Crews posted the image on social media, writing that she hoped the protester was in pain from the pepper balls she “lit up with a bit later”.
“Come back and get you another old girl, I’ll be online again tonight,” Crews wrote.
When officers marched to McAtee’s restaurant, Crews escalated the tension by firing non-lethal pepper balls into the crowd, according to an LMPD investigation. Many people rushed into McAtee’s kitchen, where his niece was shot in the neck by Crews with the non-lethal bullets.
This prompted McAtee to pull a pistol from his hip and fire. Seeing this, Crews and other officers switched to live ammunition, and McAtee, leaning out of his kitchen door, was fatally shot in the chest by a member of the National Guard. Lethal force proved justified, but the police chief was fired by Fischer because the Louisville officers involved failed to turn on their body cameras, just as they had during the Taylor raid.
Crews later admitted that no one in the crowd had been disorderly. She was fired by Shields in February. Now she faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted on a federal charge of using unreasonable force.
James, the Metro Council president and former officer, groaned as he recalled McAtee’s death, saying he was saddened because he knew him and ate his food. The “extremely unfortunate and tragic” shooting stayed with him as an example of poor policing, he said.
Drake, the poet and activist, said more systemic changes were needed. In the meantime, she said authorities should apologize for the treatment of protesters and drop all charges against those arrested for protesting that summer. Hundreds have been cleared, but some remain criminally charged. Knowing it was all so pointless only makes the pain worse, she said.
“We could have avoided all of this,” Drake said. “And I think that’s where the pain comes from – we were right!”