A white Louisville police officer yelled at three Black men in a car, calling them “fucking monkeys” in 2015.
In another incident, police officers called a white man having a mental health crisis a “real fucking winner” and made sexual comments, including one officer saying to another, “Put your finger in his butt.”
And in 2020, a white officer grabbed the locs of a young Black man, who was lying on the ground on his stomach motionless, and told him “I’ll drag you through the fucking dirt like an animal,” as the officer pulled the man along the side of the road.
These instances paint only a small picture of the racism and discrimination present within the Louisville Metro Police Department in Kentucky, according to a scathing 86-page Department of Justice (DOJ) report released Wednesday. The two-year investigation followed the police killing of Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old, Black medical worker, during a botched raid in March 2020.
The DOJ found that Louisville police routinely violated people’s civil rights; beat suspects, especially people of color, when they weren’t resisting; made crude and offensive comments about race and disability; and executed warrants, often late at night, without concern for people’s safety.
On the night of the raid that cost Taylor her life, police had obtained a so-called “no-knock” warrant for a drug-related investigation, and three white officers entered her apartment in the middle of the night. Her boyfriend, thinking the police were intruders, fired a warning shot, and cops returned fire, killing Taylor.
Her death prompted nationwide protests during the summer of 2020 and renewed criticism of no-knock warrants and the practices of the Louisville police in general. No-knock raids were banned after public outcry following Taylor’s death, and the DOJ charged four of the officers involved.
Here’s more of what the DOJ found.
Warrants and Raids
The Louisville police disproportionately executed “no-knock” raids on Black residents, according to the Justice Department report. From 2016 to 2021, more than 60 percent of no-knock search warrants and forced entries involved Black people.
The Justice Department found this fit into a larger pattern, noting that in more than a third of cases sampled, officers served warrants “surreptitiously,” late at night, or with an unnecessary element of surprise.
In one incident, officers executed a warrant at 10:30 p.m. at a home. They loudly announced they were there at the same time they went inside. They woke up an elderly Black woman sleeping on the couch, who said “Man! What time is it?! Why couldn’t you all just knock? I could have let you in. No problem!” An elderly Black man was asleep in the bedroom, and when the officers later learned that he had a revolver in his bed, they joked about it ”being good he didn’t shoot” and how the night could have turned out differently if he had.
“What time is it?! Why couldn’t you all just knock? I could have let you in. No problem!”
In another incident, officers executed a no-knock warrant at 4 p.m. looking for a small amount of personal-use marijuana. They broke into a home with a battering ram to find a man, his children, and his grandchildren, including a baby and a toddler, inside “with no apparent strategy for making the scene safe,” according to the report. The family was distraught. The investigation found that the officers “had no lawful basis for conducting this no-knock entry.”
The Justice Department also found that Louisville’s general warrant applications often “lacked the specificity and detail necessary to establish probable cause for the search.”
In one case, the Louisville police got a warrant to search a Black man’s home and car because the officer said he saw lots of people going in and out of the house and staying for short amounts of time, which he thought could mean the man was trafficking narcotics. He had never seen the man buy or sell drugs. He had never seen drugs in the man’s home or car.
“I Know It’s Invasive”
The Justice Department also found that on multiple occasions, Louisville police officers “drove up to people, including youth, jumped out of their cars, and stopped and frisked them without any apparent reason for suspicion at all.” Many of these incidents violated the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition on “unreasonable searches and seizures,” according to the report.
For example, when the city’s automatic gunshot detection system detects a shooting in a specific area, officers will often stop and frisk pedestrians nearby, even though just being in the same general area as a potential gunshot is not a valid reason for a search, according to the report.
In one case, an officer stopped a Black man for a broken headlight and ended up searching through his and two passengers’s pockets and inside their shoes, saying “I know it’s invasive man, but you never know, you know?” He found only a pack of gum, cash, receipts, lip balm and Neosporin.
In another incident, officers pulled over a driver who failed to come to a complete stop at a stop sign while on his way to pick up his son from school. They searched his car, detaining him for over an hour, and made jokes about his son waiting to be picked up from school. They did not give him any ticket but did take cash from his car, which the driver reclaimed two years later after suing the police department.
Overall, the report found that Louisville police pull over Black drivers more often than white drivers, and search them more often.
When Black and white drivers were “engaged in similar behavior before the stop, Black drivers were almost 50 percent more likely to be searched than whites,” the investigation found.
The report also notes that Black drivers were almost five times as likely as white drivers to be cited for improper tags, almost four times as likely to be cited for improperly tinted windows, and almost twice as likely to be cited for only having one working headlight.
Moving forward, the Louisville police and city government have agreed to negotiate with the Justice Department toward a consent decree “to ensure sustainable, constitutional and effective public safety and emergency response services in Louisville.” They will work together over the coming months to develop the plan and will hold community meetings with city residents for their input.
Want the best of VICE News straight to your inbox? Sign up here.