Attorney General Merrick Garland on Monday announced a federal investigation of police in Louisville, Kentucky — citing the death of Breonna Taylor during a police raid in March 2020.
The Justice Department will look into whether the department routinely violates people’s constitutional rights, Garland said, in what may be the first step toward forcing a consent decree that would put the feds in charge of local reforms.
Garland last week announced a similar probe into Minneapolis police shortly after a jury convicted former officer Derek Chauvin of murdering George Floyd.
“Louisville has already taken some steps towards reform through its settlement with a family of Breonna Taylor, as well as through other measures. We commend those measures and our investigation will take them into account,” Garland said in a statement.
“It is clear that the public officials in Minneapolis and Louisville, including those in law enforcement, recognize the importance and urgency of our efforts. We come to them as partners, knowing that we share a common aim.”
Taylor’s death was one of the most widely cited grievances of national anti-police brutality protests that began last year following Floyd’s death. She was fatally shot during a raid on her home in connection with a drug-dealing investigation targeting her ex-boyfriend. Critics from both political parties questioned the justification for the raid and how it was conducted.
After police broke down Taylor’s door, her boyfriend fired a shot at police, later saying he thought criminals were breaking in. Officers returned fire, killing Taylor. No drugs were found in the home.
The pair of Justice Department investigations signal a return to close federal oversight of local police departments, which some conservatives oppose, arguing for local autonomy.
Shortly before then-President Donald Trump fired him in 2018, Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a memo sharply curtailing the use of consent decrees, which were used by the Obama administration to compel reforms in Baltimore and Ferguson, Mo.
Sessions wrote in the memo, “While consent decrees are sometimes necessary and appropriate to secure compliance with federal law, federal court decrees that impose wide-ranging and long-term obligations on, or require ongoing judicial supervision of, state or local governments are extraordinary remedies that ‘raise sensitive federalism concerns’.”