Breonna Taylor warrant details deepen mistrust in police
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 restore trust in the police department.
Former Louisville officer Kelly Goodlett admitted in federal court that she and another officer falsified information in the warrant. That confirmed to many, including U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland, that Taylor never should have been visited by armed officers on March 13, 2020.
Protest leaders who took to the streets of Kentucky’s largest city after she was fatally shot by police say Goodlett’s confession confirms their suspicions that Louisville police can’t be trusted and that systemic issues run deep. They say officers abused demonstrators after the botched raid, and that her fatal shooting is just one of many reasons why the community remains wary.
“What bothers me so incredibly is that so many lives were lost because of this lie,” said Hannah Drake, a Louisville poet and leader in a push for justice after Taylor’s death. “They don’t even understand the far-reaching tentacles of what they did.”
More than once during that long, hot summer, individual officers escalated rather than calmed a situation.
After a Black man was shot dead by police in his restaurant’s kitchen, an officer who wounded the man’s niece taunted demonstrators on social media, daring them to challenge police, and was fired. Another Louisville officer faces a federal charge over 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 plea. “People are dead and lives upended because of a pile of lies.”
Some Louisville officers have been disciplined, fired, and even charged with crimes for abusing protesters, in addition to the four officers now charged federally in relation to the botched raid. But the problems can’t be blamed on a few rogue officers, according to a lawsuit brought 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 vs. them” mentality. In a lawsuit, the family of the man shot at the restaurant alleges that police aggression during a curfew instigated his death.
Louisville is working on numerous reforms, implementing a new 911 diversion program, increasing leadership reviews of search warrant requests and improving officer training. The city has outlawed “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 amid a continuing U.S. Department of Justice investigation of LMPD’s policing practices, which could land at any moment.
The chief called Taylor’s death “horrific,” 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 was necessary to get to, before we move on,” she said.
Mayor Greg Fischer, whose 12-year run ends this year, said city officials turned the probes over to state and federal officials “because the community rightfully was saying LMPD should not be investigating LMPD, and I agree with that.”
Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron’s investigation then ended without any officers being charged directly in Taylor’s death. It took federal prosecutors to convict Goodlett — she pleaded guilty to conspiracy and admitted to helping create a phony link between Taylor and a wanted drug dealer. Goodlett resigned the day before her charges were announced in August and awaits sentencing next month.
In August court filings, federal prosecutors said another former officer, Joshua Jaynes, inserted the crucial information into the warrant request that drew Taylor into the narcotic squad’s investigation — claiming that a postal inspector had verified that the drug dealer was receiving packages at Taylor’s apartment.
Goodlett and Jaynes knew that was false, as did their sergeant, Kyle Meany, when he signed off on 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 blindly firing into Taylor’s home through a side door and window. He was exonerated on similar state charges earlier this year. Jaynes and Meany are being 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 another part of the city.”
No incident 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 Kentucky National Guard members were sent to a gathering spot near McAtee’s YaYa’s BBQ “for a show of force (and) intimidation,” McAtee’s family alleges in a lawsuit.
A few nights earlier, officer Katie Crews had been photographed in a line 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 hurting from the pepper balls she “got lit up with a little later on.”
“Come back and get ya some more ole girl, I’ll be on the line again tonight,” Crews wrote.
When officers marched toward McAtee’s restaurant, Crews escalated the tension by firing non-lethal pepper balls at the crowd, an LMPD investigation found. Many people rushed into McAtee’s kitchen, where his niece was shot in the neck by Crews with the non-lethal rounds.
That prompted McAtee to pull a pistol from his hip and fire a shot. Seeing that, Crews and other officers switched to live rounds and McAtee, leaning out his kitchen door, was fatally shot in the chest by a National Guard member. The deadly force was found to be justified, but the police chief was fired by Fischer because the Louisville officers involved had failed to turn on their body cameras, just as they did 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 of a federal charge of using unreasonable force.
James, the Metro Council president and former officer, groaned while recalling McAtee’s death, saying he was saddened because he knew him and had eaten his food. The “extremely unfortunate and tragic” shooting has stuck with him as an example of bad policing, he said.
Drake, the poet and activist, said more systemic changes are needed. In the meantime, she said authorities should apologize for their treatment of protesters, and drop any cases against people arrested for demonstrating that summer. Hundreds have been cleared, but some remain criminally charged. Knowing it was all so unnecessary only deepens the pain, she said.
“We could have avoided all this,” Drake said. “And I think that’s where the pain comes from — we were right!”