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$12 million dollars. That's what the City of Louisville, under embattled mayor Greg Fischer has agreed to pay the family of Breonna Taylor who was shot and killed back in March during a police raid of her apartment, along with a promise of police reform. What does this settlement actually represent?
To many it was a just and reasonable settlement as a result of a botched raid resulting in Ms. Taylor's death (she was hit eight times according to police reports) with one officer suffering a gunshot wound to his upper thigh. The other two officers were uninjured. Others see it as smart business. An attempt to avoid a possible jury trial and a much higher court award, especially given our current political climate.
Still others see it as nothing short of a bribe; an attempt to buy off the Taylor family while covering up a series of screw ups from the mayor's office through the Louisville Metro Police Department (LMPD) all the way down to the officers on the scene. So, which is it? A reasonable settlement aimed at putting a tragic episode and civil unrest behind us or another cover up by the mayor's office.
What is known to a reasonable degree was that Taylor, along with her former boyfriend, Jamarcus Glover, and her current boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, were allegedly part of a drug ring. According to the police, a jailhouse informant told them that drugs were being sent to Taylor's address, which was backed up by a postal inspector. Taylor's apartment was supposedly being used to store drugs and money with Taylor allegedly acting as Glover's bookkeeper while in jail on earlier drug charges.
Acting on this information, Detective Joshua Jaynes obtained a "no knock" warrant from Circuit Court Judge Mary Shaw and coordinated the two prong raid. One was Glover's residence, and the other, about ten miles away, was Taylor's apartment. Unbeknownst to the officers raiding Taylor's residence, Glover, the main suspect, had been arrested earlier at his home was being held in jail. Nevertheless, the raid went forward.
While the raid on Glover's residence was without incidence, things didn't go well at the second address. At around 12:40 on the night of March 13th, undercover officers Brett Hankison, Jonathan Mattingly, and Myles Cosgrove, under orders not to use their body cameras, allegedly announced themselves and busted through Taylor's door. Walker and Taylor were asleep at the time.
The commotion prompted Walker, who stated that he thought someone was breaking in, to fire a single "warning shot" which hit officer Mattingly in his upper thigh, near his femoral artery. Nevertheless, all three officers returned fire, blindly shooting into the dark apartment.
At some point during the fray, Taylor exited the bedroom into the hallway and was hit approximately eight times. Walker claims that went immediately to Taylor who, by that point was either dead or rapidly dying. Walker surrendered without further incident.
Investigation afterwards showed that the police fired somewhere between 20 and 25 bullets, some of which going into the adjacent apartment. Following standard police procedure, all three officers were put on paid administrative leave pending further investigation (Hankison was later fired). However, Taylor's death in conjunction with George Floyd's in Minneapolis, prompted civil disobedience on a scale not seen in Louisville since the 1960's Civil Rights Era or anti-forced busing protests of the 1970's.
The protests quickly devolved into riots, looting, and a dramatic increase in violence, including arson, carjackings, and random shootings while the police were allegedly told informally to "stand down" (something the mayor has denied although others have insisted is true). What was supposed to be "justice" for Taylor became a racial and political issue.
Meanwhile, the LMPD has dragged their feet at every turn as things unraveled. They've provided incomplete and inaccurate reports, delayed the ballistics report (which, six months later, was only recently turned over to the FBI). The postal inspector now says that he never told Jaynes that drugs were being delivered to Taylor's apartment and residents claim the police never announced themselves.
As if this wasn't bad enough, LMPD's Chief of Police, Steve Conrad, was forced to resign amid numerous scandals ranging from misuse of the budget to rampant sexual abuse in the LMPD's Explorer Program for young boys and girls (throughout, Mayor Fischer continued to deflect criticism of Conrad, and "encourage" the media to drop their inquiry).
Finally, as the investigation of Taylor's death continued at a snail's pace, rumors began to swirl about so-called "back room" deals with developers to acquire property owned by the city at deeply discounted prices, including property allegedly owned by Kenneth Walker (Beonna Taylor's boyfriend at the time of her death) and knowledge about a possible affair by the mayor. However, without details, those stories may be just that...stories, but nothing would come as a surprise from this administration.
So, while the FBI is conducting its own ballistics investigation based on material provided by the city six months after the fact, and while the state's Attorney General, David Cameron, is still conducting his investigation, Mayor Fischer announced a settlement with Ms. Taylor's family for $12 million dollars.
Metro Council was unaware of the settlement prior to its announcement. The media, which is deeply embedded in the local power structure, was caught off guard. Groups behind the protests/riots were equally unaware. They were supposedly here to get "justice" for Breonna Taylor now find out that it was apparently about the money. Of course, I'm sure they'll have their hand out too.
Louisville, on the other hand, has been long struggling financially. The mayor has tried repeatedly to raise taxes, citing shortfalls in the budget (in part due to millions spent on his pet projects like bike lanes). The Board of Education is pushing for a 7% hike in property taxes, claiming they need yet more money while outside reports indicate that the school system is top heavy in administrative personnel and paid well above national levels while the teachers remain underpaid, yet use their own money to buy needed supplies. Besides, the schools aren't open thanks to COVID-19.
Public utilities are another source of revenue. Their rate increases seem constant yet they're not effectively monitored. Still, like the school board, what they want they get. Ever since the City/County merger in 2003, the residents of Jefferson County have lost their advocates. Previously it was the a board of Aldermen and a mayor, who were fairly evenly matched in terms of political clout. The same for the county, which had a Judge Executive and three district commissioners plus separate administrations with its own police force and police chief, and separate tax revenue stream.
The city's power structure was primarily Democrat while the county's was Republican. The city was often in a fiscal hole while the county managed its money pretty well. The merger, which was drawn up by the local power elite, changed all that for the worse.
What the community ended up with was a powerful mayor akin to the old city hall bosses of a century past, and a weak Metro Council, which is too large to be effective. The city is in constant search for money. The actions of the past mayor and now his handpicked successor has more than driven the point home. Fischer's behind the scenes settlement agreement, whether rightly or wrongly offered, serves as a great example that his power.
There is no question that the LMPD is in need of serious and immediate reform from the Chief's office all the way down to the officer on the street. I served on the old Jefferson County Police Department's Citizen's Advisory Board from 2001 to 2005. I was selected to serve on the Service Awards Committee which reviewed reports involving officers whose actions exceeded the call of duty.
I had also served on the Kentuckiana Interfaith Community Forum on Police & Community Relations, which was a panel of about a dozen community leaders which examined police and community relations. In each of these groups we would review incidents in detail. We would hear from the officers involved, their partner, commanding officer and citizens as needed for details.
The vast majority of these individuals were outstanding police officers. I rarely ever came across anyone who had a racial, gender, ethnic, or religious bias. If they did, they hide it well. The officers recommended for some sort of commendation typically deserved it and more.
What has happened to the local police department post merger I don't know, but it doesn't have the character or confidence it once had. It had no confidence in its previous Chief of Police, Robert White, and it most certainly didn't have faith in Steve Conrad. As for the mayor, Greg Fischer, the police and others in government have little to no confidence in his leadership.
The community as a whole has lost its confidence in his ability to lead the city as well. In fact, the only reason he won reelection was that the local Republican East End clique has failed to build the necessary community wide base it needs to win the seat (the last Republican mayor elected was in 1965). I'm not saying that the City of Louisville needs a Republican mayor. I am saying, however, that the city needs new ideas and a new approach. What it has been doing is clearly not working.
Mayor Fischer, I believe, overstepped his boundaries with this covert settlement. He has once more shown that he backs those who are of use to him politically or personally, and that apparently doesn't include the ordinary police officer. If he was confident in the steps taken officers on the night of March 13th, he would be demanding an immediate trial. Instead, he has once more tucked tail.
If Mayor Fischer was confident of his decision,
he would have included the Metro Council instead of leaving them hanging on the
line. If Fischer was confident in his leadership as mayor he would have put a
quick end to the rioting, looting, car hijackings, gang violence, and shootings
which is plaguing the city while permitting peaceful and orderly protests to
Instead, his inaction has led to the vandalism of whole sections of downtown which, in addition to the largest settlement paid by any city in recent history, will cost taxpayers millions more to clean up. Was this an attempt to buy off the Taylor family in order to keep the matter out of the courts because he knew his failure of leadership, and by extension, the police, would prove to be too much? Maybe.
Regardless, his failure has and will result in more businesses closing and/or moving out of downtown, thus putting Louisville on track to becoming another "doughnut" city like Detroit or West Memphis (as if the virus hasn't done enough damage). Louisville continues to show that it's no long in the same league as its (former) peer cities like Nashville, St Louis, Indianapolis, and Cincinnati.
The shooting of Breonna Taylor, irrespective of whether she was into drugs, a fired EMT, or whatever, was uncalled for. Shooting randomly into a dark room is not good policing. A ordinary "flash bang" could have eliminated the threat long enough for officers to secure the area without endangering anyone.
This matter may yet find its way into the courts. We are still awaiting the FBI's and Attorney General David Cameron's reports. There is also still the matter of Jamarcus Glover and Kenneth Walker to consider yet. Meanwhile, it's time to clean house, starting with Greg Fischer.