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The DOJ says the Louisville police routinely violated civil rights

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

All right. The Justice Department today said the Louisville Metro Police Department routinely violates people's civil rights. The sweeping findings came out of a two-year investigation that also found Louisville officers conducted unlawful searches and discriminated against Black people. The federal government began investigating the department after the police killing of Breonna Taylor during a botched raid in 2020. And her death led to a wave of national protests against police brutality.

Joining us now to discuss all of this is Roberto Roldan of Louisville Public Media. Welcome.

ROBERTO ROLDAN, BYLINE: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

CHANG: Thanks for being with us. So I want to start with what the Justice Department had to say. I know that the attorney general, Merrick Garland, traveled to Louisville to make this announcement. Tell us more about what he said, exactly.

ROLDAN: So the DOJ released a 90-page report this morning. In addition to analyzing data from traffic stops, search warrants and citations, there were also dozens of example incidents collected from residents and from body camera footage. Attorney General Garland highlighted some of the shocking examples, really, of discrimination that they found.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MERRICK GARLAND: Some have videotaped themselves throwing drinks at pedestrians from their cars, insulted people with disabilities and called Black people monkeys, animal and boy.

CHANG: Wow.

ROLDAN: Garland called the behavior that they found within the police department an affront to officers who do their job with integrity and, really, an affront to the people of Louisville.

CHANG: And I understand that the mayor of Louisville was there at the press conference and also spoke. What was his reaction to all of this?

ROLDAN: Yeah. So it's important to note that the investigation looked at Louisville police between 2016 and 2021. At that time, Mayor Greg Fischer was the mayor in charge. The current mayor, Craig Greenberg, was just elected last November. And during the press conference, Greenberg spoke directly to people who would try to dismiss the report as political.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

CRAIG GREENBERG: This is about our city, our neighbors and how we serve them. We will not make excuses. We will make changes.

ROLDAN: Greenberg said that he wants the community to be a part of instituting policing reforms and rebuilding public trust. But at the same time, he acknowledged that there are people who wouldn't be surprised by the report because they experienced that misconduct directly, and he said they were dismissed by officials when they raised those red flags.

CHANG: Well, as we mentioned, Breonna Taylor's killing in her apartment led to months of unrest and protests. How was this report received today from people who have been calling for change for so long?

ROLDAN: Yeah. I mean, without Breonna Taylor's mother and without the thousands of people who took to the streets in 2020, this announcement probably wouldn't have happened today. Following Garland's announcement, a lot of the folks who were involved in the protests gathered at a park across from Louisville Metro Hall, which is the same place that was the heart of activity back then. Organizer and formal (ph) mayoral candidate Shameka Parrish-Wright said the DOJ report was validating for her, and she was, herself, arrested during the protest. Ultimately, I think those charges were dropped.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SHAMEKA PARRISH-WRIGHT: It really felt good to be acknowledged, to be heard - and all that gaslighting they've been doing to us - to have their boss' boss, the top of policing, acknowledge that Louisville has done us wrong for so long.

ROLDAN: And Breonna Taylor's mother, Tamika Palmer, said at a separate press conference that she knew that her daughter should have never been killed and she just wants the city to move forward quickly towards real reforms.

CHANG: Well, now that the Justice Department has released its investigation of the police department in Louisville, what happens at this point?

ROLDAN: Louisville's already signed an agreement in principle with the DOJ to start negotiating a consent decree, which is essentially just a list of agreed-upon reforms. A federal judge and an independent monitor will oversee the city's progress there. There was a number of reforms released by the DOJ, including strengthening civilian oversight of policing, creating new use-of-force training and improving policies related to search warrants and to protests.

CHANG: That is Roberto Roldan of Louisville Public Media. Thank you so much, Roberto.

ROLDAN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Roberto Roldan