LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- In June 2018, Louisville Metro Police Detective Brian Bailey asked a judge for a warrant to search a house in the Portland neighborhood.
Bailey told the judge he expected to find large amounts of illegal pills, marijuana and drug paraphernalia. The only evidence he had was a confidential informant who had told him a drug dealer lived at the house with his grandmother, girlfriend and children; the informant said they’d seen drugs at the house in the last 48 hours. And Bailey told the judge he’d personally seen a man matching the suspect’s description coming and going, according to the affidavit.
The warrant was granted, and later that day, Bailey and a team of officers busted down the door with a battering ram. Instead of a drug dealer and large quantities of marijuana, they found four kids, a baggie of weed and the president of a group that throws LMPD an annual Christmas party.
This was just one of dozens of warrants Brian Bailey has obtained, most of which started with confidential informants and some of which ended without arrests. In fact, Bailey obtained more residential search warrants than any other LMPD officer between January 2019 and June 2020, according to an analysis by KyCIR and WDRB of all 472 publicly available warrants from that period. He obtained more search warrants than the next two officers combined.
Attorneys have raised flags about Bailey’s use of confidential informants, accusing him in court of relying on “boilerplate” affidavits and, in some cases, making up information.
All but one of the warrants reviewed by KyCIR and WDRB was based, at least in part, on the word of confidential informants.
Two of his confidential informants accused Bailey in a lawsuit of coercing them into becoming informants, and sexually assaulting them for years.
Bailey is on administrative reassignment pending an investigation. He has not been criminally charged. Bailey’s attorney, James McKiernan, and an LMPD spokesperson declined comment.
Bailey’s warrants often don’t yield anything. A review of court records shows at least 10 didn’t result in arrests. In more than a third of his warrants, officers found no drugs, or only marijuana.
That’s what happened at the house in Portland in 2018.
The officers were expecting to find a big time drug dealer, but instead, they found Matthew Brinson, just returned from his job at a hardware store, and four children, sitting on the couch.
Officers put Brinson in handcuffs while they ransacked his house, looking for the alleged drugs, he said. They found a small bag of personal-use marijuana tucked in the pocket of a pair of jeans in a bedroom and three marijuana plants out by the fenceline. Brinson was not the target of the search, but he was still charged with two misdemeanors.
Brinson knew the alleged drug dealer the police said they were looking for, but said he hadn’t been in the house since Brinson moved in the previous year.
“It was just a whole cluster of lies that I can contradict, that I can prove, up and down,” Brinson said.
The warrant Bailey obtained did not have a “no-knock” provision, but Brinson said he didn’t hear the police knock or announce themselves. Video footage from a neighbor’s surveillance camera shows police breaking down the door almost as soon as they walked onto the front porch.
Shortly after police entered the house, Brinson said he overheard one of the officers admit they made a mistake.
“When we first kicked in the front door, I knew we … fu**ed up,” a detective said, according to an affidavit Brinson filed in his criminal case. He claims the detective then took off his vest, saying, “It’s too hot out here for this.”
Experts: Warrants Raise Red Flags
Bailey, a narcotics unit detective, has been with LMPD since 2009. He is the top warrant-getter in a department whose search warrant procedures have come under intense scrutiny since LMPD officers killed Breonna Taylor.
A recent audit of the department found a “culture of acceptance” in which supervisors seldom asked officers about the underlying facts and circumstances in affidavits used to obtain warrants.
Bailey’s reliance on confidential informants — often to the exclusion of other investigative methods — should have raised red flags for the department, according to attorneys and experts.
Attorney Rob Eggert filed a motion on Jan. 26 accusing Bailey of repeatedly using “boilerplate” language about confidential informants that is not independently corroborated and often doesn’t lead to arrests. Eggert is defending someone in a criminal case resulting from a Bailey warrant.
Judges are “asked to essentially rubber-stamp Det. Bailey’s assertions of probable cause,” Eggert wrote in the motion. “The alleged (confidential informant) is at the core of the assertion of probable cause in Det. Bailey’s affidavits, but no information is provided to ascertain the reliability or credibility of the alleged informants.”
LMPD policy requires that officers specify the reliability of the confidential informant and the information provided.
Louisville attorney Todd Lewis, a former state and local prosecutor who has taught LMPD police recruits about proper search warrant procedures, said the credibility of a confidential informant is gauged by how much detail the officer provides. That includes whether an affidavit shows results from a past working relationship with police.
In 23 of Bailey’s 35 affidavits reviewed by WDRB News and KyCIR, Bailey didn’t provide specific examples of previous information that led to arrests, confiscating drugs or seizing cash. Those affidavits simply say the unnamed informant is familiar with criminal activity because of his or her past.
A review of Bailey’s affidavits reveals that he often does not describe using common policing tactics to verify the information provided by his confidential informants.
In a majority of his affidavits, he never did a controlled buy, where a cooperating witness or undercover police officer buys drugs from the suspect. Those arranged purchases are an example of “direct evidence” that may hold up during a trial, said Brian Gallini, dean of the Willamette University College of Law and a criminal justice scholar who reviewed Bailey’s affidavits for KyCIR and WDRB.
While Bailey reported conducting some form of surveillance in nearly all of his investigations, the scope of that surveillance is not always clear. Bailey noted that he observed “short stays,” people coming and going in a pattern that indicates drug activity, in less than half of the affidavits. He mentioned performing an investigative stop, when police pull someone over after observing them at the subject’s house, in only four of 35 affidavits.
Taken together, Gallini said the affidavits don’t include enough evidence of identifiable offenses. He said he also is troubled by inconsistencies: some affidavits specify the past reliability of Bailey’s informants, while others use repetitive language without showing any details about the sources’ previous interactions with police.
“The fact that we’ve got not only a detective who is pushing [this] style of warrants, but also judicial review that’s permitting them – I think that raises a separate concern here,” he said.
Former Jefferson Circuit Court Judge Stephen Ryan, who was on the bench for more than two decades and is now a defense attorney, said if the same officer is using the same methods in multiple warrants – using confidential informants without doing controlled buys - “it’s something you should question. It should raise a red flag.”
“If one officer is doing that many search warrants with that little information, you probably have a problem,” Ryan said.
Bailey accused of sexually assaulting informants
Lawyers for the women who accused Bailey of sexual assault say the LMPD has been investigating the claim for at least a year.
The first woman sued Bailey and the LMPD in October 2020, alleging Bailey coerced her into becoming an informant and forced her to engage in oral sex with him. A second woman asked to join the suit a month later with the same allegations.
The two women, identified only as Jane Doe and Jane Doe 1, say Bailey sexually harassed and assaulted them for two and three years, respectively. The women do not know each other.
Under LMPD’s standard operating procedures, an officer should not meet with an informant of the opposite sex unless in the presence of another officer. But a commanding officer may grant an exception if it is in the best interest of the department.
A spokeswoman for LMPD said the department does not discuss pending litigation and declined a request for an interview about Bailey.
The lawsuit filed on behalf of Jane Doe claims Bailey pulled her and her boyfriend over on July 18, 2018, and police took them both into custody after officers had just allegedly found illegal drugs in his home.
The woman did not live there and had no connection to the drugs, but was detained for at least two hours, according to the suit.
The suit claims that Bailey threatened to charge Doe and when she became upset, he put his hand on her thigh and said, “I can help you, if you can help me.”
He then drove her home but before she could get out of the vehicle, he said, “You owe me,” the suit claims. Bailey allegedly told her that meant oral sex and, “fearful of the ramifications,” she complied.
Several weeks later, the suit alleges that Bailey and his partner, who is also named in the lawsuits, forced Doe to become a paid confidential informant through “overwhelming pressure and threats.”
For the next two years, Doe said she was sexually assaulted by Bailey and forced to serve as a confidential informant on multiple occasions, according to the suit.
The other woman, Jane Doe 1, was introduced to Bailey in late 2017 and agreed to be a paid confidential informant, according to her suit.
Doe 1 said in the suit that Bailey helped her get rid of criminal charges, and that he told her she “owed him” and solicited oral sex from her on several occasions.
Bailey also threatened to lock her boyfriend up and forced her to send him nude text pictures, the suit claims.
Doe 1 said she was interviewed by a detective about Bailey’s conduct in Feb. 2020. She provided clothing that she believed contained Bailey’s DNA, according to the suit.
“These are not isolated incidents,” attorney Vince Johnson, who represents the initial plaintiff, told a judge on Jan. 22. “This is a pattern of conduct by Mr. Bailey that has occurred over multiple years.”
Johnson said there is proof of the allegations, including text messages from Bailey and physical evidence, and that Bailey’s supervisors and others in the department have known about these assaults and others for several years.
“There are LMPD officers that were aware of Bailey’s conduct...dating back to 2015 and probably before that and they took no action, thereby allowing him to victimize more people,” Johnson said in court.
Johnson also said another alleged Bailey victim recently approached him with a similar complaint. Johnson is pushing LMPD to turn over evidence and allow Bailey to be deposed, despite the ongoing internal investigation.
“The public has the right to know about this pattern of behavior by Detective Bailey, to learn what individuals in LMPD knew and when they knew it and what they did to remedy the problem,” Johnson said in court.
Jefferson Commonwealth’s Attorney Tom Wine said in a statement that some Bailey cases are being dismissed or resolved by plea agreement because of the allegations of inappropriate sexual conduct.
“We are always concerned whenever a witness’s credibility is challenged,” he said. “Before the allegations of sexual misconduct, our prosecutors were not aware of any reasons to question Bailey’s credibility.”
'A cowboy trying to get his stripes'
After the police let him out of handcuffs and departed, Matthew Brinson was left to deal with the fallout from the mistaken raid. He had to fix the door the police had broken, clean up the house they’d torn apart and replace the security cameras that he said they broke.
He had to answer a million questions from his neighbors, and calm his daughters, who he said were traumatized by what they saw.
“My daughter didn't stay home with me for a week,” he said. “I got a family member that happened to be a cop and she says she wants to stay with him... because they wouldn't kick his door down.”
Brinson is a big supporter of the police. He’s the president of the 1st Division Police Auxiliary, which throws a Christmas party for the officers every year. But he said that experience shook him, and learning that Bailey has a track record of problems made him question why he hasn’t been stopped before.
“Brian Bailey's just...a cowboy trying to get his stripes,” Brinson said. “This ain't the first rodeo for him, and probably, if he’s still a police officer, it won't be his last.”
Brinson’s attorney, Thomas Clay, believes the police went into the wrong house that day. He wanted to question Bailey about the claims the confidential informant made about his client’s house, but those efforts stalled quickly.
Even if the information provided by the informant was incorrect, the law would require Clay to prove Bailey included false statements “intentionally or recklessly,” a prosecutor argued to Jefferson District Court Judge Sara Nicholson during a January 2019 hearing. And she said questioning an officer about a confidential informant happens in only “the most extreme cases.”
Nicholson agreed with the prosecution and denied Clay’s motion.
“There’s been no showing that Detective Bailey’s statements (in the warrant affidavit) were deliberately false or in reckless disregard for the truth,” she said, according to a video of the Jan. 14, 2019 hearing.
“When you allege the cop lied about a search warrant and illegally entered the wrong house, that should be enough for a hearing,” Clay said in a recent interview.
Brinson’s charges were eventually dismissed. Clay said he was not going to agree to a plea bargain and prosecutors did not want to take the case to trial. The Jefferson County Attorney’s office, which prosecuted Brinson, did not respond to a request for comment.
Ryan, the former judge, said that if a judge does agree to a motion to suppress evidence or identify a confidential informant, prosecutors will most likely dismiss the case.
So how are judges and defense attorneys supposed to know how solid the confidential informant’s information is, or whether he or she is telling the truth?
“Good question,” Ryan said. “It’s an ongoing problem in how you verify them.”
Correction: Todd Lewis was a local and state prosecutor. His experience was incorrect in a previous version.
WDRB's Marcus Green contributed reporting to this story, which was produced through a collaboration between the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting and WDRB News.
This work was supported by a grant from the Fund for Investigative Journalism to KyCIR.