LOUISVILLE, Ky., (WDRB) – The city of Louisville will pay $12 million to the family of Breonna Taylor and implement numerous reforms in the police department to settle a wrongful death lawsuit six months after the 26-year-old was shot by officers during a raid of her apartment.
The settlement, which comes while much of the country anxiously awaits an announcement on whether criminal charges will be filed against the officers involved in Taylor’s death, is the largest police misconduct payment the city has ever paid in a lawsuit.
The previous high was $8.5 million for Edwin Chandler, who spent nine years in prison for a murder which a court later found he did not commit. He was exonerated in 2012.
Attorneys and Taylor's family appeared with Mayor Greg Fischer at a news conference to announce the settlement. Both sides touted the reform, saying it was rare for a civil settlement and would ensure more accountability in the department.
"I am deeply, deeply sorry for Breonna's death," Fischer said, adding that the city wants to make "significant" reforms to ensure "a tragedy like this never happens again."
Tamika Palmer, Breonna's mother, said that "as significant as today is, it is only the beginning of getting full justice for Breonna. ... It's time to move forward with the criminal charges, because she deserves that and much more."
Lonita Baker, one of the attorneys representing Taylor's family, said "justice is multi-layered" and while the settlement is "tremendous" and the reform "unheard of," the fight to get justice in the criminal system is ongoing.
"We are not going to stop our cause to hold the officers involved in Breonna's death responsible," she said.
Civil rights attorney Ben Crump called the settlement "historic," and said the agreement to reform the police department could set a precedent for similar wrongful death lawsuits against officers across the country.
He also "demanded" charges be filed this week by Attorney General Daniel Cameron against the LMPD officers involved in Taylor's shooting, saying they should at least be charged with second-degree manslaughter.
While Fischer said the settlement isn't an acknowledgment of wrongdoing, city officials had already admitted some mistakes were made during the undercover raid and fired one of the officers involved in the March 13 fatal shooting of Taylor, an emergency room tech and former EMT.
And some changes had already been made before the settlement, including that all officers must now wear and use body cameras when serving warrants. And Fischer ordered a top-to-bottom review of the department by an outside agency.
The settlement includes several reforms to the police department, including that a commanding officer will review and approve all search warrants and an overhaul of the process in obtaining simultaneous warrants. And officers must have their body cameras activated for when they make seizures, including when counting money and placing it into an evidence bag.
"We must have transparency and accountability for the work our officers do," Fischer said.
The lawsuit, filed in April, claimed officers obtained a “no-knock” search warrant with false information and burst into Taylor’s home after midnight without announcing themselves and "blindly fired" into it, spraying bullets into her house and neighboring apartments "with a total disregard for the value of human life.”
Suspected drug dealer Jamarcus Glover was the main target of several search warrants in the early morning hours of March 13 – and was taken into custody 10 miles away from Taylor’s apartment - and police have been heavily criticized for the deadly raid of Taylor’s home. No drugs or money were found in her apartment.
Taylor’s death touched off Louisville’s racial justice protests and gained national prominence as demonstrations spread across the U.S. in response to the death of George Floyd, a Black Minneapolis man who died after a white officer, Derek Chauvin, knelt on his neck as he pleaded, “I can’t breathe.”
Also as part of the settlement, the city has agreed to implement an early action warning system to identify officers with red flags.
One of the officers in the Taylor raid, Brett Hankison, was fired in June after then Chief Robert Schroeder accused him of "wantonly and blindly (firing) 10 rounds" into a patio door and window of Taylor's apartment, creating a "substantial danger of death and serious injury" to Taylor and three occupants of other apartments.
Schroeder told Hankison in the letter that the detective's conduct in Taylor's shooting was "a shock to the conscience," and that he was "alarmed and stunned" at Hankison's use of deadly force.
Hankison has a long history of being investigated by police – including for receiving sexual favors from suspects, using excessive force and accidentally driving over another officer – and mostly recently several women came forward claiming he sexually assaulted them.
Two other officers identified in the suit as firing shots, Det. Myles Cosgrove and Sgt. John Mattingly, are on administrative leave.
And police will end the "closed by exception" ruling where LMPD investigators close an investigation into an officer because they retire or quit. This effectively seals the alleged misconduct and allows officers to go to another department with an unblemished record.
In past years, police have said if an officer leaves the department before an investigation has been completed, they cannot make a determination that a policy has been violated.
And police say they are not required to tell other departments about the investigations.
Now, these investigations will often continue and include findings.
In addition, the city will also provide housing credits for officers to live in Louisville and encourage them to perform at least two paid hours of community service each pay period.
Also, a program will be implemented to hire social workers to work with LMPD to "provide support and assistance" on police runs where "their support could be helpful," Fischer said.
And officers will undergo random drug testing.
Until Freedom, a New York-based group that has been advocating for justice for Taylor, released a statement saying the settlement is the "bare minimum" of what needs to be done.
“No amount of money will bring back Breonna Taylor. We see this settlement as the bare minimum one can give a grieving mother. Tamika Palmer, Breonna’s mom, is a warrior. She is still fighting, as are we. The city isn’t doing Ms. Palmer any favors. True justice is not served with cash settlements. We need those involved in her murder to be fired, arrested and charged. We need accountability. We need justice.”
Attorney General Cameron's investigation began in May after Jefferson County Commonwealth’s Attorney Tom Wine asked for a special prosecutor to investigate the officers’ conduct. At the time, Wine’s office was prosecuting Kenneth Walker, Taylor’s boyfriend, who admitted to firing at police as they entered the apartment but claimed he believed the officers were intruders.
Charges were dropped against Walker.
Cameron’s office conducted its own independent investigation and reviewed information from the LMPD's Public Integrity Unit, which probes officer shootings and other internal affairs. It received the FBI's ballistics report of the shooting on Aug. 30, Cameron said on Twitter.
The Department of Justice in Washington and the FBI also are investigating the case.
Cameron had repeatedly declined to provide a timeline for the work but told reporters in mid-June that his office was “working around the clock.”
Police shot and killed Taylor during an undercover raid on her apartment on Springfield Drive near Pleasure Ridge Park in March. She was struck five times, according to her death certificate.
Taylor’s death touched off Louisville’s racial justice protests and gained national prominence as demonstrations spread across the U.S. in response to the death of Floyd.
But unlike the Floyd case, there has been no video produced of the police raid on Taylor’s apartment before 1 a.m. on March 13. Police initially claimed there is no body camera footage because the officers worked for the department’s Criminal Interdiction unit; at the time, those officers were not required to wear body cameras.
The lack of footage has resulted in disputed accounts about what transpired.
However, photos taken by police investigators after the shooting and obtained by WDRB News in September show at least one officer, Det. Anthony James, with a camera mounted on his shoulder. Mayor Greg Fischer has said repeatedly that officers involved in the raid were not wearing body cameras.
This story may be updated.
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