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LMPD, 490 Project settle lawsuit over access to complaints against officers

 Two Louisville Metro Police Department cruisers are parked under an overpass in Louisville.
Michelle Hanks
LMPD will turn over documents and pay financial damages to The 490 Project.

The local police accountability group The 490 Project will receive two years worth of formal and informal complaints against officers as part of a lawsuit settlement with the Louisville Metro Police Department.

The 490 Project sued LMPD last October over the police department’s alleged failure to respond to public records requests for the complaints. The Kentucky Open Records Act requires government agencies to acknowledge records requests within five days. If they are denying a request, they have to explain why in writing.

As a result of the settlement reached last week, The 490 Project expects to receive hundreds of complaints, as well as associated investigations and body camera footage. Cara Tobe, a member of the advocacy group, called it “a win for transparency.”

“If an individual has made a complaint and they would like to see information about the investigation following that complaint, they should have access to that information,” she said. “Transparency will help rebuild public trust, especially if investigations are being conducted how they should be.”

The public records will be provided to The 490 Project unredacted except for private information like addresses and phone numbers, according to the terms of the settlement. LMPD has also agreed to pay $15,256 to The 490 Project in attorneys’ fees and financial compensation.

LMPD did not respond to a request for comment.

Rick Adams, one of the attorneys representing The 490 Project, told LPM News last October that the public’s access to police misconduct complaints is necessary. He said it would ensure taxpayers know how their money is being spent and that bad actors are held accountable.

“Unfortunately, we’ve seen a pattern in Louisville, and specifically with LMPD, where they consider the Open Records Act more of a nuisance than a legal obligation,” Adams said. “But they’re a public agency doing public work and they need to be held accountable. The Open Records Act is the primary means to do that.”

Adams said Wednesday he expects LMPD to hand over the complaints “very soon.”

“The citizen complaints … will shed light on how LMPD has handled complaints against its officers in the past, which is a necessary step to affect change within LMPD in the future,” he said.

Adams’ firm has represented LPM News in public records-related issues and conducted legal reviews of stories.

Destroying informal complaints?

In addition to failing to hand over public records, The 490 Project also alleged LMPD was destroying what it deemed “informal” complaints after 90 days, in violation of the city’s record retention rules. Those rules state informal complaints have to be kept for two years.

The group pointed to the collective bargaining agreement between officers and Louisville Metro that was in place between 2018 and December 2021. It stated informal complaints could be destroyed after three months. A new agreement ratified at the end of 2021 changed the provision to bring it in line with the city’s overall retention schedule.

One of the The 490 Project’s records requests sought an informal complaint lodged by one of its members during the summer of 2020, which they say went unanswered. Without the records, it’s impossible to know whether the department was inappropriately destroying informal complaints, she said.

“We actually don’t know if we have documentation of that complaint,” Tobe said. “We don’t know if that is included in the records because we haven’t gotten them yet.”

She said members of The 490 Project plan to analyze the complaints for trends, like officers who get more resident complaints than others. Tobe said they’ll also look at whether complaints were taken seriously and received a fair investigation.

“And we’re going to be sharing as much as possible with the public, because transparency is absolutely critical to a healthy democracy,” she said.

The 490 Project, along with other advocacy groups like the Louisville Urban League and ACLU of Kentucky, is also demanding Mayor Craig Greenberg open police union contract negotiations to the public. Despite promises of greater transparency, Greenberg’s administration recently signed ground rules agreeing to keep the upcoming dialogue closed.

Roberto Roldan is the City Politics and Government Reporter for WFPL. Email Roberto at rroldan@lpm.org.

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