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Louisville releases new information about alleged police misconduct in DOJ report

 Two LMPD cars sit near an overpass.
J. Tyler Franklin
/
LPM
Louisville officials have released more information about incidents from the DOJ's investigation into LMPD.

Louisville Metro has released additional information about the more than 60 incidents of alleged police misconduct highlighted in the U.S. Department of Justice’s scathing report, including incident reports and identifying information.

The move came after Metro Council members and the public urged Mayor Craig Greenberg’s administration to “name names.” The DOJ’s 90-page report from March documents an alleged pattern of excessive use of force, unconstitutional searches and discriminatory policing targeting Black residents. The report also contains brief descriptions of 62 incidents that exemplify what their investigation found. Those descriptions did not contain dates or the names of the officers and victims involved.

In March, Greenberg and Louisville Metro Police Department leaders promised to make additional details public. Greenberg said Friday that the city is making good on that promise with a new online dashboard that provides previously unreleased documentation of the incidents.

“We need to know this so we can continue to reform and improve LMPD,” he said. “And the public has a right to know.”

At a news conference, Greenberg said the city has “reconstructed what we can about the incidents mentioned in the report and the LMPD personnel who were present at the scene at some time during these incidents.” He promised that LMPD would reopen some cases, including ones that previously went uninvestigated.

In one such case, the DOJ wrote that an officer responding to a call of an intoxicated woman crying on her front lawn kicked her to the ground and placed his boot on her chest. When the woman bit the officer’s shoe, the officer went “into a frenzy,” repeatedly hitting her in her face with his flashlight. The officer could not tell his supervisor how many times he hit the woman, only saying that he “beat the s--- out of [the woman],” the report states.

LMPD officials conducted no internal investigation for violations of department policy or criminal law. The officer, identified in the newly released documents as “Officer Stettenbenz,” was never disciplined.

Interim Chief Jacquelyn Gwinn-Villaroel said Friday that her office plans to conduct a comprehensive review of the incidents, as well as what led to them.

“We’re going to be looking at policy — What was the policy at that time? What was the training at that time? — in order to see where we are and what adjustments need to be made,” Gwinn-Villaroel said.

The DOJ report only looked at LMPD between 2016 and 2021. Gwinn-Villaroel said LMPD plans to release additional information about the cases and available body camera footage in the coming months.

In total, 33 of the 62 incidents of alleged misconduct highlighted in the DOJ report were not formally investigated by LMPD. But nearly half the cases were, and police officials decided whether to discipline the officers. The Jefferson County Attorney’s Office said those cases cannot be revisited because of protections in state law and the city’s collective bargaining agreement with police.

Some Metro Council members who attended the news conference said they’d like to have seen more movement since the city received case number citations from the DOJ two months ago.

District 4 Council Member Jecorey Arthur said he was thankful that Greenberg was trying to share more information than what was provided by the DOJ, but he was disappointed to hear that no additional discipline could be doled out for nearly half of the incidents.

“These incidents happened, people are hurt, in pain responding to them, and then we hear from our mayor, ‘Well we can’t do anything about half of them,” Arthur said. “It’s like a continued cycle of that harm.”

During the news conference, Greenberg said “just as we require officers to respect the constitutional rights of residents,” officers also have rights. That applies to officers who were already cleared by their superiors of misconduct.

District 1 Council Member Tammy Hawkins said she felt city officials could have waited to make their announcement until the police chief had time to review the cases and determine whether additional discipline was warranted.

“I specifically wanted to see names and action,” she said.

Hawkins said of city officials that she plans to “hold their feet to the fire” to move quickly on punishing misconduct.

“There’s no way that the city will start to heal until they do,” Hawkins said.

During a Metro Council meeting in March, Hawkins also pressured city officials to say whether the officers responsible for the alleged misconduct were still employed by LMPD and out on the street.

Though that information is not readily available in the new dashboard released Friday, whether someone is employed by the city is a matter of public record. That means police will have to provide an officer's employment status if it’s requested by a Metro Council member or member of the public.

Additional details provide some context to alleged abuses

The online dashboard created by LMPD includes after-incident reports, known as AIR, as well as citations and internal investigative documents, if one was conducted.

In some instances, the documents provide more context to the summaries provided in the DOJ report. In other cases, they seem at odds with how federal investigators described the incidents.

In one of the DOJ’s examples of excessive use and failure to de-escalate, officers pulled up in front of a house where a domestic violence incident was reported. They found a Black man and a white woman walking away from each other. They were in front of their house with their five children inside.

When officers approached the man, he did not have a visible weapon and was calm, according to the DOJ report. Police demanded he put his hands up. When he asked why, officers did not answer and instead took him to the ground. They then tased him three times, handcuffed him and left him lying on the ground as his kids watched.

“Their unsound tactics resulted in at least two unreasonable tasings and traumatized the five young children who witnessed the event,” the DOJ said in its report.

According to the documents released Friday, the case was not investigated by LMPD’s Professional Standards or Public Integrity units.

Officer A. Sauer signed the citation that was issued to the man and Officer Joshua Forshee is listed as a witness. The description of the situation in the officer-written citation varies wildly from the DOJ’s. It describes officers attempting to make contact, and the man taking “a fighting stance.” It goes on to claim the officers “verbally tried de-escalating the situation” while the man resisted arrest. It does not mention the multiple tases in front of the man’s children, only that officers “neutralized the fight.”

The dashboard also contained an after-incident report written by a supervisor, but the link for this case led to a report for a different incident. Links leading to the wrong case appeared to be an issue for multiple cases when the dashboard first went public Friday afternoon.

For example, the DOJ report detailed an in-service training at which a white officer said minorities in Louisville commit all the violent crime and we need to "stop catering to them." Multiple cops in the room, including Black officers, found the comments offensive. According to the DOJ, internal investigators relied on the officer’s “passionate declaration” that she was not racist to back up their findings that what she said was not unequivocally offensive.

But the documents related to the case, listed as incident number 39 in LMPD’s new online dashboard, relate to a vehicle pursuit, not the incident of alleged bias.

The DOJ report also identified several search warrants they alleged were signed and executed based on little to no reasonable evidence. In one example, LMPD obtained a warrant to search a Black man’s home and car because an officer said there was “heavy traffic” going in and out of his house. Police did not find any evidence of drug trafficking upon executing the warrant.

“LMPD subjected this man to a significant intrusion — officers scouring his home and car looking for drugs — based only on the fact that people stopped at the man’s home for short visits,” the DOJ report reads.

The dashboard includes a copy of the search warrant used in the case and a sworn affidavit written by LMPD Detective Brian Bailey. Bailey claims in the affidavit that a confidential informant said he knew the man the search warrant was aimed at, and he had observed “a large quantity of methamphetamine and other illegal narcotics” inside the man’s home.

The name of the judge who signed the warrant is indecipherable.

Roberto Roldan is the City Politics and Government Reporter for WFPL. Email Roberto at rroldan@lpm.org.
Sylvia is the Capitol reporter for Kentucky Public Radio, a collaboration including Louisville Public Media, WEKU-Richmond, WKU Public Radio and WKMS-Murray. Email her at sgoodman@lpm.org.