UPDATE: Senate applauds passage of bill that largely bans ‘no-knock’ warrants

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Kentucky Senate President Robert Stivers

UPDATE POSTED 9 P.M. FEB. 25, 2021

FRANKFORT, Ky. (WTVQ/AP) — A bill that would limit the use of “no-knock” warrants passed the Kentucky Senate unanimously Thursday, the latest effort to reform law enforcement tactics after the death of Breonna Taylor, a woman who was fatally shot when Louisville police broke down her door in the middle of the night.

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The measure now awaits House input.

Taylor, a Black woman, was shot in her home multiple times by police during a botched drug raid that occurred after midnight last March. Her death launched a series of protests over the summer and into the fall, with many demonstrators calling on state and national officials to ban no-knock warrants.

A grand jury indicted one officer on wanton endangerment charges in September for shooting into a neighbor’s apartment. But no officers were charged in connection with her death. Police had a no-knock warrant but said they knocked and announced their presence before entering Taylor’s apartment, a claim some witnesses have disputed. No drugs were found in Taylor’s apartment.

“If this law had been in place and the officers followed it … this young lady would be here,” said Republican Senate President Robert Stivers, who sponsored the bill.

Louisville’s Metro Council banned all no-knock warrants in June 2020. Virginia passed a ban on all no-knock warrants last fall. The warrants are also not permitted under Oregon and Florida state law.

The bill also includes measures that Stivers said would require officers to take more steps in order to obtain warrants in the limited circumstances they are allowed. Judges would also be required to sign legibly when approving them.

In a speech on the floor, Stivers insisted that some no-knock warrants were still valuable in cases where law enforcement was investigating terrorism, weapons of mass destruction and kidnapping.

Democratic state Sen. Gerald Neal praised the bill, but cautioned that more would need to be done to improve race relations and policing in Kentucky.

A bill that includes a complete ban on no-knock warrants has stalled since filing. State Rep. Attica Scott, a Louisville Democrat who took part in downtown protests last year, pre-filed the legislation in August 2020. Titled “Breonna’s Law,” it also outlines penalties for officers who misuse body cameras and mandates drug and alcohol testing of officers involved in “deadly incidents.”

ORIGINAL STORY POSTED 6 P.M. THURSDAY, FEB. 25, 2021

FRANKFORT, Ky. (WTVQ/AP) — With bi-partisan support, the state Senate Thursday approved SB 4, a bill banning almost all so-called ‘no-knock warrants,” the controversial tool that was at the center of the police shooting death of Breonna Taylor last year in Louisville.

The passage drew a standing ovation in the state Senate and broad praise from diverse groups, including at ACLU. Republicans and Democrats largely praised the measure, although some Black senators said it was “just the beginning” of measures needed to erase systemic racism in law enforcement and other areas of public service.

“There are too many exemptions, but SB4 is a strong start. Breonna Taylor’s family deserves justice, and this is a step in that direction,” ACLU-KY Policy Strategist Keturah Herron said of the bill. “No knock warrants are a danger to the public and law enforcement. They explicitly contradict the Castle Doctrine, which allows Kentuckians to defend their homes with force if they believe the intruder is there to harm them. We thank the Kentucky Senate for taking this important step to protect Kentuckians.

“SB4 is a critical part of reimagining the role of police in public safety. But it shouldn’t have taken the murder of an innocent Black woman – in her own home – to make this happen. We hope lawmakers will also consider #HB21 which bans no-knock warrants and implement other policing reforms. Undoubtedly, SB4 will save lives. As Breonna Taylor’s mother, Tamika Palmer, said, “Breonna was an EMT and always wanted to save lives. With the passage of Breonna’s Law, she will save lives forever,” Herron added.

Thew bill was filed by Senate President Robert Stivers, one of Kentucky‘s top GOP lawmakers, almost a year after the death of Breonna Taylor, a Black woman who was shot in her home multiple times by police during a botched drug raid in Louisville.

Under Stivers’ bill, no-knock warrants would only be issued if there was “clear and convincing evidence” that the “crime alleged is a crime that would qualify a person, if convicted, as a violent offender.” That stops short of a measure sponsored by a Louisville Democrat that would ban all no-knock warrants, but that bill hasn’t gained a hearing in the legislature.

Taylor’s March 2020 death launched a series of protests over the summer and into the fall, with many demonstrators calling on state and national officials to ban no-knock warrants.

A grand jury indicted one officer on wanton endangerment charges in September for shooting into a neighbor’s apartment. No officers were charged in connection with her death. Police had a no-knock warrant but said they knocked and announced their presence before entering Taylor’s apartment, a claim some witnesses have disputed. No drugs were found in Taylor’s apartment.

Nevertheless, Louisville’s Metro Council banned no-knock warrants in June 2020. But Stivers said a full ban statewide wasn’t necessary.

“If you look at what the no-knock warrant does, it is related to search warrants for terroristic activity or weapons of mass destruction, evidence related to violent offenses,” he said. “So you’re not going to have a situation that occurred here.”

State Rep. Attica Scott, a Louisville Democrat who took part in downtown protests last year, had prefiled legislation that would ban all no-knock warrants in August 2020. Titled “Breonna’s Law” it also outlines penalties for officers who misuse body cameras and mandates drug and alcohol testing of officers involved in “deadly incidents.”

Republicans hold supermajorities in both the House and Senate.

Scott, the only Black woman in Kentucky’s legislature, said GOP lawmakers should have done more listening to Black lawmakers and community activists.