Modified ‘no-knock’ bill draws praise from groups

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FRANKFORT, Ky (WTVQ/AP) — Kentucky’s lawmakers passed a partial ban on no-knock warrants Tuesday, more than a year after the death of Breonna Taylor during a police raid on the Black woman’s home.

The legislation now heads to Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear.

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Taylor, a 26-year-old Louisville emergency medical technician studying to become a nurse, was shot multiple times in March 2020 after being roused from sleep by police at her door during a drug raid. A no-knock warrant was approved as part of a narcotics investigation. No drugs were found at her home.

The case fueled nationwide protests against police brutality and systemic racism and calls for demonstrators for a ban on no-knock warrants. When police came through the door using a battering ram, Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, fired once.

The measure would only allow no-knock warrants to 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.” Warrants also would have to be executed between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m.

It also would require officers to take additional steps in order to obtain warrants in the limited circumstances they are allowed. Judges also would be required to sign legibly when approving them.

The House amended the bill, including to allow regular officers in less populated counties to execute warrants if a special response team is not available.

The Senate concurred with the amended version.

Rep. John Blanton, a former state police officer who filed the floor amendment, insisted that the amendment helped rural police departments that lack the same resources and personnel as those in urban and suburban areas.

“What we don’t want to do is have an emergency situation, and a rural area where a special response team may not be able to get to it in time to execute one of these,” he said.

The measure drew praise from groups who have pushed for change.

“Senate Bill 4, a version of Breonna’s Law that will ban no-notice warrants except in exigent circumstances and requires the presence of an EMT when serving such warrants, passed out of the General Assembly and now heads to the Governor. This law is an excellent first step in reimagining the role of police in community safety, though it in no way provides justice for Breonna Taylor or the degree of policy change the community needs. This is a win, but the fight is not over,” said ACLU-KY Policy Strategist Keturah Herron

“Advocates and policy makers have worked for the last year to create meaningful change to Kentucky’s laws after the murder of Breonna Taylor. Now is not the time to stop. We still need to radically change policing, including accountability, and implement policies that will combat racism and implicit bias in policing,” Herron added.

“As Taylor’s mother said, Breonna was an EMT and her dream was to save lives. This law will save lives,” Herron concluded.

In the Taylor case, 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. That was based in part on the presentation of Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron, who recommended no charges against the officers who shot into Taylor’s apartment.

Although police had a no-knock warrant, they 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.

Some Democratic lawmakers said they cast their vote for the legislation reluctantly, wishing that the Republican-dominated House had advanced another proposal that sought a complete ban on no-knock warrants.

That other proposal, from Rep. Attica Scott, was brought up for discussion earlier this month in committee but was not voted on.

Rep. Reginald Meeks, a Democrat from Louisville, said that while he would have liked to vote for the bill, he felt the measure did not do enough to hold law enforcement officers accountable and prevent police brutality.

“I cannot go home and talk to my brothers and my sister and say that we’ve done something that’s going to help save lives,” he said.

If signed into law, the legislation would not interfere with Louisville’s local ban on all no-knock warrants.

Three other states have prohibited the practice. Virginia passed a ban on all no-knock warrants last year. The warrants are also not permitted under Oregon and Florida state law.

The Kentucky chapters of Moms Demand Action and Students Demand Action, both part of Everytown for Gun Safety, released the following statement after the Kentucky House passed SB 4, which would significantly limit the use of no-knock warrants and require safeguards to prevent their misuse.
“This bill is an important step towards better protecting citizens from the dangers inherent in the execution of no-knock search warrants,” said Karl Stankovic, a volunteer with the Kentucky chapter of Moms Demand Action. “We’re grateful to lawmakers on both sides of the aisle for their support of this important police reform measure, and we now look to Governor Beshear to sign this legislation into law.”
Current Kentucky law allows courts to issue no-knock warrants in any case, including non-violent crimes and low-level drug cases. Under SB4, no-knock warrants could only be sought to investigate a small number of serious offenses, including capital crimes, A-level felonies, homicides, acts of terrorism, and use of weapons of mass destruction. Even in those cases, a no-knock warrant could only be issued if investigators show clear and convincing evidence that it’s necessary. The bill would also mandate several safeguards, including rigorous review of warrant applications by supervisors and judges, the use of specially trained officers and body cameras when no-knock warrants are executed, and the presence of EMTs to provide emergency care if necessary.
These important changes will significantly limit the use of no-knock warrants and put safeguards in place to mitigate the dangers they create.
Nearly a year ago, a no-knock warrant was issued to the Louisville Police Department, authorizing law enforcement to enter Breonna Taylor’s apartment without knocking and announcing their presence. Though it’s been reported that officers decided to knock and announce their presence, several witnesses claim they didn’t hear any such announcement. The deadly consequences of that night highlighted the dangers inherent in no-knock search warrants.

Black residents make up less than 25 percent of the population in Louisville, but are disproportionately impacted by police use of force. Black people were killed by Louisville Metro Police at nearly four times the rate of white people. In Kentucky, 140 people have been killed by police officers since 2013.