Legislative committee hears ideas for change

FRANKFORT, Ky. (WTVQ) – Members of the Kentucky Legislature’s interim joint judiciary committee met Thursday morning to listen to discussion regarding recent incidents in Louisville and racial injustice across the state.

David James, president of Louisville Metro Council, addressed the no-knock search warrant issued for Breonna Taylor’s home, calling it “questionable.” He added, “She was unarmed.”

Taylor was shot and killed in March when police executed a no-knock search warrant at her apartment.

The Metro Council Public Safety Committee unanimously passed a proposal Wednesday to severely limit and monitor no-knock warrants in Louisville. The proposal now heads to the full council for a vote June 11.

Lexington Police also have adopted further limits on who can authorize the warrants and their use, putting another line of safeguards in place.

James also addressed the shooting death of David McAtee, calling him a friend. He said the protests last Thursday were peaceful but blamed a select few, “There were some provocateurs in that crowd and it resulted in seven people being shot and the use of tear gas and pepper balls.”

He added, “I never thought I would have to see that in my city, but I did.”

National Guardsmen and Louisville Police officers fired 18 shots in the chaos that resulted in the death of the 53-year-old Louisville barbecue chef early Monday morning, according to investigators.

James said the response of police and guardsmen going to break up the gathering at 26th and Broadway ultimately led to McAtee’s death, “It’s a social gathering spot. There was no protesting. It was just a gathering of people enjoying one another.”

James said initially police, “were only allowed to arrest people who personally attacked them. They could not protect the property of others.” He said over $1 million in damage was caused.

James also addressed protests from Sunday night saying tear gas was used on children and people picnicking in the park. He also said there were problems in “leadership” of Louisville police.

James said he needs the legislature’s help to allow Louisville to have civilian review boards that have subpoena power.

James also acknowledged Louisville police are, “under a tremendous amount of stress. Especially the African American officers. They’re caught in the middle.”

He added, “That’s not right either.”

Keturah Herron, with Black Lives Matter and the ACLU of Kentucky, spoke next. Herron addressed Breonna Taylor’s death, saying she would have turned 27 on Friday, June 5.

“It’s not just because of the death of Breonna Taylor or the other deaths we’ve seen. It’s because of historically the things we’ve seen for centuries that have kept black and brown communities oppressed and poor white folks oppressed,” said Herron.

Herron also shared her experience getting tear-gassed by police in Louisville, saying there was “no warning.”

Herron said it’s important to work on universal legislation as well, “We have to start creating legislation that is equal for all people, whether it’s tax reform, whether it’s in our criminal legal system, whether it’s education.”

“To help with the police issue, we have to build back credibility in our police department,” James said while testifying before Thursday’s meeting of the Interim Joint Committee on Judiciary. “There has to be trust between the community and police for policing to ever work and be successful.”

Committee Co-chair Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Crofton, said the testimony of James and Keturah Herron of the American Civil Liberties Union was an opportunity to provide a platform for the pair to speak about the events surrounding Taylor’s death.

The 26-year-old EMT was fatally shot by police after officers entered her home in the early morning hours of March 13 on a “no-knock” warrant in connection with a narcotics investigation. An officer was shot by Taylor’s boyfriend who has maintained he thought he was shooting at robbers – and not the police. No drugs were found in the home, and charges in connection to the shooting of the officer have been dismissed.

“We are not going to take questions,” Westerfield said to the committee members, some of whom participated via video chat. “We are not going to comment or make statements. I’ll save that for each of you in your own district in your own way and in your own time. This is a time for us to listen. We need to hear what needs to be said from these two fine professional folks.”

James said he had a unique perspective on rebuilding the community’s trust in law enforcement since he was a police officer before joining metro council.

During his daily briefing Thursday, Gov. Andy Beshear said that perspective is worth listening to.

“We ought to listen and learn from it and we ought to look at change,” Beshear said when asked about James’ recommendations.

James said Louisville needs a civilian review board, but that the General Assembly would have to grant it subpoena power for it to be effective.

The second action James suggested was legislation to severely limit “no-knock” warrants across Kentucky. He said metro council is considering a proposed ordinance curtailing the use of such warrants, but it would not apply to the 26 other city police departments that operate within Jefferson County.

“I would ask you all to consider this for our entire state,” James said. “They’re dangerous. They are dangerous for police officers, and they are dangerous for citizens. I believe they should be used in only the most extreme circumstances to protect life.”

Thirdly, James suggested the General Assembly examine the subjects of poverty and housing. “The issues with law enforcement and trust are not simply just about policing,” he said. “They are about all sorts of other things. Policing is just a symptom of that.”

The fourth suggestion James made was for the legislature to join metro council in forming a permanent committee to look at equality and inclusion.

“We think it is very important that we look at all the policies and procedures of the city, of the government, to see what we can do better,” he said. “I would ask that the legislature do the same for the state because I think we need to do better. I think we can do better. And I ask you to help us do better.”

Lastly, James said Kentucky’s police officers’ bill of rights needs to be revised by legislators. He said the way it is written limits management’s ability to discipline police officers.

“I don’t think you want bad police officers policing our communities,” James said. “I know I don’t. I want the good ones policing our communities. And I want all of our citizens to be treated equally and fairly under the color of law.”

James ended his testimony by stressing that law enforcement, especially African-American police officers, are under tremendous stress. “They are caught in the middle,” he said, adding that some have had to move their families into hotel rooms because of threats.

James offered to help lawmakers any way he could that would lead to a more equitable Kentucky.

Herron, a policy strategist with ACLU of Kentucky and member of Black Lives Matter, challenged the General Assembly to consider race and gender data when crafting public policy through legislation. She also urged the passage of a restoration of voter rights bill.

“I challenge … the legislative body to start looking at those things,” Herron said. “I am here to have a one-on-one conversation if anyone has further questions. I’m here to be of assistance.”

After the testimony, Westerfield said he appreciated the pair’s willingness to work with legislators. “I trust that I and others will take you up on that pretty darn soon,” Westerfield said of the offers.

Attorney General Daniel Cameron also spoke Thursday about racial injustice and COVID-19. He began by saying he’s grateful the ACLU and Louisville Metro Council spoke about challenges of the black and brown community.

Cameron also addressed the governor’s powers under KRS Chapter 39A during states of emergency calling the order unprecendented, “It’s still ongoing even today and there is no requirement for renewal.” He added it’s, “devoid of checks and balances.”

Cameron said, “While the law may take periodic naps throughout a pandemic, we will not let it sleep through one.”

Cameron says non-essential businesses were closed “without due process.”

Cameron said he disagrees with the “one size fits all” for all 120 counties in the state and believes the legislature should have more oversight.

Cameron says the executive order also, “led to issues with enforcement in some cities and counties.” He added that, “1,235 conditional commutations across the state, raising a number of safety concerns for prosecutors.”

Cameron says based on the feedback his office received, “more oversight is needed during a state of emergency.” He says the legislature, governor and courts need to, “create exceptions to protect constitutional rights.”

While Cameron said the COVID-19 website was a helpful tool, he complained it there still was “often confusion” regarding recommendations and executive orders.

“Over 20 states have statutory provisions to terminate an executive order from an executive at any time. Some states go even further,” said Cameron.

Cameron suggested allowing the general assembly permission to terminate a state of emergency at any time.

Rep. Patti Minter asked Cameron what he would have done if he were governor, “I’m not governor.” He added that he sympathizes with governors trying to keep their people safe but said, “I think you can do it in a way that respects the constitutional rights of our citizens.”



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