Metro Council, mayor ban no-knock search warrants under ‘Breonna’s Law’

The Louisville Metro Council voted unanimously Thursday night to ban police from obtaining no-knock search warrants and set new rules for executing search warrants, under an ordinance called “Breonna’s Law.”

Mayor Greg Fischer signed the ordinance into law Friday afternoon.

Louisville police shot and killed Breonna Taylor, 26, on March 13 while executing a no-knock warrant. No-knock warrants allow police to enter a property without announcing themselves and are ostensibly used to prevent suspects from fleeing, destroying evidence or injuring a police officer. In Taylor’s case, she was an ER tech with no criminal record whose ex-boyfriend, a suspected drug dealer, had been allegedly seen picking up a package at her home. When officers broke into her home, her boyfriend Kenneth Taylor shot at them, thinking they were intruders, according to his attorneys. Police shot her eight times. No drugs were found at Taylor’s home.

Taylor’s mother, Tamika Palmer, spoke at the council meeting.

“All Breonna wanted to do was save lives, so it’s important this law passes because, with that, she’ll get to continue to do that, even in her death,” said Palmer, who attended the meeting with her attorneys Ben Crump and Lonita Baker.

Black women were integral in winning passage of Breonna’s Law, including Palmer, Councilwoman Jessica Green, D-1st District and ACLU Policy Strategist Keturah Herron.

And, among the Black women celebrating on the steps outside the council chambers upon the ordinance’s passage were Herron, Black Lives Matter core organizer Chanelle Helm and Louisville activist Hannah L. Drake.

Under the ordinance, police must “physically knock on an entry door to the premises in a manner and duration that can be heard by the occupants” and “clearly and verbally announce as law enforcement having a search warrant in a manner that can be heard by the occupants,” according to a statement from the council. “Absent exigent circumstances, wait a minimum of 15 seconds or for a reasonable amount of time for occupants to answer the door, whichever is greater, before entering the premises.”

Green called Breonna’s Law the most significant legislation she has worked on in her years as a councilperson.

“Breonna, we owe a great portion of the hope that we have of the future to you,” she said in an emotional address before the ordinance’s passage.

Green also credited council members Barbara Sexton Smith, Brandon Coan and David James for their work on Breonna’s Law. Herron, who thanked Green, Sexton Smith and James, called the ordinance a “first step.” The law applies to only the Louisville Metro Police Department and not the suburban departments that operate in Jefferson County.

In a tweet Thursday, Fischer explained why he would sign the ordinance into law.

“I plan to sign Breonna’s Law as soon as it hits my desk. I suspended use of these warrants indefinitely last month, and wholeheartedly agree with Council that the risk to residents and officers with this kind of search outweigh any benefit,” he wrote. “This is one of many critical steps on police reform that we’ve taken to create a more peaceful, just, compassionate and equitable community.”

Picking up on national calls to defund the police, Herron advocated Thursday night for diverting money from LMPD in the next city budget in favor of funding social services.

In addition to banning no-knock warrants, Breonna’s law also requires Louisville police officers to have their body cameras on five minutes before and after executing a search warrant.

Louisville may be leading the charge in no-knock warrant bans in other cities, states — and maybe even a nationwide ban.

Kentucky junior senator, Rand Paul, announced yesterday that he’d be filing federal legislation to ban no-knock warrants.

Crump, a civil rights attorney also involved in advocating for George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery, said in an address before the council, “Tonight, you all have the power to lead the nation.”

The Courier Journal reported that Ryan Nichols, president of the local Fraternal Order of Police lodge, said no-knocks are “a valuable tool to law enforcement when properly used,” and the mayor and his police leadership should legislate police policy, not the Metro Council.

“They’re doing that because they don’t have faith in the mayor to adequately do that,” Nichols told the newspaper. “I think there’s other steps they should be taking, not legislating what he can and can’t do, policywise, but they should be looking at, should he be the mayor?”

 

This story has been edited to reflect that ACLU Policy Strategist Keturah Herron called for defunding the police.