On June 11, 2020, it felt like change might finally be coming to Louisville.
Hundreds of people gathered in front of Metro Hall, their fists in the air as votes from city council members were broadcast over speakers, unanimously banning “no-knock” warrants in Louisville following the police killing of Breonna Taylor three months earlier and two weeks of protests.
Under the ordinance, dubbed Breonna’s Law, officers executing search warrants must knock and clearly announce that they are law enforcement. They also have to have a body-worn camera on and start recording five minutes before the execution of the warrant.
Signed into law the next day, the legislation would spark similar efforts nationwide as the country grappled with the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other Black Americans killed by police.
“All Breonna wanted to do was save lives,” said Taylor’s mother, Tamika Palmer, addressing Louisville’s Metro Council ahead of the vote. “So it’s important this law passes because with that, she’ll get to continue to do that, even in her death.”
A little more than three weeks after Breonna’s Law passed, four Louisville Metro Police Department officers were stacking up outside an apartment in Old Louisville in the middle of the night for a no-warrant raid.
Police showed up to the apartment after bystanders at the scene of a stabbing told them a woman who matched the loose description given by the victim lived in their neighborhood. They provided officers with a first name, Lynn, which one officer recognized as the middle name of a woman in the area that she knew.
Neither bystander described seeing the assault and later, the LMPD officer who first made contact with them would say he did not believe they saw the stabbing and did not know how they came up with the name they passed along.
Despite lacking probable cause — and the microscope on LMPD raids at the time as a result of the killing of Breonna Taylor— no officer present pumped the brakes on the raid.
The officers knocked, but did not announce themselves as police. The officer in the front was armed with a rifle, while at least one other officer had already drawn their pistol from its holster. Unlike other raids that typically see officers line up like this, they did not have a judge-signed warrant.
When the door was opened, the officer in the lead aimed his rifle at a Black woman sleeping on a couch. She was visible from the door as he and fellow officers entered, shouting conflicting commands.
The officers went into the home even though department policy holds that officers can only enter a premises without a warrant in extremely limited circumstances, including when they are in pursuit of a suspect or matters of life and death.
The woman was handcuffed and detained on the building’s front porch for nearly two hours — even as gunfire erupted nearby. LMPD policy says people cannot be detained without arrest except in very limited circumstances. The woman was never charged with a crime.
In a written complaint about the raid the woman submitted to LMPD’s Professional Standards Unit ten days later, she would say she couldn’t sleep, that all she saw when she closed her eyes was the rifle in her face.
An internal breach of policy investigation that followed found the four officers involved did not have probable cause to conduct the raid or detain the woman. As a result, on Dec. 29, 2021, former LMPD Chief Erika Shields issued a one-day suspension to each officer.
It’s not clear how many raids like this one Louisville police officers have conducted since the passage of Breonna’s Law. LMPD declined to answer a question from LEO Weekly about the frequency of similar raids, and the July 5, 2020 raid has not been reported on until now.
“For someone who worked very tirelessly and hard on getting Breonna’s Law passed, it’s very unfortunate a couple years later to hear that just right after it passed, that it wasn’t followed,” said State Rep. Keturah Herron, a former policy strategist with the ACLU of Kentucky advocating for warrant reform in the wake of Taylor’s killing in 2020. “I believe it’s those things that the community is concerned about and the reason why that trust is not there.”
LEO Weekly first learned of the raid through an open records request for police discipline documents that the city responded to last June. In December, nearly six months later, LEO received more than six hours of heavily redacted video footage of the incident, providing a more complete window into what happened. This story is pieced together based on analysis of that body camera footage as well as 177 pages of documents from the police department’s internal breach of policy investigation.
The incident provides a cautionary tale about the potentially blunted impact of in-the-moment police reforms that Louisville and other cities across the country saw during and after 2020. The revelations about the incident also come as Louisville continues to await the results of a wide-ranging Department of Justice probe into its police department — an investigation that, among other things, is looking into whether the force “conducts unreasonable stops, searches, seizures, and arrests, both during patrol activities and in obtaining and executing search warrants for private homes.”
Peter Kraska, a criminal justice professor at Eastern Kentucky University and an expert on the militarization of police forces in America, said practices such as warrantless raids are commonplace in American policing and that reform is not easy.
“The cultural momentum in a department is not going to shift just because of something like Breonna Taylor and the city council’s actions took place,” he said.
On July 5, 2020, just after 12:35 a.m., LMPD officers and paramedics were called to a stabbing on Woodbine Avenue near the I-65 underpass in Old Louisville. Arriving, they found a white man wearing a blue shirt and blue bandana bleeding profusely from his upper right thigh, which was tied with a makeshift tourniquet.
“They was saying I was wearing the wrong colors,” the victim said.
The man described his assailant as a 5’2” or 5’3” Black woman with short black hair wearing “black on black tights.”
As the victim provided the description, bystanders started speaking to Officer Anthony Elliott. One of them, a Black man, described a woman with “nappy hair” who lived around the corner, four houses down, who matched that description. He did not describe witnessing the stabbing.
Another person on the scene, a woman who called 911 to report coming across the bleeding victim in front of her house, provided a name for the woman who lived around the corner: Lynn.
In the 911 call, the woman said she did not know who stabbed the man. Asked directly by Elliott if she saw the stabbing, the woman said she did not, that she only saw the wounded victim.
More than six months later, Elliott would tell investigators: “I don’t know how they knew it was her but I believe they did not see it.”
As the victim again described his attacker, adding the details that she smoked a lot of cigarettes and that he could recognize her if he saw her, Elliott interjected, saying: “Her name is Lynn — is her name Lynn?” before concluding “her name is Lynn.”
The victim did not seem to acknowledge the name.
A few minutes later, after the man was loaded onto a stretcher by EMS, Officer Brooklyn Sharpey walked over to where Elliott was speaking to the bystanders.
“Where she stay at?” Sharpey asked about the woman.
“About four houses around the corner, that way,” the man said, pointing and adding that the woman is “always acting like a junkie.”
“Hey — hey,” Sharpey said, tapping Elliot’s shoulder. “You know who I think — I know she stays up there with a Black guy. The top floor. Remember? You might not have been with me. We’ll show you the house, I’ll show you the house.”
Elliott asked if she’d been there on a “domestic” run and Sharpey said she had.
Then, standing in the street and joined by Officer Carina Ansaldo, Sharpey said: “We’re going to go to — I think I know who did it. She stays right around the corner.”
Later, speaking to investigators, Sharpey would say she recognized Lynn as the middle name of the person she knew in the area who matched the description given by the stabbing victim.
Sharpey would also tell investigators — and mention to a fellow officer on body camera footage in the moments after the raid — that she showed a picture of the woman to bystanders on the scene, and that they confirmed it was the person they were talking about. However, in body camera footage seen by LEO Weekly, no officer is seen showing a photograph to bystanders. In LMPD’s internal investigation, the force’s Professional Standards Unit acknowledges the lack of body cam footage as well, with an investigator writing that the display of the photograph “was not captured on [body cam]; however, Officer Sharpey references her action when speaking when speaking to Officer Ansaldo at 06:10 of Officer Sharpey’s [body cam].”
The officers packed up and got ready to move. Nobody questioned what they were doing.
Video footage of warrantless raid.
After they left the scene of the stabbing, the four officers — Sharpey, Elliott, Ansaldo and Donald Miller — drove the short distance to the target residence in three vehicles. In Sharpey’s body camera footage, Elliott can be seen popping his squad car’s trunk when he arrives, presumably to retrieve a patrol rifle, which he was not armed with when he responded to the stabbing.
While a bystander told officers the woman he was talking about stayed in a building “about four houses around the corner,” the building officers went to is further down the street.
The officers started trying to gain entry to the building, an old Victorian structure which, like many in Old Louisville, has been subdivided into apartments. They knocked on the front door and then took an alley to the rear, at one point climbing a back set of stairs so rickety they expressed fear it would collapse under their weight.
Failing to find a way into the building, they returned to the front, where a man inside unlocked the door and quickly retreated into a ground-floor apartment.
The officers climbed the stairs and gathered outside their target’s door in a stack — a single-file tactical formation used to enter through a doorway where a threat may be located. Elliott, armed with a rifle, was in the front.
The body camera footage provided to LEO Weekly was blurred in its entirety when officers are inside the building, making it difficult to decipher. In its response to LEO Weekly’s open records request, Louisville Metro Government said all redactions made to body camera footage were “pursuant to personal privacy.”
However, a review of body camera footage included in the LMPD Professional Standards Unit investigation reported at least one other officer, Ansaldo, had her handgun drawn as officers knocked on the door.
Officers knocked, but did not announce they were police.
When a Black man opened the door, Elliott immediately raised his rifle at the woman lying down on a couch visible from the doorway.
“Hands up — back up, back up, back up,” Elliott said as he stepped into the apartment aiming his rifle.
“Get up. Get up, get up, get up. Get on the ground,” he ordered the woman, throwing back what appears to be a blanket or large pillow covering her.
“Stand up,” said Ansaldo as she moved towards the couch.
“What did I do?” the woman asked repeatedly. “I was asleep.”
Ansaldo handcuffed the woman, searched her and eventually led her out of the apartment and downstairs to the building’s porch, where she would sit, handcuffed, for nearly two hours while waiting for a detective to show up.
While it is impossible to tell from the blurred body camera footage whether other officers had their guns drawn before the door was opened, according to the Professional Standards Unit body cam logs, both Miller and Sharpey were observed with their pistols out in the seconds after the door opened.
After the woman was detained, officers asked the man present, whom the woman later identified as her ex-boyfriend, how long she had been in the apartment. He said she had been there “since yesterday” and hadn’t left. He told officers that he had been out of the apartment and returned an hour ago — before the officers responded to the stabbing — and that she had been present in the apartment. Officers thanked him, but did not ask follow-up questions.
Stepping out of the building’s foyer into the hot summer night, one of the officers removed an item they were using to prop the door open, locking them out.
“I wish we could take her over there and be like, ‘Hey, is that her?’” Sharpey mused to Miller as the woman was being read her rights on the front porch. “I showed them a picture and they said, ‘That’s her.’”
With the woman handcuffed and sitting on the front porch, the officers settled in for a wait for a detective that would last nearly two hours.
Not long after the woman was detained, Elliott spoke with Detective Adam Lady by phone, telling him a suspect was in custody.
“The witnesses said it was her, she always like hangs around this area,” Elliott told the detective.
According to Elliott, Lady told officers to wait with the woman until he arrived unless she admitted to involvement in the stabbing.
Soon after she was detained, the woman started complaining that the handcuffs were too tight.
“Alright my man, I’ll loosen it up,” said Officer Ansaldo, moving towards the woman.
“I’m a woman,” said the woman in response.
Later, Ansaldo told other officers she did not loosen the cuffs and instead just pushed them up.
At one point, Sharpey approached the woman and asked her name.
“You know my name,” the woman said back.
“What is it?” Sharpey pushed. “I’m trying to remember. I remember you.”
LEO Weekly was able to identify the woman, but out of concern for her privacy and safety is not naming her. She did not respond to a letter sent by LEO to the location of the raid; in body camera footage she told officers she did not own a telephone. Searching court records, LEO was unable to find a lawsuit over the incident.
On the night of the raid, standing alongside Sharpey and looking at the handcuffed woman, Ansaldo mused, “She’s so mad. She is so mad.”
The woman repeatedly complained to the officers about being detained and about police aiming guns at her.
“They came in as if I was a damn criminal,” she told them. “With guns pointed at me.”
“We didn’t know what we were going into,” said Miller in response. “It was a bunch of unknown stuff, we were trying to prepare for the worst, right?”
Later, the woman said: “I just never had no damn guns pointed in my face.”
“Well, we do it a lot. So, it’s not super unique, unfortunately,” responded Miller.
After the woman had been held outside for over an hour and fifteen minutes, loud gunfire broke out nearby — twice.
In the second instance, Miller counted 23 rounds fired.
After the first bout of gunfire, Ansaldo advised the woman to roll off the porch and take cover if there was combat on the street. When gunfire erupted again, she suggested putting the woman back inside the building, only to realize that officers had locked themselves out.
Miller tried to defuse the tension, saying assailants would probably shoot at him because he was a “big target” as he mimed returning fire down the street.
“I don’t like guns,” said the woman.
More than an hour and a half after the raid, Detective Lady finally arrived on the scene after interviewing the stabbing victim at UofL Hospital.
“We had an incident earlier and some people were saying you matched a description of someone that was over off Preston [Street],” Lady told her. “And you were with someone and then y’all were going to get some food or something. So the reason we have you detained is because we have several people — not just one, it’s not just one versus two — it’s we’ve got several people who said they saw you at the incident scene.”
The woman insisted she was inside the apartment and sleeping until police woke her up at gunpoint.
“If it’s not you, then I’m sorry we’re keeping you up this late. We’re just trying to figure out what’s going on,” said Lady.
Later, he added: “I’m not accusing you. We detained you because you fit the description, not just from one person, from multiple people.”
Lady tried to get into the building to go and interview the woman’s ex-boyfriend and an unidentified man in the apartment, but the door was locked.
Failing to get inside, Lady took the cuffs off the woman and told her she was free to go.
“I’ve been pretty nice to you tonight, right? If you’re telling the truth to me, then I won’t have to come out and talk to you no more,” said Lady.
While body camera footage provided to LEO Weekly from Lady’s interview with the stabbing victim at UofL Hospital has its audio and video redacted in its entirety, the detective later told internal investigators that the victim was unable to identify his assailant in a photo lineup that included the woman handcuffed that night in Old Louisville.
On July 15, more than a week after the raid, the woman came into LMPD’s Professional Standards Unit in the West End’s Parkland neighborhood to file a complaint about the incident and speak to investigators.
In a three-page, hand-written complaint, the woman wrote: “Around 12 a.m. or 12:30 a.m. I was asleep up my ex-boyfriend’s house and all the sudden I heard get up so I got up still half asleep a young black officer with a military gun pointing it in my face saying get up and the white female put the handcuffs on me.”
She concluded the letter by saying the incident was weighing heavily on her.
“It messing with my mental and physical health. I’m having nightmares and can’t sleep. Every time I close my eyes I see that gun in my face,” she wrote. “This is all I can remember.”
As a result of the complaint, LMPD launched an internal probe, interviewing officers involved in the raid and watching body camera footage of the incident.
In early February 2021, more than six months later, the officers involved were interviewed by investigators. On Feb. 11, 2021, Sgt. Brandon Savage with the Professional Standards Unit issued his findings, concluding that the four officers involved — Sharpey, Ansaldo, Miller and Elliott — each violated LMPD policies on warrantless searches and restraint of subjects not under arrest.
“It appears officers did not have probable cause or exigent circumstances to enter the residence without consent,” he wrote.
He added: “The probable cause they believed they had was based on showing a picture to someone on scene and making their conclusions to find [REDACTED]. They were never advised to handcuff her by Detective Adam Lady and when Detective Lady arrived on scene, he unhandcuffed her within minutes of talking to her about the incident. [REDACTED] was never charged for the stabbing per Detective Lady’s statement.”
Under LMPD policy, officers can only enter a premises without a warrant under limited circumstances — being in pursuit of a suspect, or in matters of life and death. Conducting a “knock and talk” — where officers knock on a door to make contact with residents to help with their investigation — does not permit officers to make entry into a dwelling or conduct a “protective sweep” as officers in the Old Louisville raid did.
Additionally, LMPD policy only allows officers to restrain a person not under arrest in limited circumstances when the person is deemed to pose a danger to officers and is not to be done routinely. “Restraining subjects who are not under arrest may cause the subject concern and elicit negative attitudes towards law enforcement,” states LMPD’s policy.
The officers told investigators they felt their actions that night were justified.
Asked by investigators to talk them through why they believed their actions were legal, Sharpey said: “Basically the description, the name that they called her, and I felt like it was all good faith.”
While officers spoke about the woman as a person well known to law enforcement, court records for a now 57-year-old Black woman with the same first, middle and last name indicate she last faced criminal charges in 2012, eight years before the raid. And speaking to Detective Lady before she was released, the woman insisted it had been eight years since she’d last been arrested.
In late December 2021, more than nine months after the initial investigation was completed, LMPD Chief Erika Shields issued her discipline: A one day suspension for all four officers who carried out the raid.
The suspension was equal to what she handed out to an officer who spoke to media outlets about the realities of being a Black officer on the force and what he observed the night Breonna Taylor was killed.
“I am mitigating your discipline due to your lack of disciplinary history, the age of this case and your inexperience at the time of the investigation,” wrote Shields to all four officers involved in the warrantless raid in Old Louisville.
She added: “Any further violations of this nature will warrant more severe discipline.”
According to LMPD payroll information on the city’s open data portal, Sharpey and Miller joined LMPD in 2018 while Ansaldo and Elliott joined the force in 2019.
Kraska, the Eastern Kentucky University criminal justice professor, said he was surprised there was any discipline at all over the raid.
“It’s kind of remarkable, to tell you the truth, that they were disciplined. Because these things happen a lot. And I suspect the only reason they probably were disciplined was because it was so soon after Breonna Taylor and the city council taking steps about warrantless searches and no-knock raids and all that kind of thing,” he said. “Because normally this kind of thing just would have been swept under the rug and nobody would have cared.”
At one point while waiting for a detective to show up, officers bemoaned their body cameras, saying that they did not feel like they had to have them on at all times.
“There’s no need for it to be on like if I’m driving somewhere or whatever,” said Miller. “It’d be a lot of boring video.”
However, LEO’s review of the entirety of the body camera footage from the raid raised additional issues not covered in LMPD’s internal investigation.
Driving through Smoketown with sirens on to get to the stabbing, for instance, Officer Elliott rolled down his window at one point and tossed what appeared to be a take-out fountain drink onto the street.
In Kentucky, littering is a Class A misdemeanor punishable by up to 12 months in jail, a $500 fine, or both. Louisville Metro Government’s website encourages citizens to report “motorists who throw fast-food wrappers, cigarette butts, soda bottles or any type of litter out their car window” using Metro311’s Report-A-Litterer Program.
More ominously, at one point that night —when talking about how dangerous the stairs at the back of the building were and how they could have fallen — the officers appeared to invoke the Breonna Taylor raid in their jokes.
“Four LMPD officers injured…in a botched raid,” joked Elliott, coming up with a hypothetical headline.
“They hit the wrong house,” laughed Miller.
“Botched raid” became boilerplate language in journalists’ stories about the March 13, 2020 raid that killed Taylor; “they hit the wrong house” was an oft-repeated, but factually incorrect, talking point repeated by some protesters, influential activists and even Taylor’s family’s high-profile attorney Ben Crump.
For an unknown reason, the audio of those jokes were redacted in two sets of body camera footage given to LEO under the open records law, but left in the third. The fourth officer’s body camera had stopped recording by that point.
Louisville Metro Government said all redactions to body camera footage were to ensure privacy; conversations between officers were repeatedly redacted throughout the six hours of body cam footage.
The exclusion of the Taylor raid joke was not the only inconsistency LEO noticed. While the city frequently blurred out the entire screen, at other times, as when an officer was facing the street and looked at their phone, they only blurred the phone, showing that the city has the ability to redact parts of footage without withholding the entirety of the footage, as they did at many points.
Contacted by LEO, representatives of the mayor’s office and LMPD sought to downplay the raid, saying the police force has evolved in the intervening years.
“While LMPD both appreciates and respects your inquiry and coverage regarding the department’s actions, this incident from nearly three years ago that you are referencing occurred under multiple previous chiefs and LMPD administrations,” wrote an LMPD spokesperson in a statement. “LMPD, under the leadership of Mayor [Craig] Greenberg and Chief Jacquelyn Gwinn-Villaroel, is currently on a trajectory that looks nothing like 2020. The department has made numerous personnel and policy changes since three years ago including hiring civilian staff who are embedded within the training unit, the development of the Accountability and Improvement Bureau, and countless other initiatives.”
Both Greenberg and Gwinn-Villaroel were sworn in on Jan. 2 of this year.
Deputy Mayor Barbara Sexton Smith, who as a Metro Council member in 2020 led efforts to pass Breonna’s Law alongside former Councilwoman Jessica Green, told LEO in an interview that she “absolutely” believes LMPD has changed the way it conducts searches since the passing of the no-knock ban.
“Within a 22-day period, we drafted, debated and amended and voted unanimously 26 to zero. And we did that to protect lives in our very city,” she said. “So when you talk about this and ask me about it and incidents following that, I think it’s really important for us to remember what a historical moment that was here in Louisville, Kentucky.”
She added: “I think our city started moving forward as quickly as we possibly could. We’re talking about something that happened in 2020 and here we are in 2023. Under the new administration, Mayor Greenberg, he is taking off with lightning speed and is leading us in a new direction.”