Two of Louisville’s high-ranking police and public safety officials walked out of a city hearing on Monday without testifying amid an investigation into the police department and mayor’s office’s handling of Breonna Taylor’s death and the weeks of sometimes violent demonstrations that followed.
Louisville Metro Police Chief Rob Schroeder and Chief of Public Safety Amy Hess appeared before the Louisville Metro Government Oversight and Audit Committee on Monday but declined to answer questions from city lawmakers. Their attorneys argued that a 47-page federal civil rights lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the NAACP prevent their clients from speaking publicly in an open hearing. They instead offered for Schroeder and Hess to testify behind closed doors.
“We’re not going into executive session. There will be nothing hidden from the public regarding this matter," Committee Chair Councilman Brent Ackerson said. "Zero. Plain and simple. So, with that being said, if you’re not going to proceed, there’s the door.”
Schroeder and Hess left upon the advice from their lawyers, WDRB reported.
“To come in here and politicize this matter with these elected officials is not what our city needed today to heal. To suggest that we are hiding something is farther from the truth. Chief Schroeder, just like anyone in this commonwealth, has rights," Schroeder's attorney, Joey Klausing, told reporters as he exited City Hall, calling the hearing a complete “dog and pony show.”
The office of Louisville’s Democratic Mayor Greg Fischer said they “remain committed to sharing information as soon as we can without jeopardizing pending investigations.”
Ackerson “was well aware before they set up today’s meeting that there are matters that we are legally not allowed to share, and they were advised of our concerns about proceeding at this time, specifically in light of a lawsuit filed late last week where Metro employees were sued in their individual capacities,” a spokeswoman for the mayor’s office, Jean Porter, told WAVE in a statement.
“But the committee chair proceeded nonetheless. We look forward to returning to council when all concerns have been properly addressed,” she said. The committee later voted almost unanimously to formally subpoena Schroeder and Hess.
Despite mounting public pressure to file criminal charges nearly five months after Taylor's death, prosecutors may face significant obstacles to bringing homicide-related charges against police officers who were shot at when sent to her house with a warrant, legal experts told the Associated Press.
Taylor, a 26-year-old Louisville emergency medical tech studying to become a nurse, was shot multiple times March 13 after being roused from her bed when police knocked at her door.
Her boyfriend, Kenny Walker, told investigators he heard knocking at the door but thought the apartment was being broken into when he fired a shot at Louisville police Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly. Mattingly was struck in the leg and returned fire, along with other officers who were outside the apartment. Taylor was struck by their returning fire in her hallway and died at the scene.
Police had secured a controversial no-knock warrant that allows for sudden entry, but Mattingly insisted they knocked and announced themselves before entering. The warrant was approved as part of a narcotics investigation into a suspect who lived across town, and no drugs were found at her home.
The warrant, "combined with the fact that they were fired upon, would make for a powerful defense argument that they acted in valid self-defense while conducting a lawful police operation,” said Sam Marcosson, a University of Louisville law professor who has closely watched the local case.
Attorney General Daniel Cameron, the first African American elected to the job in Kentucky, has declined to put a timetable on his decision whether or not to bring criminal charges against the officers since taking over the case in May. He continues to face pressure from Black Lives Matter protesters and dozens who went to his Louisville home were arrested after they wouldn't leave his yard.
Last week, an armed militia marched into downtown and demanded that Cameron make his decision within a month. Taylor’s family and multiple cultural luminaries — from LeBron James to Oprah Winfrey — have called for three police officers who were at Taylor's home to be charged with her killing. Oprah put Taylor on the cover of her O magazine this month.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.