The city of Louisville announced on Tuesday a $12 million settlement with the family of Breonna Taylor, who was killed in her home during a police raid. The settlement includes changes in how local officers obtain and execute search warrants and is among the largest payouts for a police killing in the nation’s history, according to a Taylor family attorney.
Experts agree the monetary settlement is large. But more importantly, the proposed changes — which come amid a growing national examination of the power and budgets of police forces — are a significant start.
Taylor, a 26-year-old emergency-room technician, was fatally shot multiple times by police in her apartment in March, when four officers raided her apartment on a “no-knock warrant.” No arrests have been made. One police officer, Brett Hankison, was fired.
“It’s pretty rare, actually, that one of these wrongful-death cases leads to real reform,” said Margo Schlanger, a professor at the University of Michigan Law School. “So the really notable thing about this is, yes, the size of the settlement, but also the reform elements.”
One of the most important changes, experts say, had already occurred — the banning of no-knock warrants. Louisville’s city council passed “Breonna’s Law” unanimously in June.
Under the settlement terms, the police will now have to go to a commander to sign off on a search warrant before going in front of a judge, which Schlanger said could be a good additional backstop.
“Getting rid of no-knock warrants, which they’d already done, is a big deal. They’re just a situation looking to go wrong,” said Schlanger, who previously oversaw civil rights investigations of police departments while at the Justice Department.
Getting an additional sign-off internally is saying that “we’re going to really scrutinize these, and we’re going to make sure that they’re necessary,” she said. “Serving a warrant is a dangerous situation. There are better ways to get people into custody if you can.”
Keisha Hudson, a former public defender who is now the associate managing director of the Justice Collaborative, also greeted the news of the settlement’s terms as “a good start.”
Hudson, who has been working with community leaders in Louisville since before Breonna’s Law was passed, also underscored the significance of the end of no-knock warrants.
Among the initiatives announced Tuesday, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer (D) said social workers will be paired with police in handling certain 911 calls, a move Hudson said is promising.
“I think it’s an important step,” she said. “I don’t think it goes far enough, and I think a more effective emergency first-responder model is [when] you don’t have the police involved.”
She added, “Those 911 calls are diverted and you send out a trained trauma crisis intervention specialist and a mental health expert to come in to respond to the vast majority of calls, which are usually crisis-related.”
The department is also exploring incentives for police to live within the city, as well as mandating two hours of paid time for community service each week, Fisher said Tuesday.
Still, Hudson said, there is more to be done.