Emergency medical technician Breonna Taylor, 26, was shot and killed by police in her home in March. Her name has become a rallying cry in protests against police brutality and social injustice.
( Courtesy of Breonna Taylor Family
Tamika Palmer: Please continue to say her name, "Breonna Taylor."
Crowd: Breonna Taylor.
Tanzina Vega: I'm Tanzina Vega and this is The Takeaway. The city of Louisville, Kentucky has settled a wrongful death suit for $12 million with the family of Breonna Taylor, the 26-year-old Black woman who was shot and killed by police in her apartment six months ago.
Mayor Greg Fischer: While we await a decision from Attorney General Daniel Cameron on whether or not charges will be filed in this case, my administration is not waiting to move ahead with needed reforms to prevent a tragedy like this from ever happening again.
Tanzina: That was Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer. We're going to talk about the specifics of those police reforms in just a moment. In the meantime, Taylor's family and lawyers commended the settlement but said yesterday that justice for Breonna will not have been served until Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron brings criminal charges against the three officers involved with her death. Here's Taylor's mother, Tamika Palmer, speaking at a press conference yesterday.
Tamika: As significant as today is, it's only the beginning of getting full justice for Breonna. We must not lose focus on what the real drive is. With that being said, it's time to move forward with the criminal charges because she deserves that and much more. Her beautiful spirit and personality is working through all of us on the ground, so please continue to say her name, "Breonna Taylor."
Crowd: Breonna Taylor.
Tanzina: Joining me now to talk about this is Tessa Duvall, a reporter with The Courier-Journal in Louisville, and Tim Findley, Jr., the senior pastor at Kingdom Fellowship at Louisville and the founder of the Justice and Freedom Coalition. Tessa and Timothy, thanks for joining me.
Tessa Duvall: Thank you.
Timothy Findley, Jr.: Hello.
Tanzina: Tim, let's start with you. How has the settlement been received? What was your reaction to the $12 million settlement?
Timothy: Well, we certainly expected there to be a settlement. That part was not surprising. It's been my push just to continue allowing people to understand that this is not the end of this ordeal, that we want to see criminal charges. We want to see an indictment and we want to be happy for the family, but we've got to see talked about change in our police department.
Tanzina: That's one of the things we're going to talk about a little bit, the specifics here that the city is proposing. Tessa, the settlement on the civil suit at least is for $12 million. That, in some places, could be considered historic. How does that compare with other settlements from wrongful death suits?
Tessa: Certainly, in Louisville, it is considered historic. This is the largest payout that is a result of police conduct here in Louisville. The previous largest amount was $8.5 million several years ago. That is certainly a large, large figure in Louisville standards in terms of national standards as well. There certainly have been bigger settlements with the police departments around the country, but not many.
This is about twice the amount that Eric Garner's family got, for example, or the family of Tamir Rice. This is a truly large amount. It's also important to note that this was settled very quickly. This lawsuit against the police officers was only filed in April. It didn't have to go to a jury trial. This was a really, really quick resolution to this lawsuit.
Tanzina: Tim, given the rapidity, if you will, how quickly this was settled to Tessa's point, how much of that do you think has to do with efforts on the ground in Louisville by activists and others to bring attention to Taylor's case?
Timothy: Oh, I think it has a very, very substantial point in part in all of this. There have been 100-plus days of protesting here, celebrities. We've seen athletes who have called for justice. To be completely honest, I don't think the city had a choice. I think the city had to not only settle quickly but they had to make a historic move because our city is in incomplete unrest right now. Protesters myself and others, we have to see justice. I think that the local leaders felt that.
Tanzina: Tessa, one of the things that came out of the settlement in addition to the $12 million were also a series of police reforms. Can you walk us through what some of those reforms are?
Tessa: There's some reforms coming that had already been announced about body cameras, but additional reforms about body cameras requiring that two officers wear cameras when they count money that's been seized from people. We're also seeing reforms to the search warrant process. It has to go up to the chain of command to the commanding officer before it even goes to a judge.
We're also seeing that there has to be a risk assessment done before search warrants are executed, and then they're also really trying to push for officers to more deeply connect with the community. We're seeing the encouragement of paid community service as well as trying to get officers to actually live in some of the communities that they are assigned to work in.
Tanzina: When you hear about police reform, particularly under Breonna Taylor's case and you hear one of the tenants, is to increase community engagement with police and the community, do you think that's enough or is this more of a push towards defunding and ultimately abolishing the police?
Timothy: Well, I'll say I do not think that this is enough. I think that it's a small, incremental step in the right direction. One of the things that was very striking to me yesterday, even hearing some of these police reform, I guess, negotiations, what came out of that, was that these seem to be common sense sort of reforms. In other words, these are things that should have been happening. It's amazing to me that in 2020, things like drug testing, things that just should already be in place.
To your question, I think what we've got to see from police departments around the country, we've got to see police officers that look like those in the community that they serve. That's something that I think is behind the thought with, I think, the housing credits in terms of getting police officers or encouraging police officers to live in those communities, but I am one that unapologetically stands for not abolishing the police but certainly defunding the police.
I have police officer friends. I have family members that are involved in law enforcement, but I do believe that we've got to learn to reallocate some of these exorbitant budgets and send those funds to community programs and to systems already in the community and help to transform these distressed communities. I'm one that absolutely believes that we've got to have more conversation and more action around defunding the police.
Tanzina: Tessa, one of the key figures here as this case moves forward, of course, this is not the end, this is the civil suit, but there is still a criminal question involved here, particularly with the three officers who were involved in Taylor's death. They have yet to face criminal charges. Attorney General Daniel Cameron is really the one who will make this decision. What do we know about Cameron and where he stands here?
Tessa: Cameron is in his first term in office. He is the first Republican to hold the office of attorney general in Kentucky in decades. He is Mitch McConnell protégé and he's been endorsed by Donald Trump.
Tanzina: He's also African American, correct?
Tessa: Correct, yes. He is the first Black man to hold this office. While we know that his political leanings are very conservative, very Republican, I have spoken to former attorneys general who say that this office has dedicated career prosecutors who will do the right thing and that if Cameron is as smart and holds true to what this job requires of him, he will defer to those career prosecutors who are making the decision in this case. You're absolutely right. This settlement that we saw yesterday is only the civil suit. Daniel Cameron's office is still looking into this and the FBI as well. This case is not over. While the civil suit has been settled, there's still much more to be learned about this case as a whole.
Tanzina: Tessa just mentioned Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who represents Kentucky. He told reporters yesterday, "The investigation seems to have been more complicated than a lot of people felt." McConnell said he has confidence in Daniel Cameron to do the right thing and stands by him. When you hear this, Tim, how did you feel about Mitch McConnell and Daniel Cameron's response to the ongoing calls for these officers to be arrested at the very least?
Timothy: Well, as a lifelong Louisvillian, born and raised in Louisville, Kentucky, I can say this and I don't think I'm speaking for all Black people, but certainly, the ones that I know. We don't feel or value Mitch McConnell as a friend. He has not been afraid to our community. He's been in this position for 30-plus years, the vast majority of my life. I am very skeptical but open-minded to Daniel Cameron simply because of his association with Mitch McConnell.
Our community is collectively holding our breath and we're looking for Daniel Cameron to do the right thing. What gives me cause to pause is the fact that he will defer to those career prosecutors. Again, there is deep-seated trust issues when it comes to the criminal justice system and the Black community. Hearing that he will lean on these career prosecutors is not always a comforting piece of news. It's not something that we look at and say, "Okay. Well, we believe the right thing is going to happen."
Mitch McConnell, we want him-- We know we need change in leadership in this state. Again, we're hoping, we're praying that Daniel Cameron does the right thing. We also think that this news was a bit suspect as well, him being on the shortlist for the Supreme Court justice, the fact that he was turned over to the grand jury. All of these things, they just, again, further causes a bit of trepidation when it comes to the right thing being done.
Tanzina: That trepidation, Tim, just so I'm clear, is because- I just want to make sure I'm understanding your point here- is that he's being courted by the more conservative Republican Party right now and, as a result of that, may have more allegiance to that party, may make decisions based on political affiliation versus criminality?
Timothy: Absolutely, absolutely. There's so many sayings about the company that you keep. Well, being the protégé of Mitch McConnell, being courted by Donald Trump, that is 100% an issue for people in my community.
Tanzina: Timothy Findley, Jr., is the senior pastor at Kingdom Fellowship in Louisville and the founder of the Justice and Freedom Coalition. Tessa Duvall is a reporter with The Courier-Journal in Louisville. Timothy, Tessa, thanks for joining me.
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