Mayor, CLOUT to discuss police de-escalation criticisms

Chief Conrad and Mayor Fischer salute the Louisville Police Memorial at Jefferson Square. | Photo by Sarah Kelley

A large faith-based activist group will meet with Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer in June to seek a formal evaluation of how the Louisville Metro Police Department handles use of force cases.

At issue, according to leaders of the group, Citizens of Louisville Organized and United Together, or CLOUT, is how LMPD’s Professional Standards Unit applies de-escalation training in its internal review of cases in which officers use deadly force against mentally ill and drug-addicted suspects.

Rev. Reginald Barnes, pastor of Brown Memorial B.M.E. church and CLOUT co-president, told Insider Louisville that the meeting follows months of sustained lobbying and protest of the mayor and other city leaders. CLOUT sees a lack of consistency within LMPD over how the department internally evaluates its officers’ adherence to mandatory de-escalation training, he said.

“We’ve been planning this meeting for a long time now,” Barnes said. “We’re happy that we were able to pin the mayor down and finally have a meeting with him.”

Jean Porter, a spokeswoman for Mayor Fischer’s office, confirmed that the mayor would be meeting with CLOUT leaders.

“The mayor regularly meets with local groups seeking to discuss a wide range of civic issues, and welcomes opportunities to hear concerns and listen to new ideas that can help make the city the best it can be,” said Porter in a statement.

CLOUT lead organizer Robert Owens said the meeting is slated for 2 p.m., June 22, at the mayor’s office.

In a news release, the group also criticized the LMPD for not requiring officers to recertify de-escalation training in the same way those officers are required to recertify their firearm training. It also accused the department of waffling on its stance toward a review of its de-escalation training standard operating procedures, rehashing a standing point of contention between the group and the city’s police force.

The relationship between CLOUT and Mayor Fischer has been icy for the better part of seven years; according to interviews and media reports, each side has its own version of what led to the schism. Before 2011, videos of the group’s events portray Fischer as a somewhat regular attendee of its meetings; since then, CLOUT says Fischer hasn’t returned.

Regardless, the thaw in relations is seen by Barnes as victory for the 12,000-member group. “At this point, obviously, we want to meet with the mayor to discuss our ideas on ways we can improve public safety and police officer safety, for that matter, here in Louisville,” he said.

The meeting is set to occur exactly one month after a grand jury declined to indict LMPD Officer Sarah Stumler on criminal charges over her shooting in March 2017 of Bruce Warrick, a homeless, unarmed African-American male.

“Mr. Warrick was known to have a history of drug addiction, and was a graduate of our local Drug Court program,” CLOUT stated in a news release. “He did not deserve to be shot by the police just because he was apparently in the throes of his illness once again. Mr. Warrick was completely unarmed and presenting no threat to the officers on the scene.”

Bodycam footage of the Warrick shooting shows that he was shot by Stumler almost immediately after she ordered him to show his hands. According to CLOUT, that shooting is one of other, similar shootings by LMPD of mentally ill and drug-addicted people over the past few years, and has formed the basis of its recent activism.

LMPD spokeswoman Jessie Halladay said that because of a Professional Standards Unit investigation into Stumler, she could not comment on the incident. Halladay added that Stumler remains “on administrative reassignment.”

A PSU investigation is one of the last steps of inquiry following an “officer-involved shooting,” according to the LMPD’s website. The PSU investigations are conducted internally by LMPD officers with a rank of sergeant or above, and automatically begin once criminal charges against the officer in question have been adjudicated, according to the website.

Halladay said that CLOUT’s news release was misrepresenting facts regarding its criticisms of the department. Although she did not say that LMPD requires its officers to “recertify” de-escalation training — a core component of what is known as Crisis Intervention Team, or C.I.T., and deals with handling mentally ill suspects — she characterized such a comparison as misleading.

“[Officers] don’t have to be certified in C.I.T., per se,” Halladay said, “but all of our officers in the academy do receive that C.I.T. training now.” She added that de-escalation training was included in the department’s annual in-service training program as well as supplemental training seminars in any given year.

The group’s criticism that LMPD has “changed its story” regarding the C.I.T. review also drew rebuke from Halladay, which arose from statements Mayor Fischer made following the shooting death by LMPD officers of Darnell Wicker in 2017 that police chief Steve Conrad should evaluate the department’s de-escalation training.

In October 2017, LMPD released a review of its C.I.T. practices to CLOUT. The group’s leaders say the report is insufficient even for its intended purpose, asserting that LMPD initially did not regard the review as an official evaluation per the mayor’s request.

But the LMPD sees it differently.

“I haven’t interpreted the mayor’s statement as ‘doing a full report and that’s the only thing I want to hear from you,’ ” Halladay said. “The mayor and the chief have regular conversations, so there may be other pieces of information that the chief has given the mayor over time as it relates to these things, but that is the evaluation. We have always told them that was the evaluation.”

But Barnes said, “Annual training is not the same thing as having to recertify, to have to pass or fail a test each year,” adding that he stands by his recollection of the C.I.T. report’s release and the need for Mayor Fischer to order an official evaluation.