Breonna's Law: Rep. Attica Scott proposes banning no-knock search warrants across Kentucky

Tessa Duvall
Louisville Courier Journal

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Surrounded by protesters on their 81st straight day in downtown Louisville, Rep. Attica Scott, D-Louisville, announced Sunday that she's put forth a bill to ban the use of controversial no-knock search warrants across Kentucky.

Called Breonna's Law in honor of Breonna Taylor, the bill would also require drug and alcohol testing of officers involved in shootings and deadly incidents and require that body cameras be worn during the execution of all search warrants.

"It's clear to me that Breonna's Law is needed statewide because we have these issues with police violence across Kentucky," Scott said. "It's not unique to Louisville. We have to have legislation that protects people from police, that keeps them safe. … It's important that we answer the cries for justice right here in Louisville and that we acknowledge that these are issues that are systemic across the commonwealth."

The bill was filed Thursday — five months to the day after Taylor, a 26-year-old Black woman, was fatally shot by police in her apartment just before 1 a.m. on March 13.

Police were attempting to execute a search warrant with a no-knock clause as part of a broader narcotics investigation when they entered her home with a battering ram.

Taylor's boyfriend Kenneth Walker, who said he did not know it was police on the other side of the door, fired a shot that struck an officer, and Taylor was killed when police returned fire.

State Rep. Attica Scott spoke during a press conference held by the Kentucky Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression at Jefferson Square Park on Aug. 16, 2020 to announce a bill that would extend Breonna’s Law statewide by banning no-knock warrants.

Since her death, Taylor's name has become a rallying cry for racial justice and police reform in Louisville and far beyond.

"The least that we can do in Frankfort is answer those cries for justice," Scott said.

Louisville's Metro Council unanimously voted on June 11 to ban no-knock search warrants and require the use of body cameras during all warrant executions, and Mayor Greg Fischer signed the measure the next day, saying "the danger … is greater than their benefit."

The same day as Metro Council's vote, U.S. Sen. Rand Paul announced he was filing the "Justice for Breonna Taylor Act," which would "effectively end no-knock raids in the United States."

Keturah Herron, a policy strategist with the ACLU of Kentucky, was instrumental in getting Breonna's Law passed in Louisville. Herron said it may be a tougher fight in Frankfort, but she's confident Breonna's Law will become a reality statewide.

"This is not just an urban issue," Herron said. "This is also a rural issue. … It's going to be a matter of everyone working together to get the best piece of legislation, and I do think that it's going to take everyone, Democrats and Republicans, rural and urban folks, to get involved in order for us to get the best piece of legislation."

The bill's current cosponsors are all Democrats: Charles Booker, Lisa Willner, Reginald Meeks, Nima Kulkarni and Joni Jenkins from Jefferson County; George Brown Jr. and Kelly Flood from Fayette County; Patti Minter from Warren County; and Buddy Wheatley from Kenton County.

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But there is interest in restricting no-knock search warrants across the aisle.

Kentucky Senate President Robert Stivers, a Republican, proposed in July a plan to essentially ban standalone, no-knock search warrants. Stivers said the bill he envisions, which has not yet been filed, would make exceptions for no-knock search warrants that are used along with an arrest warrant or in a hostage situation.

Stivers called the warrant that ultimately led to Taylor's death "bad policing" and said it never would have occurred if a bill like the one he is drafting had been on the books.

Scott said she's hopeful that Stivers "will follow the lead of Black women."

"Listen to us," she said. "Listen to the people who are feeling the pain, who've experienced it right here in Louisville and follow our lead. We can work together. And you can actually be humble enough to say, 'I don't really know what's going on here. I live nowhere near Jefferson County, so I don't know this pain. I don't really hear these cries for justice every day. So it's important to me to listen to the people who are deeply rooted in the community.'"

In addition to Scott's bill, Willner announced that she is working on a bill to "demilitarize the police."

"I've been listening to the stories of folks who have been out here, day in and day out, who've been participating in lifting up their voices, exercising their First Amendment rights, who have been traumatized at the hands of the police," Willner said. "I'm a psychologist by training. We've got folks walking around all over this city suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder from exercising their First Amendment rights."

Willner's proposal, which has not been filed, would ban chemical weapons and long-range acoustic devices, prevent police from using kettling (or corralling) techniques and add penalties for officers that target members of the news media and street medics.

Reach Tessa Duvall at tduvall@courier-journal.com and 502-582-4059. Twitter: @TessaDuvall. Support strong local journalism by subscribing today: courier-journal.com/subscribe