LOUISVILLE, Ky. — After months of protests that turned Breonna Taylor’s name into a national slogan against police violence, city officials agreed to pay her family $12 million and institute changes aimed at preventing future deaths by officers.
The agreement, announced Tuesday, settled a wrongful-death lawsuit brought by the young woman’s family. As her mother, her lawyers and leading activists walked into the council chamber alongside the mayor, there was a momentary show of unity, after months of nightly, sometimes violent demonstrations that have left Kentucky’s largest city boarded up. It comes six months after the death of Ms. Taylor, a 26-year-old emergency room technician, in a botched drug raid, but before the state’s attorney general has said whether the officers involved in the shooting would be criminally charged — a key demand of protesters.
“My administration is not waiting to move ahead with needed reforms to prevent a tragedy like this from ever happening again,” Mayor Greg Fischer said. “When you know what the right thing to do is you do it. Why wait?”
The agreement, which did not require the city to acknowledge wrongdoing, was sizable, with her family receiving more than double the amount paid to the relatives of Eric Garner, the New York man who died in a police chokehold in 2014. While a few similar cases resulted in larger payments — from $13 million to a whopping $38 million, some of them came only after years in court battles. By contrast, the Louisville agreement was reached in just months.
Most of all, it was unusual because of the range of changes — a dozen in all — that the embattled city agreed to adopt in an effort to quell the protests.
“Based on at least 20 years of tracking these types of cases, I’ve never seen something like this,” said Christopher 2x, a community organizer Ms. Taylor’s family turned to after her death. “The bottom line is the monetary amount, combined with the reforms, is unprecedented.”
The policing changes would require more oversight by top commanders, and make mandatory safeguards that were common practice in the department but were not followed the night of the March 13 raid. They would also put in place an early warning system to flag officers who have been accused of excessive force.
Ms. Taylor died after her boyfriend said he mistook police officers for an intruder, as they rammed in the door of her apartment after midnight to execute a search warrant. He fired his handgun, striking an officer, setting off a response in which a torrent of bullets sliced through Ms. Taylor’s apartment and two adjoining ones, leaving her bleeding in her hallway.
Since the young Black woman’s death, the top demand of protesters who gather nightly in a downtown square has been that criminal charges be brought against the three white officers who shot into Ms. Taylor’s home. But because the officers were fired upon first, legal experts say their actions may be protected under Kentucky’s statute allowing the police to use lethal force in self-defense. For that reason, they say it is unlikely that a criminal inquiry being conducted by the state’s attorney general will result in charges against at least two of the officers, who were standing directly in front of Ms. Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, when he opened fire first. A third officer, though, has been fired for shooting recklessly that night.
The results of the attorney general’s investigation are expected to be released soon. If no charges are brought, or if the charges are minor, the settlement announced this week may be the closest Ms. Taylor’s family comes to justice.
“This is a good first step,” said Sam Aguiar, one of the family’s lawyers. “The city obviously doesn’t have the power to bring charges, which still rests in the hands of the attorney general. But what the city can do is change its police practices, and it can acknowledge through a settlement that a lot of things went wrong that night.”
Among the changes are a requirement that commanding officers review and give written approval for all search warrants, a policy that was instituted recently in Lexington, the second largest town in Kentucky, and that has led to a drastic drop in the riskiest raids, said Peter B. Kraska, a professor at Eastern Kentucky University who is an expert on police reform.
The department has also agreed to overhaul how simultaneous search warrants are conducted, most likely a result of the manner in which the five warrants were obtained for Ms. Taylor’s residence and four others used as “trap houses” by her ex-boyfriend, Jamarcus Glover, a convicted drug dealer who had repeatedly made trips to her apartment in the months before the raid.
An early warning system will be adopted to flag officers with disciplinary problems, a measure that seems aimed at Detective Brett Hankison, the officer who was fired. Multiple complaints of excessive use of force as well as sexual misconduct had been filed against Detective Hankison, according to portions of his personnel file obtained by The Times, most of them dismissed or deemed not credible.
And to promote better relations between the department and the community, officers will be encouraged to perform two hours of paid community service each pay period and will receive housing credits to encourage them to live in the neighborhoods they police, according to a summary provided by Mr. Aguiar.
Many of the changes appear aimed at addressing the specific lapses that led to Ms. Taylor’s death: It will now be mandatory for ambulances to be idling nearby when the police conduct a search. Although it was common practice to do so, an ambulance was initially sent to Ms. Taylor’s residence before the raid, only to be canceled and sent elsewhere in the hour before police officers beat down her door.
“It’s really unique,” Mr. Kraska said of the policing changes required in the agreement. “The family didn’t feel that justice would be served just by a monetary settlement. I have not seen this happen before.”
The city had already enacted some substantive changes.
Months ago, the city passed “Breonna’s Law,” which barred the use of “no knock” search warrants. That was the type of warrant issued for the search of Ms. Taylor’s apartment, which allows the police to punch into homes without warning.
On paper, the numerous changes promised by the city appear ambitious. But one of the enduring problems of police reform is that — to date — departments around the country have not been able to create a mechanism for enforcing changes.
“It absolutely will make no difference if there is not a lot of follow-up and accountability,” Mr. Kraska said.
Both Ms. Taylor’s mother and the activists who have played a leading role in the city’s ongoing demonstrations warned that the settlement was merely a first step. As the sound of the drums banged by protesters on the street below wafted into the city auditorium, lawyers and advocates for her family took the microphone to call for an indictment of the officers involved in her shooting.
“The restitution portion is one part,” said Tamika Mallory, a Black Lives Matter activist who was arrested here after leading a sit-in on the lawn of the Kentucky attorney general’s home. “But arresting the officers is what will make this city do right by its citizens — and not just by Breonna Taylor but by all the Breonna Taylors.”
The gathering ended with activists and Ms. Taylor’s family chanting: “Arrest the cops! Arrest the cops!”
Kitty Bennett contributed research.