Louisville police break recent precedent, investigate themselves in Shawnee Park shooting




  • In US
  • 2022-07-13 20:02:29Z
  • By The Courier Journal

Louisville Metro Police officials say they are conducting an internal investigation into Sunday night's shooting of a 30-year-old Black man - who is accused of shooting an officer before several returned fire, striking him - despite a previous agreement that Kentucky State Police would conduct those inquiries.

Louisville police have said they were attempting to serve a warrant to Herbert Lee when the shooting took place at Shawnee Park, where hundreds had gathered for the Dirt Bowl basketball tournament. Both men who police have said were shot are expected to recover, according to LMPD Chief Erika Shields.

For details of the shooting: 'It was chaos': Witnesses describe panic after LMPD shooting at Louisville's Shawnee Park

The move to handle the investigations solo goes against a policy change put forward by Mayor Greg Fischer in 2020 that reassigned investigations of shootings involving LMPD officers in which someone is injured or killed to state police. The new policy was put in place that July, more than four months after Louisville officers shot and killed Breonna Taylor in her apartment.

"The mayor and chief agree that to help restore public trust, the city should move to have an outside entity investigate any future officer-involved shooting," Jean Porter, the mayor's deputy director of communications, said at the time. LMPD veteran Robert Schroeder was serving as interim police chief at the time, with Shields being hired in early 2021.

Police officers gather at the scene of a shootingat the baseball fields in Shawnee Park, Sunday, July 10 2022 in Louisville Ky.
Police officers gather at the scene of a shootingat the baseball fields in Shawnee Park, Sunday, July 10 2022 in Louisville Ky.  

In a statement this week to The Courier Journal, KSP spokesperson Matt Sudduth said state police are "not involved in the investigation of (the Shawnee Park) shooting at this time," with Louisville police saying that agency is currently dealing with a backlog of other investigations.

Mayor Fischer's office did not respond to a request for comment on whether this is a violation of their previous agreement with LMPD.

Background from 2020: Greg Fischer: Kentucky State Police will investigate future Louisville police shootings

Days after the shooting, it's still unclear how or when KSP may be involved with the investigation.

The night of the shooting, LMPD released a statement saying the department is "consulting with KSP regarding this ongoing investigation." On Tuesday, Sudduth said he was unfamiliar with any such consultation with KSP.

LMPD spokesperson Angela Ingram declined to clarify what consulting with KSP has taken place, saying in an email to The Courier Journal "we believe our prior statement addresses the role KSP will play." In a separate email, she noted KSP is facing a backlog of investigation work, including a shooting in Floyd County that resulted in the deaths of three officers. Shields pushed that point as well when speaking with reporters Monday morning.

"Currently KSP does not have the bandwidth to investigate LMPD's incident as the state agency is working 5 (officer-involved shootings) in 10 days," Ingram wrote Tuesday. " ... At no time did Chief Shields or LMPD state that KSP is investigating or supervising."

Sudduth, on Tuesday after hearing Ingram's statement, reiterated again: "This is not our investigation." KSP could "review the investigation upon completion," Sudduth said.

In the meantime, LMPD officials are conducting the investigation into a shooting involving their own officers by themselves.

Before KSP took over investigative duties of shootings involving LMPD officers two years ago, Louisville's police department had earned praise from University of Florida researchers for its transparency in police shooting probes. LMPD's policy at that time was to release any body camera footage of police shootings within 24 hours of the incident.

Louisville Police gather ar the scene of a shooting at the baseball fields in Shawnee Park, Sunday, July 10 2022 in Louisville Ky.
Louisville Police gather ar the scene of a shooting at the baseball fields in Shawnee Park, Sunday, July 10 2022 in Louisville Ky.  

Sunday's shooting took place at about 8 p.m. Shields had previously confirmed footage of the incident exists, but it has not yet been released as of Wednesday afternoon.

Ingram gave no indication LMPD has a specific date or timeframe to release the footage, only writing "video will be released once we are confident that any/all independent witnesses have been afforded the opportunity to provide statements." Shields hadn't seen the footage as of Monday but told reporters it likely be "harder to see" as it was taken from a distance away from the shooting.

And in a statement Wednesday, LMPD spokesperson Beth Ruoff said the department is currently making "necessary redactions" to the footage, without offering a timeframe as to when it could be released. The statement did not address a request for comment sent Wednesday morning to clarify why the department has deviated from the 24-hour policy it previously had in place.

LMPD expects to release the identities of officers involved in the shooting on Thursday, Ingram has said.

Lee had been wanted on 12 warrants at the time of Sunday's shooting, according to police, including possession of a handgun by a convicted felon and wanton endangerment. The gun he's been accused of using was recovered at the scene, police have said.

Lee, who LMPD said will face several charges including attempted murder of a police officer, was hospitalized after being shot and was said by police to be in stable condition as of Monday. The officer who police say was hit by gunfire was wearing a bulletproof vest at the time and was released by the hospital hours after the shooting, Shields previously said.

Body camera footage has not been released, but a 17-minute live video posted on Facebook by local activist Bruce Sweeney, who began filming Sunday as shots were still being fired by LMPD, has offered a look at what took place during the shooting.

The video shows a little boy in a bright red shirt stepping in front of the camera as police point their guns across the field. It also shows a police car driving in front of the crowd to join the nearly 20 others that had already arrived, and Sweeney leading chants of "Black Lives Matter" as LMPD surround Lee's body and waited for EMS to arrive.

But the officers' body cam footage would provide the most telling account yet of how the shooting began. Speaking Wednesday morning, Sweeney said he was angry it has yet to be made public, sad that memories of the park by those in attendance will now be gunfire and sickened by the incident from start to finish.

"It bothers me," Sweeney said. "I feel like they are trying to cover something up. They messed up, and now they're trying to figure out a way to fix it. And you know, there were kids out there. To me, this shows they don't care too much about the community."

This story may be updated.

Reach reporter Thomas Birmingham @TBirmingham@gannett.com and follow him on Twitter @cthomasbirm. 

This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: LMPD, not Kentucky State Police, investigate Shawnee Park shooting

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