LMPD :: Louisville Metro Police Department

More people dying in LMPD shootings


Albert William Keyes stepped out of his truck, a 4-inch knife in hand, and lunged at the sheriff's deputies surrounding him.

The 15 rounds the deputies fired at him in that parking lot last March were the first shots in what has become the deadliest year for local police in at least a decade. Law enforcement officers in Louisville have shot and killed five people in 2014 - more than in the last five years combined.

While the total number of police shootings has not drastically increased - officers have fired at suspects seven times this year, compared to an annual average of six - more of those targets have died.

The police report no change in policy, weaponry or training that might account for the sudden shift.

"It's understandable that people are concerned about a spike," said David Klinger, a criminology professor at the University of Missouri and expert on deadly use of force. "But there is not a spike in the total number of shootings, so to conclude there's a problem is a rush to judgment. Some things are beyond the capacity of police to control, and all they can do is react in the moment."

But the tide of deadly shootings, which on its own has stirred little protest, comes as the nation convulses over police killings of unarmed black males: Michael Brown, a 17-year-old shot dead in August in Ferguson, Mo; Eric Garner, choked to death as police officers in New York City attempted to subdue him; and Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old boy killed in a Cleveland park while carrying a toy gun.

The surrounding debate has opened old wounds about race and policing in Louisville, a decade after a string of black men were killed by officers and an infuriated citizenry criticized police as too quick to pull the trigger.

Last month, hundreds of protesters gathered in downtown Louisville to march when a Missouri grand jury declined to indict the white officer who shot Brown. Other vigils and demonstrations have taken over courtyards, events and sidewalks across town. For a month, activists have gathered every Monday afternoon outside the police department, accusing the police of brutality and racial profiling.

"No justice, no peace. No racist police," they chant.

"The police have lost our trust," said Chanelle Helm, a board member of the Kentucky Alliance Against Racist and Political Oppression. She pointed to the increasing amount of military equipment filtering to police across the country as an indication of an ideological shift in policing, one that has pitted officers against citizens, particularly young black men.

Of the five people killed in Louisville this year, two were African-American men: Tracy McCraw, 25, and John Jolley Jr., 28. Two were white men: Albert William Keyes, 53, and William Chad Mattingly, 38. And the other was a black woman: Tracy Wade, 39.

As the national debate intensified in late summer, Louisville Metro Councilwoman Attica Scott penned an open letter in The Courier-Journal to her teenage son, warning of police officers' "license to kill unarmed black teens."

"We need to have 'the talk' with our police departments," she wrote. "We are tired ofpaying you to kill our children."

Louisville Metro Police Sgt. Dave Mutchler, president of the River City Fraternal Order of Police, blasted her column as "insulting, untrue and vile."

"If you look at the atmosphere right now, we have people condemning every police officer in the United States. We're all racists, we want to kill people, we want to hurt people," Mutchler said. "That's a ridiculous way of thinking and not based on any fact or evidence. And it's not fair. If the police were to categorize a group of people like that, we would be demonized. And we should be."

A Courier-Journal analysis of police shootings in Louisville over the past 10 years suggests a complex relationship between police shootings and race. While police fire at African-Americans more often than whites, their encounters with Caucasians are more often deadly.

Between 2005 and 2014, Louisville officers fired their weapons in 59 instances - at two people in two of the encounters - for a total of 61 people shot or shot at.

Nearly half involved black men and 38 percent involved white men. White and black women were each the targets of 5 percent of shootings, and Hispanic men accounted for 3 percent.

Eighteen of them died. Of those, 10, or 56 percent, were white men. Seven, or 39 percent, were black men, and one was a black woman. The average age of those killed was 33.9.

About 71 percent of Louisville's overall population is white, and 23 percent is black, according to census data. The median age is 38.5.

Each of the people fatally shot by officers was armed, police say. Eleven threatened or shot at officers with guns, according to police. Two had fake guns police believed were real, three had knives, one was armed with a hammer and another used a car as a weapon, police said.

Non-fatal shootings are clustered in predominately black West End neighborhoods, while the fatal shootings are more evenly spread throughout the city, largely in the western and southern stretches.

"I'm not sure what it means, but it means something and as a community we need to look at what's going on," said Scott, the councilwoman. "It seems like we're paralyzed in holding police accountable. We're supposed to accept it and move on. And people aren't going to do that anymore."

Police Chief Steve Conrad said he believes it is too simplistic for the conversation about policing and violence to focus solely on race.

"I understand the power of implicit bias," he said. "But I don't know that race and gender can play much ofa role in that fraction of a second that officer has to make a decision they're going to live with the rest of their life."

Conrad emphasized that fatal police encounters remain rare. The Louisville Metro Police Department averages around a half-million interactions with the public each year and arrests more than 33,000, Conrad said.

Mutchler pointed to what he believes has been largely overlooked in the recent rage over police killings: Society opted to give police guns and send them into situations no one else wants to deal with. Sometimes, all they can do is react, he said.

The recent fury over police-involved shootings has reignited the push for all officers to be equipped with body cameras, to capture the truth behind how a life ended, said Helm, with the Kentucky Alliance Against Racist and Political Oppression. A pilot program is expected to begin next summer, and the entire force will likely not be equipped until June 2016.

Advocacy groups also call for federal oversight and a citizens' review board, each charged to independently investigate every deadly police encounter, said Carla Wallace, who heads the organization Showing Up for Racial Justice that staged a protest this month outside the federal courthouse downtown.

The call began in the late 1990s, after a series of high-profile police shootings.

In 1999, two officers fired 22 rounds into a stolen vehicle, killing the 18-year-old driver, Desmond Rudolph. Three years later, 50-year-old James Earl Taylor was shot 11 times after he was handcuffed. The officers said he'd lunged at them with a box-cutter type knife, despite the restraints. And in 2004, Officer McKenzie Mattingly shot 19-year-old Michael Newby in the back during an undercover drug buy gone bad. Mattingly was fired and indicted, though a jury acquitted him of the charges.

After a hard-fought battle, the city established a civilian review board. It was challenged by the Fraternal Order of Police and bounced through the appeals process. By then, city-county merger was in the works and old ordinances died if they weren't re-established. The review board ordinance never was.

It was replaced by the Citizen's Commission on Police Accountability, a 10-member board appointed by the mayor. It does not have investigative powers. Instead, it reviews the police department's internal investigation, evaluates if it was thorough and notes if there were gaps in policy or training that might have prevented the killing.

Wallace and Helm said the community deserves a board selected by the people, empowered to independently investigate allegations of police abuses, particularly those that claim a life.

"We need independent eyes looking at these fatalities," said Helm, who questions whether the system in place can impartially decide whether lethal force was needed. "The status quo is that the police are policing themselves, and that's not an adequate investigation."

Conrad said he's not opposed to civilian oversight, though he believes there would be legal difficulties in establishing it. The state law commonly called the Police Officer's Bill of Rights holds that a non-governmental agency cannot compel an officer to give a statement, and that would require state legislation to change. The department contract with the union, in effect until 2018, includes the same language.

All police shootings are now investigated by the Public Integrity Unit within the police department. The investigation is turned over to the Commonwealth's Attorney for a decision on whether to pursue charges.

Of the 59 incidents over the last decade, only one has resulted in criminal charges: Detective Chauncey Carthan, off-duty, allegedly drunk while driving his unmarked police vehicle, stopped a man and ordered him out of the car. The two men struggled, and Carthan allegedly shot him through the thigh, then stood over him with his gun still pointed. Carthan is awaiting trial on charges of drunken driving, wanton endangerment and official misconduct.

But all other officers involved in shootings between 2005 and 2014 have been exonerated by the commonwealth's attorney.

"Even though it might have come out justifiable, a lot of times the shots could have been avoided," said the Rev. Milton Seymore, who runs the Justice Resource Center. The center criticized the investigation process as a means to justify officers' actions.

Two of the five fatal shootings in Louisville this year have already been determined justified.

Keyes, a fugitive bank robber, was shot dead by Jefferson County Sheriff's deputies on March 11 after a chase. Keyes finally stopped in a parking lot off Poplar Level Road. He scrawled "can't take the world no more to much pain" on a cardboard box. Then he stepped out of his truck, wielding a pocket knife, and charged at the deputies surrounding him. Deputies Ben Bryant and Lawrence Elery shot him.

A witness told investigators that it looked like he "almost wanted it to happen."

Two weeks later, a man named Tracy McCraw allegedly robbed a man at gunpoint on Melody Acres Lane, and fired two shots at him as he tried to run away. Louisville Metro Police Officers Brad Schuhmann and Michael McLaurine found McCraw nearby and he fled, firing at the officers behind him. Both Schuhmann and McLaurine returned fire; McCraw was hit six times in the back.

"Law enforcement officers are required to defend themselves and others when confronted with lethal force," Mark Miller, first assistant to the Jefferson County Commonwealth's Attorney, wrote in his letter clearing the officers.

The final three killings remain under investigation. Police said each had a gun.

On the night of Sept. 23, police were called to Esquire Alley to check on a domestic disturbance. There, Metro Police Officer Marc Christiansen encountered 28-year-old John Jolley Jr., a father of five, in an argument with his girlfriend. Police say that Jolley approached the officer with a .45-caliber pistol in hand. Police say there were "some signs" he pointed it at Christiansen and the officer fired eight rounds, striking Jolley in the torso and head.

Jolley's sister, Lanita Shields, acknowledges she wasn't there that night, but finds it difficult to believe her brother, who worked two full-time jobs as a forklift operator and had never been in trouble, pointed a gun at an officer.

He didn't do drugs or drink, she said. He took care of his children and his mother.

As she waits for the conclusion of the police inquiry, Shields has embarked on her own investigation. She hung fliers in the neighborhood, asking anyone who saw anything that night to call her. No one has. She inquired at nearby businesses if they had surveillance cameras that might have captured the shooting. No one did.

"I haven't cried, there's something in my heart that's not allowing me to break down yet, not knowing what the outcome is going to," she said. "I hope it's fair, I hope it's honest, I hope justice is going to be served. I don't want this to happen to anybody else."

A week after Jolley's death, Tracy Wade, 39, was killed by Louisville Metro SWAT team members after a bizarre eight-hour standoff at her home on Roaming Plains Court. Officers went there that morning to serve a warrant for violating her probation on old identify theft and forgery charges, according to police. She told them she had a gun and her baby inside. Officers set up a perimeter and tried, according to police, to coax her out for eight hours. Around 11 p.m., police say she agreed to surrender. As the SWAT team approached the house to meet her, she allegedly pointed a gun at them. They opened fire, hitting her multiple times.

Her husband declined to comment.

Less than a month after that, 38-year-old William Chad Mattingly was stopped in a vehicle with four other people on Glen Hill Manor Drive in Valley Station. Police say he jumped out of the car, ran and fired a shot at officers behind him as he fled. Officers Rondall Carpenter and Skylar Graudick returned fire, striking him multiple times.

Civil rights advocates blame, in part, the intrinsic divide between police and the community.

A University of Louisville study found recently that black drivers are twice as likely to be searched and arrested than white drivers stopped by Louisville police. A USA Today analysis of FBI data determined that African-Americas are arrested at a rate two to three times more than whites.

Conrad and Scott agree on one thing: the community needs to come together to offer solutions. Hundreds packed into a room at the Urban League Tuesday night for a city-hosted discussion about race and policing. They told the police chief the black community feels under siege, and he promised to work with them to build a better department.

"We're in a dark era, it's a dog-eat-dog world," the Rev. Charles Elliott Jr., a Louisville civil rights activist for 50 years, recently said. "We need to teach our children to respect authority. And we need to teach police to treat black boys and black girls like they would want somebody to treat their own children."