Members of a Metro Council committee tasked with oversight of the government voted unanimously Tuesday to move forward with an investigation into the administration of Mayor Greg Fischer.
The order approved by the 11-member committee describes the investigation as focusing on “the actions and inaction of the administration surrounding the death of Breonna Taylor, the death of David McAtee, and related protests in Louisville Metro.”
Both Taylor and McAtee were Black and killed by law enforcement. Taylor’s death — in March, as police were serving a warrant at her apartment — has sparked weeks of protests.
Councilwoman Donna Purvis (D-5), the only Black member of the committee, said they had made a promise to the community to investigate what factors contributed to Taylor’s and McAtee’s deaths.
“Please understand that they feel that this administration is playing games with them. As you all see, these people are not playing,” she said. “We need to provide them with the facts, we need to provide them with answers. No matter what comes out of it, but we owe this to them.”
The document lays out a broad potential investigation into issues including the steps members of Fischer’s administration and the Louisville Metro Police Department did or did not take related to Taylor’s shooting death; “any shortcomings” in police training, policy or control systems that led to the warrant executed the night Taylor was killed; and the official response to protests over the last month and a half related to her killing.
Committee members appeared to agree that they would likely focus first on how the administration and police have reacted to protesters, given that such a course may not interfere with the ongoing criminal investigations by the Kentucky Attorney General and the FBI.
The order also referenced the authority of the chair of the Government Oversight and Audit Committee chair — currently Brent Ackerson (D-26) — to “issue subpoenas and compel testimony.”
Despite lengthy discussion, the committee elected not to immediately pursue subpoenas, instead settling on inviting key figures such as interim police chief Robert Schroeder, former chief Steve Conrad and Chief of Public Services Amy Hess to testify.
Fischer fired Conrad last month after learning officers involved in the incident leading to local barbecue owner David McAtee’s killing did not wear or did not activate their body cameras. (Although LMPD officers fired their weapons at McAtee after they say the restaurant owner fired first, a later investigation determined McAtee was killed by a bullet from a National Guard member.) Conrad had previously announced plans to retire at the end of June, following outcry over the killing of Taylor.
Debate Over Subpoenas
Councilman Ackerson said testimony acquired by subpoenas could help guide the committee to request the right documents and records to further the investigation.
“It’s going to be us as a body going through documents and hearing the truth, the good, the bad and the ugly,” he said.
But council members including Bill Hollander (D-9) said that could potentially be achieved by inviting government officials to speak with the committee, rather than compelling them to. He described using legislative subpoenas before inviting the person in question as “completely unprecedented.”
Speakers invited to address the committee could be required to do so under oath, legal counsel Jonathan Ricketts said.
For councilman Rick Blackwell (D-12), that was sufficient.
“If we don’t need a subpoena for them to be under oath, then I think the subpoena’s probably unnecessary,” he said. “If they refuse (the invitation), then we go down…that road, but otherwise we get them in and we have them take and oath and go from there.”
On the other hand, councilwoman Marilyn Parker (R-18) expressed support for issuing subpoenas.
“I am for all the subpoena power that we possibly can get that we think is pertinent,” because there are many questions about how the law is being applied during protests, she said.
Council members said last month they would pursue an investigation into Fischer’s actions and decisions leading up to and since the killing of Breonna Taylor by police in her home in March.
They followed that up with a broad demand for documents related to Taylor’s killing, as well as the Vision Russell plan. That came after Sam Aguiar, a lawyer for Taylor’s family, alleged in a court filing that the raid on her home was linked to a city plan to gentrify the neighborhood where her ex-boyfriend, who was a focus of the drug investigation that night, lived.
Fischer has denied that accusation.
Ahead of the Tuesday evening vote, Fischer questioned the “threat” of subpoenas in a press release from his office.
“I’m not clear on why Council would need to issue subpoenas, since we have never declined to make Metro employees available for council and committee meetings, nor declined to provide any data that we’re able to provide,” he said, according to the release. “All Council has to do is ask, and we’ll provide what we’re able to release.”
He again mentioned the ongoing investigations into Taylor’s shooting death — there are currently active investigations by Attorney General Cameron and the FBI — that could lead to criminal prosecutions of the officers who shot at her. Federal lawmakers called on the Department of Justice to investigate, too. He said Metro could not release documents relevant to those investigations because the attorney general’s office and FBI have asked the city not to, in order to protect their investigations.
The mayor’s office shared in the press release two brief documents related to the development activities targeting Elliott Ave., which was the center of the drug investigation that led police to Taylor’s apartment, miles away. One was a timeline of actions related to the main address targeted in that investigation, 2424 Elliott Ave. The other describes the “Elliott Ave. Project,” and addresses some details alleged by Aguiar in last week’s court filing.
Caitlin Bowling, a spokeswoman for economic development agency Louisville Forward, confirmed those documents were all that was sent to council.