Community

Lawyers for the family of Breonna Taylor allege in a new court filing that the raid that led to her fatal shooting by police was motivated by the city’s desire to redevelop a block in the Russell neighborhood where her ex-boyfriend lived.

In an amended complaint, the lawyers claimed “the Defendants raided Breonna Taylor’s home due to a reckless police operation motivated by a need to get a street cleared for a real estate development project.”

But a city official said that narrative is not accurate.

“Our amended complaint creates no narrative, it just lays it out,” attorney Sam Aguiar told WFPL News. He is one of the lawyers representing Taylor’s mother Tamika Palmer in a civil suit against the three officers who shot at Taylor.

The 31-page document, filed Sunday, includes six pages detailing allegations about the city’s plan to redevelop the 2400 block of Elliott Ave. that led to aggressive policing and, subsequently, Taylor’s killing. The filing presents only one side and does not qualify as evidence.

“It’s the first piece of the puzzle that leads to Breonna dying,” he said. “And there are a lot of pieces of the puzzle.”

He said he has no problem with redeveloping west Louisville, where the Russell neighborhood is located. His problem is with using aggressive policing to further that development.

Taylor, a 26-year-old Black woman, was killed after midnight on March 13 by Louisville Metro Police Department officers acting on a search warrant as part of a larger narcotics investigation. No drugs were found in her home. Her case has gained national attention as an example of unjustified police violence against Black people.

A main target of the operation was Jamarcus Glover, Taylor’s ex-boyfriend, who lived at 2424 Elliott Ave. His home and two others on the block—2425 and 2526 Elliott Ave.—were included in a batch of search warrants on March 12, 2020. Another warrant for 2605 Muhammad Ali Blvd. was not executed. The final warrant, for 3003 Springfield Drive, miles away from the Elliott houses, was for Taylor’s apartment, the complaint said.

Aguiar alleged the city was planning to redevelop the 2400 block of Elliott Ave. as part of its Vision Russell project to revitalize the neighborhood, which includes some of the lowest median incomes in the state.

In the filing, Aguiar noted that several of the large planned projects in Russell, such as the Passport Health Plan corporate headquarters and a previous attempt to locate a Walmart in the neighborhood, had failed.

The relatively recent development push in Russell has been met with enthusiasm from those seeking improved economic conditions for the historically red-lined area. But others who worry about rising property values and subsequent displacement have raised concerns about gentrification.

“The Elliott real estate development plans have been mostly obscured from the public. But the plans are big. The development, according to plans, will bring in modern, futuristic looking homes, a cafe, an amphitheater, a state-of-the-art fitness center and more,” Aguiar wrote in the filing.

He argued that police executed the search at 2424 Elliott Ave., and subsequently at Taylor’s apartment, under pressure from city officials. The document cited Mayor Greg Fischer among those who, Aguiar claimed, had sought to redevelop that block, “so that a high dollar, legacy-creating real estate development could move forward.”

A spokeswoman for Fischer, Jean Porter, called Aguiar’s allegations, “outrageous … without foundation or supporting facts,” in a statement.

“They are insulting to the neighborhood members of the Vision Russell initiative and all the people involved in the years of work being done to revitalize the neighborhoods of west Louisville,” she said.

Mary Ellen Wiederwohl, the chief of economic development agency Louisville Forward, said there are no set or published plans for the block. Options include a community land trust, which is a community-owned development tool used to provide affordable housing long-term, she said.

She said the goal is to provide clean, safe and affordable housing in partnership with community organizations.

“Elliott Ave. is a focus for us because, unfortunately, it has a high level of vacancy and abandonment in those properties,” she said.

Louisville Metro’s Landbank Authority acquired 2424 Elliott Ave. on June 5, according to public records. The Landbank Authority takes on and sells abandoned or vacant properties at relatively low-cost, hoping the buyers will rehabilitate them to usable condition, but that doesn’t always happen.

2424 Elliott Ave.

In late January, Louisville’s Department of Codes and Regulations notified the owner of 2424 Elliott Ave. that the property was to be cited as a public nuisance following reports of criminal activity there.

Weeks earlier, on Dec. 30, the Louisville Metro Police Department arrested Darreal Forest, Rayshawn Lee and Adrian Walker on drug and weapons charges following an investigation into that property at 2605 Muhammad Ali Blvd. Then on Jan. 3, police arrested Jamarcus Glover and Dominique Crenshaw on similar charges.

Gerald Happle, president of Law Mar Inc., which until recently owned 2424 Elliott Ave., responded to the public nuisance notice in a hand-written letter obtained by WFPL News. In the letter, Happle acknowledged the “seizure of guns, drugs and drug paraphernalia.” The letter is dated Jan. 29.

He wrote he had discussed the matter with the current occupants—whom he did not name—who said an inspection took place but that no arrests were made or illegal substances found.

Happle requested an extension to address the matter.

“If no agreement is reached we will of course file for eviction,” he wrote.

There is no public record of eviction notices filed against any of the men arrested in connection to the property in late December and early January.

The last paragraph of the letter asks, “Incidentally does the city have any program to purchase or accept donations of problem properties.”

Aguiar alleged Codes and Regulations was “tasked with conducting a joint investigation with PBI in efforts associated with the Elliott properties,” referring to LMPD’s Place Based Investigations Unit. The department describes PBI as focused on “identifying and disrupting crime place networks.” It is a part of the Criminal Interdiction Unit, which also includes the narcotics division.

This was all, Aguiar alleged, part of an increased effort to clear Elliott Ave. of residents to make way for the future development under pressure from Metro.

Screenshot

In the amended complaint, he also presented screenshots of futuristic architectural renderings created by the University of Kentucky as plans for the block.

Wiederwohl said the renderings were part of a student project that was not paid for by the city. She said Elliott Ave. was presented to students participating in the west Louisville studio run by the University’s College of Design as a potential design project.

Asked by WFPL if he believed the city planned to erect such buildings on Elliott Ave., Aguiar said he believed the city intends to do “very modern developments” there.

He emphasized his concern was inappropriately using police to clear the way for development.

“We don’t want to lose sight of the fact that, yes, this started with a police unit dedicated towards Elliott, but had they still done their job and done their job correctly, it doesn’t end with Breonna Taylor dying,” he said.

Wiederwohl said the Office of Community Development, which contains the Landbank Authority and is part of Louisville Forward, has a “strong working relationship” with LMPD but declined to elaborate. Representatives for LMPD did not respond to questions for this story, including one regarding its working relationship with the Office of Community Development. The department has previously declined to comment on the case, pending an ongoing investigation. LMPD rarely closes investigations into shootings by its officers.

Wiederwohl also said Law Mar donated the property. Happle did not respond to a request for comment.

The Landbank Authority acquired the property for “One Dollar ($1.00) , and other good and valuable consideration,” according to the deed. Records from the Property Value Administrator list the price as $17,160, which Louisville Forward spokeswoman Caitlin Bowling said is the value of the tax write-off for the donation.

Bowling said the property was not a target of acquisition by the Office of Community Development prior to its donation because it was occupied and there were no liens on it. She and Wiederwohl said Metro aims to take possession of vacant and abandoned properties.

This year, the city has issued two building permits for the 2400 block of Elliott Ave., for electrical repairs. Since 2018, the city has issued five demolition permits for properties on that block.

The Landbank now owns nearly two dozen properties on the two-block stretch between 24th and 26th Streets, according to records from the Jefferson County Property Value Administrator. That’s up from eight properties on those blocks in Sept. 2018.

In the court filing, Aguiar alleged members of LMPD’s Criminal Interdiction Division were “deliberately misled” to believe 2424 Elliott Ave. was home to “some of Louisville’s largest violent crime and drug rings and that accomplishing the objective was critical towards reducing crime and violence in Louisville.”

LMPD Detective Joshua Jaynes wrote in an affidavit seeking the warrants for the raids conducted on March 12 and 13 that 2424 Elliott Ave. was a “drug house.” Last month, Jaynes was placed on paid leave given the questions surrounding the warrants.

Other Allegations

In the amended complaint, Aguiar raised other concerns related to the police’s actions.

He alleged police recorded the time of the raid on Glover’s home at midnight, then later changed documents to suggest it took place at 12:40 a.m., around the time of the raid on Taylor’s apartment. He also claimed LMPD called off, then subsequently, inappropriately, decided to serve the Taylor warrant based on a desire to apprehend two subjects they did not find on Elliott Ave.

Aguiar described LMPD’s intelligence related to Taylor’s apartment as “poor.”

“LMPD’s decision to reassemble a team to hit Springfield, despite having already apprehended (Jamarcus Glover), was unreasonable, sloppy, unlawful and without probable cause,” he wrote.

One of the three officers who fired at Taylor, Brett Hankison, was fired by LMPD last month over his actions during the raid. He is appealing that decision. Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly and officer Myles Cosgrove remain on paid leave.

They fired their weapons in response to a warning shot from Taylor’s boyfriend Kenneth Walker, who was with her that night. He told police he and Taylor did not know who was entering the apartment by force and shot at them, believing them to be intruders.

Walker was initially charged with first degree assault and attempting to murder a police officer. Those charges were dropped.

Taylor’s family and their supporters have been consistent in their calls for all three officers to be fired, and to be charged for killing her.

Kentucky’s Attorney General Daniel Cameron is reviewing LMPD’s internal investigation to consider whether to bring criminal charges. The FBI is conducting its own investigation into the fatal shooting.

The civil suit alleges wrongful death, excessive force and negligence, and calls for punitive damages to be awarded to Taylor’s family.

Amina Elahi is WFPL's City Reporter.