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City of Louisville Agrees to Record-Breaking $12 Million Settlement Over Killing of Breonna Taylor

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  • Lawyers for the family Breonna Taylor reached a $12 million settlement with the City of Louisville in a wrongful death lawsuit. The payout is the largest Louisville has ever agreed to in a police misconduct suit.
  • Taylor, a 26-year-old EMT, was shot and killed in March after police forcibly entered her apartment to serve a warrant, firing numerous rounds.
  • In addition to the payout to Taylor’s family, the settlement also included several police reforms, like adding social workers to the police force, requiring commanding officers to review all search warrants, and creating an early warning system to identify red flag officers.
  • While Taylor’s family and their lawyers applauded the settlement, they also said it was just the first step in getting justice and called for criminal charges to be filed against the three officers involved in Taylor’s death.

Breonna Taylor

Lawyers for the family of Breonna Taylor confirmed Tuesday that the City of Louisville had reached a historic $12 million settlement in a wrongful death suit brought by Taylor’s family.

Taylor was the 26-year-old woman who was shot and killed in her apartment by police serving a warrant earlier this year. The incident occurred just after midnight on March 13 when three Louisville Metro Police officers entered her apartment by force with a battering ram and fired multiple rounds. Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, said they were in bed when they heard someone pounding on their door. 

Walker claimed both he and Taylor repeatedly asked who was at the door, but the police failed to announce themselves. Believing the police to be an intruder, Walker fired, striking one of the officers in the leg. Police responded by firing several shots, hitting Taylor five times. One of the officers, Detective Brett Hankison, fired 10 shots blindly into the room.

The warrant officers were serving pertained to a narcotics investigation that involved two men who police believed were selling drugs out of a house 10 miles away. A judge had signed a warrant allowing officers to search Taylor’s apartment because police said they believed one of the men — who was an ex-boyfriend of hers — was using her apartment to receive packages.

Neither Taylor nor Walker had any prior drug arrests or convictions, and no drugs were found in the apartment.

While it was initially reported that police had a no-knock warrant — meaning they did not have to knock or announce themselves before entering — officials have since said that the orders were changed before the raid to “knock and announce,” which means police were in fact required to identify themselves.

Notably, police have said they knocked several times and announced themselves as officers with a warrant before they broke down the door, but their account has been heavily disputed. Taylor’s family, Walker, and multiple neighbors have all said police did not say who they were or that they were serving a warrant. 

Many others have also pointed to the fact that the police’s incident report had multiple errors. For instance, it listed Breonna’s injuries as “none” despite the fact that she was killed after being shot five times. It also claimed that officers did not force their way into the apartment, even though they used a battering ram. 

Taylor’s family filed the wrongful death lawsuit in April

Lawsuit and Settlement

The $12 million settlement for that suit was announced by Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer in a joint press conference with Taylor’s family and their lawyers on Tuesday. It is by far the largest amount ever paid by Louisville police in a police misconduct suit.

According to Ben Crump, one of the lawyers for Taylor’s family who spoke at the press conference, it is also the largest settlement ever paid out for a Black woman killed in a police-involved wrongful death suit and one of the largest amounts for any Black person killed in a police shooting in America.

In addition to that historic payment Mayor Fischer also announced that the city was enacting a number of police reforms as part of the settlement.

Among other measures, those reforms included:

  • Creating a program to include social workers in LMPD to provide assistance on certain police runs.
  • Requiring commanding officers to review all search warrants and other documents connected to them before an officer gets approval from a judge on them.
  • Implementing an early warning system that tracks all use of force incidents, citizen complaints, investigations, and other factors to identify officers with red flags.
  • Creating a housing credit program to incentivize officers to live in certain low-income areas of the city as well as encouraging officers to perform two paid hours a week of community service to better connect police with the communities they serve.

The First Step

While both the settlement and the reforms were applauded by Taylor’s family and their lawyers, they also emphasized that these are just the first step.

Currently, none of the officers involved are facing criminal charges, but investigations by both the Kentucky attorney general and the Federal Bureau of Investigations are underway.

Two of the officers, Sergeant Jonathan Mattingly and Officer Myles Cosgrove, have been placed on administrative leave, and Detective Hankinson was fired in June. Hankison has reportedly appealed his firing, but the case was delayed until the criminal investigation is complete.

City officials have also made some changes, including banning no-knock warrants, as well as requiring all officers serving warrants to wear body cameras and other changes to the police department aimed at ensuring accountability and transparency.

However, many have called for more to be done, including Taylor’s family, who for months have been pushing for criminal charges against the officers.

“As significant as today is, it’s only the beginning of getting full justice for Breonna,” Taylor’s mother, Tamika Palmer said during Tuesday’s briefing.

“And with that being said, it’s time to move forward with the criminal charges because she deserves that and much more. Her beautiful spirit and personality is working with all of us on the ground, so please continue to say her name.”

Crump also echoed that sentiment, calling for the officers to be charged “immediately.”

“We want, at minimum, 2nd degree manslaughter charges,” he said. “We want full justice for Breonna Taylor. Not just partial justice.”

According to reports, a grand jury may hear the criminal case as soon as this week.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Associated Press) (The Louisville Courier-Journal)

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Supreme Court Sides With High School Cheerleader Punished for Cursing on Snapchat

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The justices ruled that the student’s year-long suspension from her school’s cheer team over an expletive-filled Snapchat was too severe because her post was not disruptive.


SCOTUS Rules in Free Speech Case

The Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that a Pennsylvania school district violated the First Amendment when it handed a cheerleader a year-long suspension from her team after she sent friends an expletive-filled Snapchat outside school grounds.

The case in question centered around a snap sent in 2017 by now-18-year-old Brandi Levy in which she expressed frustration at not making her high school’s varsity cheer squad. The snap, sent on a Saturday from a convenience store, shows Levy and a friend flipping off the camera with the caption: “F— school, f— softball, f— cheer, f— everything.” 

That post was sent to around 250 people, including other cheerleaders at her school. When her coaches were alerted to the post, they suspended her from cheerleading for a year.

Levy and her family, represented by lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union, sued the school district, arguing that it had no right to punish her for off-campus speech.

A federal appeals court agreed with that argument, ruling that schools could not regulate speech outside school grounds. That decision marked the first time that an appeals court had issued such a broad interpretation of the Supreme Court’s landmark 1969 student speech ruling.

In that case, SCOTUS allowed students to wear black armbands in protest of the Vietnam War, declaring that they do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.” 

The high court did specify that disruptive speech on school grounds could be punished.

Off-Campus Speech Questions Left Unresolved

In Wednesday’s decision, the justices agreed that Levy’s punishment was too severe because her speech did not meet the test of being disruptive. However, they did not uphold the appeals court decision that schools never have a role in disciplining students for off-campus speech.

“The school’s regulatory interests remain significant in some off-campus circumstances,” Justice Stephen Breyer wrote in the opinion for the court’s majority. “Thus, we do not now set forth a broad, highly general First Amendment rule stating just what counts as ‘off campus’ speech and whether or how ordinary First Amendment standards must give way off campus.”

Breyer also added that specific question would be left for “future cases.”

In the sole dissent, Justice Clarence Thomas objected to that approach, arguing that Levy’s language met the threshold for speech that is disruptive and thus can be regulated off-campus based on past precedent. His colleagues’ ruling, he wrote, “is untethered from anything stable, and courts (and schools) will almost certainly be at a loss as to what exactly the court’s opinion today means.”

Both opinions are significant because while the majority decision focused more narrowly on whether the speech, in this case, was disruptive, the justices appear to be opening up space for a case that centers more specifically around the power of schools to regulate student speech off-campus.

Still, Levy and the ACLU cheered the decision as a victory for student speech off-campus, despite the court’s lack of ruling on the subject.

“Young people need to have the ability to express themselves without worrying about being punished when they get to school,” Levy said in a statement.

“The school in this case asked the court to allow it to punish speech that it considered ‘disruptive,’ regardless of where it occurs,” ACLU’s legal director David Cole added in separate remarks. “If the court had accepted that argument, it would have put in peril all manner of young people’s speech, including their expression on politics, school operations, and general teen frustrations.”

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (NPR) (The Associated Press)

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Biden To Outline Actions Aimed at Combatting the Recent Rise in Violent Crime and Gun Violence

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The president’s orders come the same day the Associated Press released data showing that a record number of gun sales were stopped last year because of background checks. 


President Biden Issues Orders on Violent Crime Rise

President Biden will outline several actions on Wednesday that his administration plans to take to curb the recent rise in violent crime and gun violence. 

That includes tougher enforcement policies for federal gun control laws, as well as new guidelines for how cities and states can use COVID-19 relief funds to combat gun violence. For instance, those guidelines will allow for the hiring of more police officers, paying officers overtime, buying equipment, and funding additional “enforcement efforts.” 

Biden’s plan also includes investing in community-based intervention programs for both potential perpetrators and potential victims of gun violence and helping felons adjust to housing and work after leaving prison.

Background Checks Stop Record Number of Sales

Hours ahead of Biden’s announcement, the Associated Press reported that background checks blocked a record 300,000 gun sales last year, according to newly obtained FBI data provided by a nonprofit that advocates for gun control.

In fact, the numbers are staggering compared to previous years. For example, background checks that successfully blocked gun sales last year amounted to nearly twice that of 2019. 

Notably, about 42% of those blocked sales were explicitly because would-be buyers had felony convictions on their records. 

Still, it’s important to note that these stats don’t necessarily mean less guns are being successfully bought. While the rate of barred buyers has increased somewhat from around 0.6% to 0.8% since 2018, the U.S. also saw a record number of gun sales last year.

Nearly 23 million guns were bought in 2020 alone, according to the consulting firm Small Arms Analytics. Alongside that record, the country saw another record when it came to the rate of gun violence. 

Because of that, Everytown for Gun Safety — the group that gave the AP the new background check data — reiterated its belief in the need for stronger gun control regulation.

“There’s no question that background checks work, but the system is working overtime to prevent a record number of people with dangerous prohibitors from being able to buy firearms,” Sarah Burd-Sharps, the group’s director of research, told the AP. “The loopholes in the law allow people to avoid the system, even if they just meet online or at a gun show for the first time.” 

Unsurprisingly, gun rights advocates have pushed against that idea, and some have even pushed against this new data on background checks. As Alan Gottlieb — founder of the group the Second Amendment Foundation — argued, the higher number of denials could be partially because of false positives.

“A day doesn’t go by that our office doesn’t get complaint calls from people who’ve been denied wrongly,” he told the AP.

See what others are saying: (USA Today) (Associated Press) (Reuters)

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California Plans Unprecedented $5.2 Billion Rent Forgiveness Program

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State lawmakers are also debating on whether to extend the eviction moratorium, which is set to end next week, to ensure that Californians are not evicted before their debts can be paid off by the state.


Rent Relief in the Works

The California State Legislature is in the final stages of negotiating an unprecedented $5.2 billion rent forgiveness program to pay off unpaid rent accumulated during the pandemic.

It is not entirely clear yet who would receive the money, which comes from an unexpected budget surplus and federal stimulus funds. After speaking to a top aide for Gov. Gavin Newsom (D), the Associated Press reported that the $5.2 billion figure would cover all rent.

However, the same aide told The New York Times that the state had federal funds “to help pay the rent of low-income people.”

The outlet also explicitly reported that the program “would be available to residents who earn no more than 80 percent of the median income in their area and who can show pandemic-related financial hardship.”

Newsom offered little clarity, retweeting multiple stories and posts on the matter, including The Times article as well as others that said “all” rent would be paid.

Regardless, the program would be the most generous rent forgiveness plan in American. Still, there remains an unresolved question of extending the statewide eviction moratorium that ends June 30.

Eviction Ban Complications

Starting the new program and distributing all the money will take some time, and California has been struggling to keep up with demand for more modest rent relief programs.

According to a report from the California Department Housing and Community Development, just $32 million of $490 million in requests for rental assistance through the end of May had been paid.

State legislators are debating extending the protections and are reportedly close to a deal, but nothing is set in stone yet.

Tenants rights groups say the move is necessary to ensure struggling Californians are not evicted before their debts can be paid off by the state, and some housing advocates want to keep the moratorium in place until employment has reached pre-pandemic levels.

Landlords, however, have said it is time to end the ban, pointing to the state’s rapid economic recovery, which added 495,000 new jobs since February, as well as Newsom lifting all restrictions on businesses last week. 

But according to Opportunity Insights, an economic tracker based at Harvard, while it is true that employment for middle- and high-wage jobs has now surpassed pre-pandemic levels, the rates for low-income workers are down nearly 40% since January of last year.

As a result, many of the people who have months or even a year of unpaid rent have barely been able to chip away at what they owe.

State Recovery Spurred by Revenue Surplus

Newsom’s new program comes as the governor has proposed a $100 billion recovery package — also drawing from the budget surplus and unspent federal funds — that would pour funds into numerous sectors including education, homelessness, and much more.

California is not the only state that has newfound reserves. According to The Times, at least 22 states have surplus revenue after pinching pennies during the pandemic. Some are still deciding what to do with the funding, but others have already begun to invest it into education, construction, the arts, and more.

While many economists have said these funds will be incredibly helpful tools to get economic recovery back on track and aid those hurt most by the pandemic, Republicans in Congress have argued to those surpluses should go towards paying for President Joe Biden’s infrastructure plan.

The Biden Administration and most Congressional Democrats have remained adamant that the states keep their extra funding to implement recovery-centered programs. White House spokeswoman Emilie Simons reiterated that belief Monday, telling reporters that state surpluses will not alter America’s infrastructure needs and emphasizing that many states are still struggling economically.

“This crisis has adversely impacted state and local governments, and that is not fully captured by one economic indicator,” she said.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Associated Press) (The Hill)

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