Lexington is moving closer to banning no-knock warrants.
A committee of the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council voted Tuesday to ban no-knock warrants, amid mounting pressure from Black faith leaders and others to do away with the practice that led to the death of Breonna Taylor in Louisville in March 2020.
The ordinance would ban no-knock warrants and would also set out by ordinance guidelines for serving all warrants including making sure all police officers that serve warrants have body-worn cameras.
The full council will likely take its first vote on the proposed ban in early June. If passed, the ordinance would not take effect until July 1. That's when all Lexington police officers will have body-worn cameras.
No committee member voted against the ordinance on Tuesday.
Lexington-Fayette Urban County Councilman Preston Worley said the vote to ban no-knock warrants was not a criticism of the Lexington Police Department.
"This ordinance is in no-way a criticism or indictment of our chief or our police department," Worley said. The fact that Lexington has rarely used no-knock warrants in recent years shows that no-knock warrants may no longer be used as they once were.
Mayor Linda Gorton issued a moratorium on no-knock warrants in June but allowed for their use in life-or-death situations. Last summer the council began debate on no-knock warrants, which allows police to enter a home or business without knocking. The council hit pause on those deliberations to determine if the state legislature was going to enact a state-wide ban during the legislative session this winter.
Earlier this year, the General Assembly passed Senate Bill 4, which limits the use of no-knock warrants but does not do away with the practice.
In April, area Black faith leaders pressed city officials to do away with the practice all together — no exceptions. Exceptions allow for subjectivity and that subjectivity often works against communities of color, the Black Faith leaders argued.
The group sent letters to Gorton and the 15-member council in late April demanding to know their stance on the issue by May 15.
Lexington police have argued no-knock warrants are rarely used in Lexington but are still an important tool that keep police and suspects safe.
Lexington Police Chief Lawrence Weathers said no-knock warrants have only been served four times in five years. Those warrants were for violent offenders. No police officer or suspect was hurt during the execution of those no-knock warrants, he argued Tuesday. No-knock warrants in other cities have largely been used to gather evidence, particularly in drug cases. But that's not how they are used in Lexington, Weathers said.
"You need to look at my experience, my staff's experience and stop focusing on what happened somewhere else," Weathers argued Tuesday. What happened to Taylor was the exception, not the norm, he said.
But Lexington has had its own problems serving no-knock warrants. In 2015, police raided the wrong home during the execution of a no-knock warrant. Police put the innocent homeowner in handcuffs and busted the homeowners' door. The city paid the homeowners $100,000, according to documents the Lexington Herald-Leader obtained through an Open Records Act request. Police changed how they executed no-knock warrants after the 2015 incident.
Louisville passed a ban on no-knock warrants in June 2020 in the wake of Taylor's death during a botched no-knock raid. Oregon, Florida and Virginia have state-wide no-knock warrant bans.(c)2021 the Lexington Herald-Leader (Lexington, Ky.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.