Louisville Names First Black Woman As Police Chief

Jacquelyn Gwinn-Villaroel leads a department that a federal probe found a pattern of violating Black residents’ civil rights.

Louisville’s interim police chief Jacquelyn Gwinn-Villaroel was named chief of the embattled department, making history as the first Black woman to serve permanently as the Louisville Metro Police Department’s chief.

At a press conference Thursday (July 20), Louisville Mayor Craig Greenberg said Gwinn-Villaroel was selected after a nationwide search, the Associated Press reports.

“This is a challenging job. And over the last few months, it’s become very clear that the best person to do this work is already on the job,” Greenberg stated.

The department has about 250 job vacancies. But the bigger challenge is cleaning up a police force that has a pattern of violating civil rights, conducting unlawful searches and discriminating against Black people and people with disabilities, a U.S. Department of Justice report released in March found.

The police killing of Breonna Taylor in 2020 prompted the investigation of the police department that is now under a federal consent decree to make reforms.

Feds Say Louisville Police Department Engaged In Racist Policing Pattern

“I stand here today on the shoulders of so many who paved the way for me and opened the doors,” Gwinn-Villaroel, 49, said at the press conference where she thanked the mayor for taking a “leap of faith” with her hiring.

Since Taylor’s death, which ignited nationwide protests, the department has seen several leadership changes.

Steve Conrad, who served eight years as police chief, was fired in June 2020 after two officers failed to activate their body cameras when they fatally shot popular Black barbeque eatery owner David McAtee, adding to the turmoil over Taylor’s killing, the Louisville Courier-Journal reported at the time of Conrad’s termination.

Gwinn-Villaroel is the fifth person to lead the department since Conrad was fired three years ago, according to The New York Times. Former interim chief Yvette Gentry became the first Black woman to serve in that role when she was hired in 2020.

The DOJ’s Civil Rights Division launched the pattern or practice investigation in April 2021. At that time, an LMPD leader told investigators that “Breonna Taylor was a symptom of problems that we have had for years,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said at a March 8 press conference when he announced the investigation’s findings.

Taylor, a 26-year-old Black emergency room technician, and her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, were in bed when officers executed a botched no-knock warrant on March 13, 2020. The couple was startled when officers, using a battering ram, broke down their door. Three officers fired shots after Walker, fearing a home invasion, shot an officer in the leg. Taylor was struck several times and died at the scene.

The police raid found no drugs at Taylor’s apartment, and the target of their investigation, her ex-boyfriend Jamarcus Glover, was already in custody at the time of the shooting. Former detective Kelly Hannah Goodlett later admitted in federal court that she and another officer falsified an affidavit to search Taylor’s home.

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