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Ky. Senate Leader Working on Bill Related to No-Knock Warrants

After a statewide outcry over the use of no-knock warrants in Kentucky following the shooting death of Breonna Taylor in Louisville at the hands of police there, Senate President Robert Stivers (R-Manchester) says he’s working on a bill to regulate the use of such warrants.

“This would not allow a no-knock warrant to be a standalone use or tool for police officers,” Stivers said during Tuesday's meeting of the Interim Joint Committee on Local Government.

A no-knock warrant allows law enforcement officers to enter a property without announcing their presence. Stivers noted these are typically used in situations where it is considered dangerous for law enforcement's presence to be known.

The bill deals with an issue that has gained much attention since Taylor, a 26-year old EMT from Louisville, was shot and killed during the execution of a no-knock warrant in connection to a narcotics investigation on March 13. When officers entered her home unannounced, her boyfriend shot at officers thinking they were intruders. One officer was injured during the incident, but charges against the boyfriend in relation to the shooting of the officer have been dismissed. No drugs were found in the home.

Taylor’s death has led to statewide and nationwide protests calling for the ban of no-knock warrants and police reform.

Stivers added he’s consulted many different groups, including the Kentucky Association of Police Chiefs and the Kentucky Sheriffs’ Association. He said he’s also read many articles and manuals on how to use certain investigative tools to aid him in crafting this bill, which he hopes to have a draft available for review soon.

Stivers noted there are some situations where no-knock warrants are needed, but those situations are rare and officers seeking a no-knock warrant should have to follow a certain list of guidelines in obtaining and executing them.

Stivers said the bill bans the use of standalone no-knock search warrants and law enforcement agencies would have to use it as a secondary tool alongside an arrest warrant or any other type of search warrant.

The bill’s draft also calls for no-knock warrants to be conducted by those who are trained in handling tactical situations, such as a SWAT team, Stivers said.

Stivers added a supervisor would be required to sign-off on its use. The legislation also calls for judges to certify that the application has not been presented to any other judge.

As for liability, Stivers said there should be entity and individual liability if a no-knock warrant is improperly obtained and executed.

“But where it is specific and distinct, that you can show someone was willful, wanton or grossly negligent in obtaining warrants (or) have falsified applications for warrants, then that individual should be specifically held, in this instance, individually liable,” Stivers said.

In discussing civil and criminal penalties, Stivers said that is something that will require further discussion with the Interim Joint Committee on Judiciary.

Representatives of the Kentucky Association of Police Chiefs and Kentucky Sheriffs’ Association also shared their thoughts on no-knock warrants during Tuesday’s meeting.

“No-knock search warrants should not be used for purposes to recover property, drugs or anything like that,” said Art Ealum, chief of the Owensboro Police Department and president of the Kentucky Association of Chiefs of Police.

Ealum added no-knock warrants should only be used in extreme circumstances, such as to prevent the loss of human life during a hostage situation.

Ealum said the association would refrain from expressing an opinion on the bill Stivers is working on until they are able to review the piece of legislation.

“We have had the opportunity to work with President Stivers and meet with him, and (we) anxiously await to see the bill,” said Shawn Butler, executive director of the Kentucky Association of Chiefs of Police. “But I would tell you, in theory, we support everything he has discussed.”

Butler noted that in surveying the association’s members, no-knock warrants are rarely, if ever, used.

Daviess County Sheriff Keith Cain, of the Kentucky Sheriffs' Association, said across Kentucky’s 120 sheriff’s departments, many do not use no-knock warrants.

“I did an informal survey in preparation for this testimony today,” Cain said. “I spoke with a number of my peers and with sheriffs across Kentucky and I could not find one that would endorse their use. Not one.”

While Cain cannot think of any exceptions where a no-knock warrant should be used, he believes the exceptions can be clearly laid out in Stivers’s bill.

During his testimony to the committee, Stivers did not say when a draft of the bill would be completed but did note the bill is already nine to 10 pages in length.

The next time the Interim Joint Committee on Local Government will meet will be at 12:30 p.m. on Aug. 27 at the Fair and Exposition Center in Louisville.

From the Legislative Research Commission

Photo: Sen. Robert Stivers (LRC)

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