Tuesday, March 13, 2001

Probe of police not done




The Associated Press

        LOUISVILLE — Federal officials have yet to begin a formal investigation of Louisville police that was requested nearly a year ago by a lawmaker who complained of “a pattern of unlawful conduct” by police.

        State Rep. Paul Bather filed a 25-page complaint in May that accused Louisville police of abusing citizens, especially minorities.

        Louisville Police Chief Greg Smith said last week he has not heard from the U.S. Justice Department. Justice officials have told the Courier-Journal that there is no investigation into the Louisville Division of Police and confirmed only that they have an open file on the department.

        After filing his complaint, Mr. Bather received a response dated June 20 from Justice stating it had begun “considering information from other sources to determine whether we should initiate a civil investigation of the Louisville Police Department.”

        But with the change in administrations in Washington, it has become difficult to predict what ultimately will become of the complaint, Chief Smith said.

        “We have said all along we have nothing to hide and we would cooperate fully,” Chief Smith said. “I just don't know what's going to happen.”

        Attorney General John Ashcroft has said he will continue to enforce a 1994 law that allows the federal government to sue local police departments to initiate changes. But his boss, President Bush, said during the campaign that he doesn't believe the Justice Department should function as a separate internal-affairs division.

        Under the 1994 law, the Justice Department can sue law-enforcement agencies for changes if it determines there is a “pattern or practice” of police violating the civil rights of citizens. Last year the Justice Department was investigating about a dozen law-enforcement agencies.

        Incidents cited in Mr. Bather's complaint included the May 13, 1999, fatal shooting of Desmond Rudolph, who tried to flee from Louisville police officers in a stolen vehicle through an alley.

        Police officers said they fired shots because they feared Mr. Rudolph was about to run them down.

        Although there is no federal investigation into his complaint, Mr. Bather said he is not discouraged. He said it doesn't matter who is attorney general. “There's a federal law that mandates these things” rather than “the whim of the Justice Department,” Mr. Bather said.

       



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