UPDATED JULY 07, 2021 3:17 PM
Emma Anderson cries after speaking to the council in support of the ban of no-knock warrants at the Lexington Fayette Urban County Council meeting on June 24, 2021. Gabi Broekema GBROEKEMA@HERALD-LEADER.COM
Lexington is now the second Kentucky city to ban no-knock warrants after a majority of council members voted for the measure and Mayor Linda Gorton signed the ordinance into law Friday.
The Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council voted 10 to 5 Thursday night to ban no-knock warrants after more than three hours of debate and pleas from supporters in attendance.
The ordinance also sets out requirements — officers must wear body-worn cameras among other changes — for how knock-and-announce warrants are executed.
Gorton said Friday morning she respected the will of the council and the people who spoke in favor of the ban and did not veto the ordinance. Gorton has supported limited use of no-knock warrants.
Gorton had put a moratorium on no-knocks in June 2020 after Louisville police killed Breonna Taylor during a no-knock raid in March 2020. That moratorium required her sign-off before a no-knock warrant could be used.
“This is democracy in action, and I’m very proud of our city as we have all taken the time to listen,” Gorton said of Thursday’s vote. She also said it was time to move past the divisiveness.
“Now it’s time for our city to come together. Let’s recognize that no-knock warrants are nonpartisan. They do not define whether you support racial justice or not. They do not define whether you are for the police or not.”
The final vote came after more than a year of debate, which became more heated as the council inched closer to Thursday night.
Rev. Clark Williams, one of several Black faith leaders who have pushed for more than a year for a ban, said after the vote: “I’m relieved that first of all, we got to vote on what we’ve been talking about all year. It’s very sobering it was this hard to get a vote. We’re happy with the outcomes, but it shows us we have a lot more work to do.”
The Lexington Fraternal Order of Police Bluegrass Lodge 4, which represents Lexington police officers, resumed its attacks on council members who voted for the ban after Thursday’s action. The police union also criticized council members who voted to put the ordinance on the council’s meeting agenda in early June.
“These council members voted against the safety of our officers and the community tonight,” the Fraternal Order of Police said in a Facebook post.
The final vote on the ban came after a substitute amendment — that would have added more restrictions on how no-knock warrants can be used — was defeated by an 8 to 7 vote.
Like the moratorium, the failed substitute amendment would have allowed no-knock warrants but required additional sign-offs from the mayor, commissioner of public safety, a commonwealth attorney or county attorney. In addition, a no-knock warrant could not have been used solely to preserve and secure evidence.
Councilman Preston Worley made the motion for the substitute ordinance but only after Councilman James Brown asked council members pushing the substitute to introduce it prior to public comment so those in attendance would have the opportunity to weigh in on the changes.
The substitution also mirrored a newly-passed state law restricting the hours a warrant can be served from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.
‘THIS IS BAIT AND SWITCH’
Before the council’s vote Thursday, more than 30 people spoke in favor of the total ban. Several said they were angry that there was a last-minute substitute proposed.
“This is an eleventh-hour bait and switch,” said Reva English Brown. Emma Anderson agreed. “I can’t even articulate how upset I am that you brought this forward,” she said.
DeBraun Thomas, the co-founder of Take Back Cheapside, who successfully fought to have two Confederate statues removed from the former Fayette County courthouse in 2017, said he now suffers from mental health issues from that effort. “You haven’t seen me because it’s been very difficult,” Thomas said.
Thomas said he supports the original ban and urged the council not to pass the substitute.
“We must pass this ordinance without amendments,” Thomas said. “No one should have to die for us to have this same conversation over and over again.”
Rev. Joseph Owens of Shiloh Baptist Church said he was disappointed in the last-minute change. Owens is a member of a group of Black ministers who has pushed for the no-knock ban.
“I’m disturbed by these shenanigans,” Owens said. “We are waiting. We are watching ... how you respond.”
Roberta Burns said the council should ban no-knock warrants because they conflict with the state castle doctrine, which allows a homeowner to shoot someone if they are breaking into the home.
“Please, pass a complete ban,” Burns said.
Mark Swanson, a former council member, said there is a cost for the continued use of no-knock warrants: “The trust of the Black community.” At the same time, the Lexington Police Department has also said it cannot solve skyrocketing shootings and murders because people will not come forward with information, he said.
Watering down the no-knock warrant ban would further erode trust between police and the community, Swanson said.
Russell Allen, co-founder of Take Back Cheapside, said the removal of those Confederate statues felt good at the time but now it feels like a “hollow moment.”
“This city would be lying to itself saying it’s a good city if it can’t do this simple thing,” Allen said. “It’s like a spit in the face.”
Williams said the substitute ordinance was so watered down it did very little.
“You are working too hard to do nothing,” he said.
“This is nothing, and we are not fooled,” Williams said. “Don’t vote for this nothing amendment.”
Williams also said he had been told people support no-knock warrants.
“Where are they?” Williams said.
No one on Thursday spoke in favor of the substitute amendment or spoke in favor of the continued use of no-knock warrants.
Lexington Police Chief Lawrence Weathers had urged the council not to enact the no-knock ban. Lexington police are highly trained, rarely use no-knock warrants and need access to no-knock warrants in limited circumstances, he had maintained.
It’s not fair to say that because police serving no-knock warrants have killed people in other cities, such as in Louisville, the same will happen in Lexington, Weathers said previously.
Weathers told the council Thursday night that if the community and the council voted to ban no-knock warrants, he would follow their wishes.
“If banning no-knocks is what you want, I will do it,” Weathers said.
‘SHOW YOU CAN DO THE HARD THINGS, NOT JUST THE EASY THINGS’
Several council members said before the vote on the substitute ordinance that they were disappointed at the last-minute effort to put forward a new no-knock ordinance.
Those who have supported a ban on no-knock warrants were not given the language for the substitute until after 2 p.m. Thursday, council members said.
“To do this now, with this particular ordinance, is unacceptable,” said Councilwoman Hannah LeGris.
Councilwoman Liz Sheehan agreed. The council recently voted to make the Commission on Racial Justice and Equality permanent. It has also done other smaller things to address racial justice issues.
“This is your moment to show you are willing to do the hard things, not just the easy things,” Sheehan said.
Worley said he proposed the substitute ordinance as a middle ground and a way to get consensus on the issue.
“Compromise can be sought all the way to the last minute,” Worley said. “I believe extensive regulation...is more appropriate than an outright ban.”
Brown disagreed. Tighter restrictions on no-knock warrants are not what “the community has been asking for.”
The Lexington council voted 9 to 6 during a June 8 meeting to move the no-knock ordinance forward.
Councilwoman Susan Lamb, who voted against the ban on June 8, switched her vote Thursday after hearing from the public.
“I trust our police officers, but we need to do what’s best for our community,” Lamb said. “We need to pass the ban.”
Those who voted for the ban were LeGris, Sheehan, Brown, Lamb, Jennifer Reynolds, David Kloiber, Vice Mayor Steve Kay, Josh McCurn, Kathy Plomin, Chuck Ellinger.
Those who voted against the ban were Worley, Fred Brown, Whitney Elliott Baxter, Richard Moloney and Amanda Bledsoe.
This story was originally published June 24, 2021 9:52 PM.