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Breonna Taylor’s mother to Michigan lawmakers: Ban police no-knock warrants

protest signs
Michigan lawmakers are considering reforms on several police activities, including no-knock warrants. Communities nationwide have banned no-knock deaths since March 2020, when Breonna Taylor was killed during a police raid at her apartment in Kentucky. (Ilze_Lucero / Shutterstock.com)

LANSING — Breonna Taylor’s mother and cousin joined the Michigan Legislative Black Caucus and other House Democrats on Tuesday to call for a series of police reforms, including new rules for the kind of no-knock warrant issued before the Kentucky woman’s death.

“It's necessary that we ban no-knock warrants so that no other parent has to receive the call that I received in the wee hours of the morning of March 13, 2020,” Tamika Palmer said in a Zoom press conference filmed at the House Office Building in Lansing. 

Michigan lawmakers must “create and pass laws and policies that encompass the equality and protection of all people,” added Tawanna Gordon, Taylor’s cousin. 

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“Laws that are free of loopholes that change who is qualified to receive these protections.”

Taylor, a 26-year-old African American, was killed when plainclothes Louisville officers forced entry into her apartment as part of an investigation into suspected drug dealing by her former boyfriend. Her new boyfriend opened fire on police, who then shot Taylor multiple times.

Her death sparked protests and fueled a national push for police reform that coalesced last year after a Minneapolis police officer murdered George Floyd. Michigan has not enacted any reforms, but communities including Louisville have banned no-knock warrants, which allow police to enter private premises without announcing their presence.

“No amount of drug seized is ever worth taking the life of someone,” Palmer said Tuesday.

Taylor’s family spoke in support of what Detroit Democrats and the Michigan Legislative Black Caucus are calling the “Justice for All” package. Sponsors said it mirrors some proposals introduced and under debate in the Republican-led Senate, which would not completely end no-knock warrants but would make it harder for police to obtain them.

Under the legislation debated Tuesday in the Senate Judiciary Committee, judges who write search warrants would need to specify whether officers can use force to enter a house, building or other location in the course of an investigation.

Officers executing a search warrant would also be required to wear a uniform or other clear indicator that they are police, consider whether a forceful entry is necessary and announce their presence before breaking down any door or window.

Michigan police chiefs who testified Tuesday offered support for some reforms but argued the no-knock warrant proposal could create too big of a burden for officers.

Northviille Public Safety Director Todd Muchler, legislative committee chair for the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police, said requiring pre-approval for use of force while executing a warrant could jeopardize investigations if a suspect denies officers entry.

That means police would need to “return to court to obtain permission to use force, which will allow the person time to possibly destroy valuable evidence, fortify the residence and plan the response, likely further endangering all involved,” he said. 

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel testified in support of the Senate legislation, arguing that limiting the use of no-knock warrants “to extreme circumstances” could protect both police officers and citizens, “especially as we see a rise in gun ownership.”

“This is not just about protecting the public,” she said. “It's protecting police officers as well.”

As Bridge reported last month, the Michigan Legislature has not finalized any legislative reforms in the year since Floyd’s death in Minneapolis despite the introduction of numerous bills, some of which had bipartisan support. 

Full details on the new House legislation was not immediately available, but Democratic Rep. Tenisha Yancey of Harper Woods said the package includes several bills that mirror the Senate reform package, which she helped work on. 

One notable distinction is that the House legislation would also eliminate qualified immunity for police officers who use “unreasonable physical force that results in severe injury or death,” said Rep. Felicia Brabec, D-Pittsfield Township. 

“Qualified immunity is a legal liability shield, and it makes it nearly impossible for officers who abuse their power or use unreasonable amounts of force to be held accountable,” Brabec said in a media conference attended by  House Minority Leader Donna Lasinski of Scio Township, Rep. Sarah Anthony of Lansing and several other Democratic lawmakers. 

House Speaker Jason Wentworth, a Farwell Republican and former military police officer, has not yet weighed on the reform bills but last month decried what he called an “insane” backlash against police officers who have “been beaten down in the media, and by politicians.”

Wentworth and other House Republicans have proposed $80 million in new funding to help police agencies recruit and retain officers.

Reform advocates contend that creating uniform rules for police conduct, boosting training and  requiring independent reviews of officer involved shootings will increase community trust and ultimately benefit law enforcement. 

Nessel, a Democrat, distanced herself from liberal activists who have called to "defund the police" in recent years, labeling it "the worst idea I've ever heard."

"If you want the best police officers patrolling our streets as possible, you pay them, you pay them well, you give them good benefits, and to give them the best possible training and equipment possible," she told lawmakers on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Muchler, with the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police, urged lawmakers to change several of the Senate bills but said police “understand that several high-profile cases across the country have brought some necessary police reform measures to the forefront.”

The association shares a “common interest of ensuring safe and effective law enforcement tactics and practices to protect the public we serve,” he said. 

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