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'We Simply Disagree.' Lexington No Knock Warrant Debate Simmers As Ban Advances

Josh James

A proposed ban on no-knock warrants took one more step toward final passage Thursday, following public comment from speakers who said the mayor’s moratorium doesn’t go far enough.

Nine Lexington residents weighed in – all in favor of the ban – during the council’s final scheduled virtual meeting. The commenters, who included Democratic state Sen. Reggie Thomas, urged the body to heed the calls of those who took to the streets during sustained protests in the wake of the death of Breonna Taylor at the hands of Louisville police in 2020.

"One year later, the cries of Lexingtonians haven't been heard," Pastor Keith Tyler said, echoing statements by a Black faith leaders group who argue a temporary or conditional ban shows a lack of commitment to racial justice reforms.

"We must ensure that the sound of a battering ram knocking down a door does not qualify as a sufficient announcement by police raiding a home," James Woodhead added.

Several speakers referenced a botched 2015 Lexington raid that involved a no-knock warrant, arguing the incident shows the risks of outweigh any potential benefit. Police Chief Lawrence Weathers has said the mistakes in that case were unrelated to the warrant itself and that fixes have been put in place.

The council gave the ordinance banning no-knocks a first reading, opting not to suspend the rules and move forward with a second. That puts the measure on track for its second required reading and a likely final vote on June 24.

The process unfolds as rhetoric surrounding the ban is heating up, with a Lexington police union pushing back in a series of pointed Facebook posts.

In the messages, FOP Lodge 4 castigated council members who voted to advance the ordinance, saying they have failed to "prioritize public safety and instead used this time as an opportunity for uninformed political pandering" or "value the safety of our police officers whose lives are at risk during the apprehension of violent offenders."

Rev. Clark Williams with the group of faith leaders campaigning for the ordinance responded, "We are not the enemies of the Lexington police and, for the record, nobody wants Lexington to be safe for everybody any more than we do."

Yet critics see the ordinance as taking away a rarely-used but necessary tactic during a time when Lexington is grappling with rising homicides. 

"When it comes time for officers to arrest these murderers," the FOP wrote, "do we really want to restrict the tools they have to apprehend the suspects safely?

While the police have argued the push for a total ban shows a lack of understanding of how and why the warrants are used, Williams said that's not the case.

"Yes, we do understand," Williams replied. "We simply disagree."

The ban represents the first major split between Mayor Linda Gorton, who has said she's more comfortable with her moratorium on the practice, and the Mayor's Commission on Racial Justice and Equality, which concluded it would be "prudent" to do away with the warrants. 

Josh James fell in love with college radio at Western Kentucky University's student station, New Rock 92 (now Revolution 91.7). After working as a DJ and program director, he knew he wanted to come home to Lexington and try his hand in public radio.
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