The Justice Department issued a scathing critique Wednesday on the Louisville Metro Police Department after a nearly two-year review it launched into the force following the botched raid that killed Breonna Taylor. Credit: Luke Sharrett / The Washington Post via Getty Images/FILE

(CNN) — The Louisville Metro Police Department routinely uses excessive force and practices “an aggressive style of policing” against Black people, the Justice Department said Wednesday after an investigation launched following the botched raid that killed Breonna Taylor.

The scathing assessment paints a shocking portrait of racist and abusive conduct in the Louisville police that harkens to practices more commonly seen in some southern cities during the civil rights era.

Investigators identified a pattern of police leaders in recent years commissioning reports that documented disproportionate violence directed toward African Americans and ignoring the findings or burying the internal reports. The abuses extended to the treatment of the disabled and even sex assault victims.

“For years, LMPD has practiced an aggressive style of policing that it deploys selectively, especially against Black people, but also against vulnerable people throughout the city,” the report said.

“LMPD cites people for minor offenses, like wide turns and broken taillights, while serious crimes like sexual assault and homicide go unsolved,” the report added. “Some officers demonstrate disrespect for the people they are sworn to protect. Some officers have videotaped themselves throwing drinks at pedestrians from their cars; insulted people with disabilities; and called Black people ‘monkeys,’ ‘animal,’ and ‘boy.'”

Louisville police use “unreasonable tactics” including unjustified neck restraints, police dogs and tasers, DOJ found. The report also found that the police department executes search warrants without knocking and announcing.

Attorney General Merrick Garland announced the results of the investigation Wednesday.

“This conduct is unacceptable. It is heartbreaking. It erodes the community trust necessary for effective policing and it is an affront to the vast majority of officers who put their lives on the line every day to serve Louisville with honor,” Garland said at a news conference. “And it is an affront to the people of Louisville who deserve better.”

This undated file photo provided by Taylor family attorney Sam Aguiar shows Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Ky. Taylor, a 26-year-old Black woman, was fatally shot by police in her Louisville, Ky., apartment in March 2020. A former Louisville police detective who helped write the warrant that led to the deadly police raid at Taylor’s apartment has pleaded guilty to a federal conspiracy charge. Credit: Courtesy of Taylor Family attorney Sam Aguiar

Taylor’s death was a ‘a symptom of problems’

The DOJ’s probe found that “police officers’ forcible and violent entry into a person’s home strikes at the heart of the constitutional protection against unreasonable government intrusion.”

“But Louisville Metro’s and LMPD’s unlawful conduct did not start in 2020. As an LMPD leader told us shortly after we opened this investigation, ‘Breonna Taylor was a symptom of problems that we have had for years,'” the report said.

The department’s leaders failed to curb the “unacceptable” conduct, the report found.

“Failures of leadership and accountability have allowed unlawful conduct to continue unchecked,” the Justice Department said. “Even when city and police leaders announced solutions, they failed to follow through. In LMPD, officer misconduct too often goes unnoticed and unaddressed. At times, LMPD leaders have endorsed and defended unlawful conduct.”

As a result of the misconduct, the police department has paid more than $40 million to resolve claims of police misconduct over the past six years, according to the report.

The Justice Department review was launched after the botched raid that killed Taylor.

Four current and former Louisville police officers involved in the deadly raid — including detectives who worked on the search warrant and the ex-officer accused of firing blindly into her home — have been federally charged with civil rights violations. One of the former officers, Kelly Goodlett, pleaded guilty to conspiring to falsify an affidavit for a warrant to search Taylor’s home and to covering up the false document by lying to investigators.

City leaders promise reforms

Louisville Mayor Craig Greenberg vowed on Wednesday to work with other city officials to “correct the mistakes of the past,” and stressed that the report’s findings should not be politicized.

“This is not about politics or other places. This is about Louisville. This is about our city, our neighbors, and how we serve them,” he said during the news conference with Garland. “We will make progress — continued progress towards improvement and reform. Towards making sure LMPD delivers services that respect the Constitution, increase trust and promote public safety and officer safety.”

“The United States Department of Justice is demanding that we take action. The people of Louisville are demanding that we take action,” Greenberg said, noting that his office and DOJ reached an “agreement in principle that will help guide us as we implement next steps.”

LMPD interim Police Chief Jacquelyn Gwinn-Villaroel said on Wednesday that the report marks an “extremely challenging and pivotal point for our city, our department, and for our officers.”

Gwinn-Villaroel said that improvement “will not occur overnight,” and that the department is committed to working towards the goals set by the report.

“We will not falter in this effort,” she said. “We are committed to ensuring police practices not only reflect constitutional principles, but the values of the communities served by LMPD. We recognize that the process of reform is complex and requires a sustained effort.”

Under the Biden administration, the Justice Department significantly ramped up efforts to address abusive policing, and the systemic issues that contribute to police misconduct. The Justice Department has initiated several similar probes, including into the police departments in Minneapolis; Phoenix; and Mount Vernon, New York.

Garland said that the city of Louisville signed an agreement to work with the DOJ, police officers and community members to address the problems highlighted in the report.

He also noted that the city already banned no-knock warrants, started a pilot program to send behavioral health professionals to some 911 calls, and expanded community-based violence prevention services. The police department will also revamp its training.

Their efforts are “commendable,” Garland said, but “more must be done.” He called for comprehensive training on constitutional boundaries, better equipment and facilities, and a clear chain of command amongst officers.

Police must document and review stops

The report outlines three dozen steps that LMPD should take to reduce instances of misconduct. Every police stop should be documented and reviewed by supervisors, the report says, and body worn cameras should be consistently reviewed.

Officers should also better prepare when executing search warrants, the report says, and police department guidelines should require that officers “knock and announce their presence” when executing a search warrant.

The report also advises that LMPD should “ensure that anyone who wishes to submit a complaint about an officer’s conduct is able to do so,” better emphasize the “rules of engagement” when dealing with protests, and that Louisville should establish an external review panel for sexual assault investigations.

This story has been updated with additional details.