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In-depth report dives into lack of Louisville homicide arrests

Published: Mar. 26, 2021 at 11:14 PM EDT
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - Reports of homicides, record breaking crime statistics and out of control gun violence in Louisville have forced Louisville Metro Police Department detectives to face additional obstacles; department officials now stress they are having a tough time keeping up with the workload.

As far as victims’ families are concerned, there’s a lot of unanswered questions with a massive amount of homicide and violent crime cases open in the city.

Jessie Herald’s son Ronald O’Brien was killed in Louisville last year. Herald and her daughter Misty O’Brien recounted with WAVE 3 News the moment they found out he was gone.

”Mom screamed ‘Your brother’s been shot,” Misty O’Brien said, her eyes filled with tears.

Only 30 minutes before the tragic news, Ronald O’Brien told his mom he was going to the store, but Herald didn’t know that conversation with her youngest son would be the last.

Months after her son’s death, she still remembers the final words they exchanged.

“I said, ‘Ronnie, you be careful. Come right back. That’s the last I said to him,’” Herald said.

On July 6, 2020, Ronnie O’Brien became another homicide statistic during a record-setting year in Louisville.

Herald said her son died on his daughter’s birthday. She and her daughter remember the dad of two as someone who loved to sing, even if it didn’t sound great, saying they’d rather hear his off-key singing over the deafening silence they often hear now.

“That’s all I want — to know who did it and why?” Herald said.

LMPD Lieutenant Donny Burbrink said it’s a common question from families of those lost to gun violence.

”That’s what every family wants to know — what happened? Its very important to the detectives working the case to actually be able to provide that to the families,” Burbrink said.

As of March 2021, LMPD has 29 homicide detective within the unit. Burbrink said they’re working more than their average four to five cases a year.

”We’re catching a new homicide case every 30 days; that’s an insane amount of time to catch cases,” Burbrink eplained. “We’re averaging 10 to 11 homicide cases this year, per detective.”

According to the LMPD homicide report, from January through March 21, 2021, there have been at least 45 homicide investigations opened, with one being a non-criminal death investigation. Thirty of the those cases are still open and only 14 have been closed.

In 2020, there were 173 homicides; 117 of those cases are open, and 56 cases are closed.

The reason for that lopsided figure, Burbrink said, is that first and foremost, the Louisville Metro Police Department and all of its units are understaffed, the victim’s families are grieving and do so differently and at different paces.

”There’s a time before they’re able to be invest in the case and give information beneficial to their loved ones case,” Burbrink said.

There are some lawful processes detectives have to follow, therefore, Burbrink said they can’t take all family information to be fact. Neighborhood gossip or hearsay can’t be presented to a judge, and all information has to go through the vetting process.

While there are closed cases, it is not as many as families, the community and LMPD detectives would like. Donna Munoz’s case is one of those. She lost her brother-in-law, Jose Munoz, in a 2019 shooting at an outer loop Olive Garden. The accused gunman didn’t get far before police arrested Devone Briggs.

Munoz told WAVE 3 News her family doesn’t use words like “justice” and “closure” because it doesn’t feel like it’s within reach for them.

Ultimately, Briggs’ bond was reduced and he was placed on home arrest. His trial is set for later this year.

”He has the opportunity to open a window, smell the grill outside, watch the kids play — my nephew doesn’t have that,” Munoz said. “Its difficult to watch people continue living, and I’ve feel like we’ve stopped.”

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