“If you are going after drugs, you may get Breonna Taylor”: Outgoing LMPD Chief outlines reasons for inaction on drug house complaints
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - The Certificate of Death told a story.
”It was heroin, fentanyl, other mixed drugs,” Theresa Overby said.
It didn’t tell the whole story.
”Getting arrested, getting released, getting arrested, getting released,” Overby said. “She was never in for more than a couple days at a time.”
Multiple trips to jail for possession. Multiple trips to rehab for treatment. Multiple trips to the hospital for overdoses.
”At least 15,” Overby said.
After an overdose the day before, Victoria Luallen’s final overdose was on March 1 of 2020 right where she’d been going for drugs to fuel her addiction: at 26th and Madison.
”The person who called us to let us know, they knew,” Overby said. “‘That’s a known drug house. We know that.’”
Two years later WAVE News was at the same spot, 26th and Madison, this past February, videotaping drug dealing still going on right across the street from the LMPD substation there.
Up to 40 customers an hour, crackling crack pipes and jumping fences when I tried to do something about it.
”It’s crazy,” Overby said. “How many other kids have died there? How many others have done drugs there, walked away and died within a block?”
Overby contacted me upset after seeing my reports on drug house complaints falling on deaf ears like at 1223 South Fourth Street where I recorded dozens of customers per hour with no question about what they were buying.
”Have you guys complained?” I asked a property owner.
“The police aren’t doing anything,” he said. “They say it’s not a priority right now under the current administration. Any officer you ask, they say they are not going after drugs.”
What happens after I expose these houses and nothing is done?
WAVE News obtained security camera video of someone coming to 1223 South 4th on November 1, walking out and opening fire on it and the neighboring home. Vivid gun barrel flashes. Pieces of brick were kicked up by a bullet crashing right below the camera.
The property manager said when she called the police multiple times to complain about what was going on there, she was told to stop calling. She said the drug dealing is worse at their other property at 974 South 3rd, right next to Ollie’s Trolley and across the street from the Kentucky Derby Festival headquarters.
When I secretly watched, it too was non-stop traffic all hours of the day with lines forming. Sometimes they then gathered out front and fired up what appeared to be a crack pipe. Or they went next door to Memorial Park.
One guy appeared to pull out a bag of marijuana from his left pocket and a plastic bag of something white from his right pocket.
While I was recording all this, police arrived on a trouble complaint. They eventually left and a few moments later people resumed coming and going, passing each other, and passing something.
”He was coming in to either deliver, or sell, or pick up or whatever. It had to do with drugs,” a 72-year-old man said, who wanted to remain anonymous. He met me in nearby Memorial Park to detail the beating that broke his nose by a resident of that house. We had to scoot down a few feet from a syringe lying there.
”When I turned to him, took a step, that’s when he met me with five to six blows to the face,” he said.
“He just started wailing on you?” I asked.
“Started wailing on me, yeah,” he said. He filed an assault charge. We filed in with security guards and some questions.
”Hi I’m John Boel with WAVE,” I said to a group of men outside. “We got a complaint about drugs being sold out of this place. You guys know anything about that?”
“No drugs, I mean we do a lot of drinking, but I don’t mess with drugs,” James Weston said. While Weston says he doesn’t mess with drugs, he says he sees plenty of evidence of what’s going on.
”They bring them back here at night and they sit back here, all my tables and stuff they sit out here,” Weston said. “Then when they leave they come back at 2, 3 o’clock and they all kinds of needles back here.”
So many syringes that he said one resident can’t even take out his trash.
”Every time he dumps in the trash, needles stick in his hand,” Weston said. “Gotta go to the doctor all the time.”
So why do police tell people to stop calling when a drug house is terrorizing their neighborhood?
”The reality of it is what is going to happen when we arrest these individuals?” LMPD Chief Erika Shields said. “They’re going to walk right out the back door of the jail.”
She said their focus is on violent offenders.
”If you are going after drugs, you may get Breonna Taylor,” Shields said. “Breonna Taylor did nothing. There was nothing in her apartment that was illegal. There’s a much greater risk you’re assuming and it’s not always with the best of consequences and it’s not to say you can’t make impactful drug arrests, but you also can’t overstate the significance of what a drug arrest means.”
That doesn’t sit well with neighbors who say drug houses breed violent offenders.
”This whole drug dealing thing needs to stop,” the beating victim said. “This used to be a good neighborhood. Now it’s shooting all the time.”
”They know who these drug dealers are,” Overby said. “If they can get rid of them, it’s a trickle-down. Everything else goes away.”
Chief Shields insists they are making huge hauls of drugs and weapons by targeting higher-level violent offenders and adds until there is a system set up involving social services and non-profits to handle the behaviors involved in drug houses, the police are not going to be able to change that dynamic.
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