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Louisville Police Have Very Little To Say

LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY - MAY 17: Louisville police badge is seen during the second round of PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club on May 17, 2024 in Louisville, Kentucky.
Ben Jared/PGA TOUR via Getty Images

Thursday's Louisville Metro Police Department news dump on their arrest of PGA golfer Scottie Scheffler last week began with spokesperson Sgt. Matt Sanders giving a quick plan for "today's run of show." The mayor would talk. The police chief would talk. No questions would be taken at the lectern. All questions were to be emailed afterward to the public information office. And at the end, several documents and videos would be released on LMPD's "forward-facing transparency page," a.k.a. a website. (Documents from the arresting officer's personnel file later would be published by WDRB journalist Jason Riley; more on that later.)

The run of show went as planned. Mayor Craig Greenberg said that a "tragic death" had lead to a series of "very unfortunate events in dark, rainy, and tense conditions" before reminding everyone that "transparency is incredibly important to our administration, to LMPD, to our community." Police chief Jacquelyn Gwinn-Villaroel then talked about what would be released and thanked both the media for their fair reporting as well as all law enforcement official around the nation for the work they do. The presser closed with Greenberg talking about the importance of both letting the legal system play out and of police using body cameras due to "the recent past." Like a lot of press conferences, the most important parts were those left unsaid.

I am not a Louisville resident, yet I am confident that "the recent past" referred to the killing of Breonna Taylor by LMPD officers. Just after midnight on March 13, 2020, officers burst into her home on a no-knock drug search warrant; no drugs were found inside. But when officers charged into the home using a battering ram, Taylor's boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, told investigators that he thought someone was breaking in, so he fired one shot from his gun, which he carried legally, as a warning. In response, officers fired 32 bullets, striking Taylor five times. She died on the floor of her own home. Her killing by LMPD, followed by Minneapolis police killing George Floyd, made her name part of a national rallying cry for racial justice: Black Lives Matter.

Reforms were promised after the protests, including increased use of police body cameras, which ended up being the crux of what was and wasn't said on Thursday. The officer who arrested Scheffler, Det. Bryan Gillis, had "failed to power on his body-worn camera," according to LMPD police records released Thursday. In response, Gillis was "counseled by a member of his command" and a "performance evaluation" was done, according to an LMPD memorandum. A little further explanation is given on the failure-to-record form, on which Gillis's supervisor wrote that the camera should have at least been in standby mode but "due to the confusion" in the area at the time, Gillis's "sense of urgency" responding to the traffic fatality, and "expediting traffic for the PGA Championship," the detective failed to turn it on. Both a lieutenant and a division commander reviewed this and signed off on it.

There was, then, no up-close video of what happened when Gillis arrested Scheffler. But what precipitated that was another person's death. A shuttle bus hit John Mills outside the Valhalla Golf Club about 5 a.m. According to WDRB, the 69-year-old security guard had been trying to enter Valhalla to start work. His family said, "He was working security and having a fun time at Valhalla this week. He enjoyed staying busy in retirement. We love him and will miss him." (Mills's name did come up at the press conference, with the police chief saying, "By all accounts, we have learned that Mr. Mills was known for his kindness and dedication to our community.")

Scheffler ended up in the ensuing traffic jam. It's here where accounts diverge.

According to a statement from Scheffler released the day of his arrest, as shared by ESPN's Jeff Darlington: "This morning, I was proceeding as directed by police officers. It was a very chaotic situation, understandably so considering the tragic accident that had occurred earlier, and there was a big misunderstanding of what I thought I was being asked to do. I never intended to disregard any of the instructions."

Gillis wrote in his failure-to-record form that PGA personnel had stopped a bus from entering, and then a vehicle "in the opposing lanes" came toward him. Gillis said he stopped the vehicle and told the driver he couldn't go any farther, but the driver "demanded to be let in, and proceeded forward against my directions." Gillis wrote, "I was dragged/knocked down by the driver. I then proceeded to arrest the driver."

Watching all this happen was Darlington, who described what he saw: "The police officer attempted to attach himself to Scheffler’s car, and Scheffler then stopped his vehicle at the entrance to Valhalla. The police officer then began to scream at Scheffler to get out of the car. When Scheffler exited the vehicle, the officer shoved Scheffler against the car and immediately placed him in handcuffs." He later shared video that showed Scheffler getting arrested.

Into these different accounts came Thursday's press conference, followed by the released video. One is from a dash cam, the other is from a camera on a nearby pole. The clearest footage came from the camera on the pole, with what looks like Scheffler's vehicle showing up about 30 seconds in. It's the events happening in the upper left corner, near the white fence. Clips of this zoomed in were shared Thursday on social media, but below is the raw footage as LMPD released it.

Later that day, WDRB's Jason Riley shared snippets from Gillis's personnel file, including that Gillis once was suspended for five days for doing donuts while on duty in his police car, with a drunk civilian passenger.

The day closed with Riley sharing a statement from prosecutors, saying they still had not decided if they would pursue a case against Scheffler.

The reaction to the videos came swiftly: A lot of commenters said the video vindicated Scheffler, though it's hard to see anything clearly. As far as sports media goes, the story probably ends here, perhaps with an update when prosecutors, more likely than not, announce they will not pursue charges.

But there's more you should take away from the events of the past week. The further evidence of the failure of police body cameras to revolutionize the public's ability to hold the police accountable. The erasure of Breonna Taylor's too-short life, again. The way cars killing people is so normalized in the United States that Mills's death barely gets mentioned. (Historically, cars have killed more people in the U.S. than guns, though guns are catching up.) You can even see the way being very wealthy and very famous, like Scheffler, sure seems to change the way law enforcement addresses its mistakes.

In the ensuing years, this will become an amusing story that Scheffler tells, maybe part of a glossy TV package looking back on his career. Gillis will probably stay on with LMPD. Mills's family will mourn their loss, and learn how to keep going without him. Reporters will move on to the next story. For the rest of us, it will depend on the lessons that are learned and the lessons that are not.

The documents released by LMPD are in full below.

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