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Fading Justice Reform Shifts Focus To Charges Against Officers

Louisville Metro Police Department/ Brett Hankison

Criminal justice reform has lost a lot of its post-George Floyd momentum in statehouses and at the ballot box, raising the stakes when individual police officers go on trial. The federal trial of former Louisville Metro Police Detective Brett Hankison, in connection with the 2020 killing of Breonna Taylor, began Monday.

The trial of an officer accused of using excessive force was a rare sight not long ago. Iit's becoming increasingly common — and in some cases leading to convictions, Axios reports.

The murder of George Floyd prompted proposals to overhaul the criminal justice system, including ending qualified immunity for officers and drastically changing funding for police departments.

Rising crime and political backlash largely halted that movement. A handful of reforms passed before the backlash intensified are making it easier to put police officers on trial.

A Colorado jury this month found an Aurora police officer guilty of criminally negligent homicide and third-degree assault in the 2019 death of Elijah McClain, a 23-year-old Black man whose case drew national attention. A trial of another Aurora police officer, facing manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide charges in the case is under way.

Thee trial of three Tacoma, Wa., officers charged in the 2020 killing of Manny Ellis, a Black man, is in its seventh week. It was the first time Washington's attorney general filed criminal charges against officers for the unlawful use of deadly force.

Last week, a judge reinstated all charges against former Philadelphia police officer Mark Dial in the fatal August shooting of Eddie Irizarry.

Desmond Mills Jr., a former Memphis, Tennessee, police officer federally charged with civil rights violations in the January beating death of Tyre Nichols, was due to plead guilty in a hearing Thursday, NBC News reports.

The shift in the courts has been driven by the actions of state and local prosecutors as well as new state laws, said Walter Katz of Arnold Ventures.

"Legislation in places like Colorado and Washington have empowered independent investigations of fatal encounters, which, in turn, has led to more charges being brought when it is believed a crime was committed," Katz said.


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