Cameron brings Search Warrant Task Force meeting to Somerset

·4 min read

Oct. 21—Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron was in Somerset Thursday, leading one of several meetings of his Search Warrant Task Force being held outside of Frankfort.

The task force first met in May of this year and was created in response to the controversy surrounding the application of the search warrant of the apartment in the case in which Breonna Taylor was shot and killed by Louisville Metro Police.

The approximate 20 people who make up the council have met monthly in various locations around the commonwealth such as Richmond and Bowling Green. This month, it was Pulaski's turn, with the members meeting either in-person or virtually at the Center for Rural Development — "The house that Congressman [Hal] Rogers built," as Cameron put it.

Cameron said some of the meetings were held outside of Frankfort because, in part, the task force wanted to make the public aware of the work they are doing.

"We just want to make sure we, one, expose our members to different regions and areas in Kentucky, and also underscore that not any one particular area needs to be mindful of or think about search warrants. This is an issue that applies to all parts of our 120 counties," he said.

Thursday's meeting was led by a report from the task force's Securing Subcommittee, mainly discussing the state's eWarrant Portal and how it can be modified to make it better at statewide tracking of warrants.

Police Chief of the University of Kentucky Joe Monroe said that currently having no formal data tracking for warrants across the state was a problem.

He said he wanted to see a database that could allow for statewide searchable reports and should promote random audits of law enforcement agencies' warrants.

Such a database would allow agencies to "identify any patterns of concern or issues that we may see develop," he said.

Public Advocate Damon Preston added "I do think we need demographic data on the people being served. Part of the issue that brought about the creation of this task force is the hypothesis that perhaps searches are not done across the board when it comes to racial or ethnic lines. We can't know that right now because of the lack of data."

The proposed system would be maintained by the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC).

The current eWarrants system is overseen by the AOC and the Kentucky State Police, with Logan County Attorney Joseph Ross describing the limitations of the current system.

He said in smaller counties like Logan, there may be a limited number of judges who serve an area several counties wide. "The hurdles that come along with that oftentimes are different than what they are in those bigger cities."

Having judges on-call at all hours of the day or night can be a problem, especially during court days in which all judges may be hearing cases at the same time.

It can also be difficult to find a prosecutor in the middle of the night to draft a search warrant in counties with small prosecutorial offices.

Then, there's the logistics of an electronic system, such as internet connectivity issues in rural areas and the distance out in those rural areas a law enforcement officer may be at when the need for a warrant arises, he pointed out.

Those warrants are time-sensitive and mush be served within two hours, so getting a warrant from the judge to the officer in a timely fashion also needs to be considered, he said.

Judge Foster Cotthoff, District Court Judge in Christian County, said from his standpoint, warrants were simple — judges only look for probable cause before deciding whether to sign a search warrant or not.

He said it was a "very low standard" for probable cause compared to when a case is being argued in court. "But there has to be something. I'll turn down any warrant if you look at it and you don't have anything. I need something. Our job is to be neutral, look at the document, and sign or not sign accordingly. ... We're only as good as the information that's brought to us."

Cameron said the task force's final meeting is planned for December, at which point the task force members will begin looking at how their recommendations will be processed — whether that is by working with the AOC in implementing the database system being discussed, working with state legislature to enact changes on that level, by creating a model outline for organizations nationwide or all three.

As far as Cameron's personal future plans in terms of possible political runs and involvement, Cameron said immediate future was focused on the baby he and wife Makenze are expecting in January.

"Then we'll have a conversation after that about what next steps look like," he said.

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