As Yvette Gentry begins her first day as the new head of the Louisville Metro Police Department, she joins the chorus of voices eager to hear the grand jury recordings from the Breonna Taylor case.
And while she wants to know what was presented to the grand jury, Gentry says those recordings may provide answers to hard questions that could prove to be the first real steps for Taylor’s family, and the city, to heal.
“I think the truth is what everybody needs. Certainly the family, the police officers that work here need that, I need that as a leader,” said Gentry, the city’s first female police chief. “I can’t go making reforms based on information that’s not accurate. It will just take me in a direction that’s not going to get us better. So I’m anxious to get to the facts of the case and look at the evidence and say, ‘What can we do different?’”
And it’s that information that Gentry says will help her reach out to Taylor’s family.
“At some point, I would like to,” Gentry said. “Once I know more, be able to sit down and hopefully help [Breonna’s mother] get some closure.”
Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron’s office has until Friday at noon to hand over the grand jury recordings, an extension from the original Wednesday deadline, so that prosecutors could redact personal identifiers like home addresses and social security numbers, according to a court filing.
Gentry on Thursday takes the helm as interim chief of a police department that has been in turmoil since the death of Taylor, an EMT who was killed by police in her home. Taylor was shot multiple times when three LMPD officers entered her apartment by force in March to serve a search warrant in a drug investigation.
The LMPD has since been rocked with instability, as Gentry now becomes the third police chief in a five-month span.
And all this happens under the backdrop of demonstrators who have taken to the streets, unhappy that only one officer involved in the incident that ended Taylor’s life, former Det. Brett Hankison, was charged with three counts of wanton endangerment for firing blindly into an adjoining occupied apartment. He has pleaded not guilty.
The two other officers who fired shots that night were not indicted. Cameron said both men were justified because Taylor’s boyfriend fired at police first, hitting and wounding one of the officers. Cameron told CNN affiliate WDRB that he didn’t seek murder charges against the officers.
It’s a challenge to ‘pull off any kind of real healing’
Gentry replaces Robert Schroeder, who held the interim position since June and is retiring to focus on his family and finish his doctorate. He followed former Chief Steve Conrad, who was fired after officials discovered two police officers involved in fatal shooting of a man during a protest over George Floyd’s death had not activated their body cameras.
A police officer for two decades, Gentry left the department in 2014 as deputy chief and went on to work as chief of community building in city government. She will remain in charge until the city can find a suitable permanent replacement in about six months.
“Yvette brings the kind of unique experience and strong community relationships needed to lead LMPD until a permanent chief is in place, and she is passionate about working to help her city reimagine public safety and address systemic racism,” Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer said last month, at the time of her hire.
Fischer said an eight-person search panel focused on police reform and accountability is tasked with finding a permanent chief, and he expects to name one by the end of the year.
The head of the police unioin, River City Fraternal Order of Police President Ryan Nichols, called Gentry “the right person for this job.”
“I have known Chief Gentry for more than twenty years and have worked with her and for her during our policing careers,” Nichols said. “She is a well-respected leader with strong ties to our community and is an avid supporter of the honorable men and women that serve on the LMPD.”
Activist Christopher 2X says it will be a long hard road for Gentry to try and fix a community that is traumatized by Taylor’s death, violent protests and the aftermath of the attorney general’s decision.
“The protests could end tomorrow, but social media actions and reactions will keep tensions here in Louisville alive,” 2x said. “Interim Chief Gentry will be on the job for four to six months. She deserves the Nobel Peace Prize if she can pull off any kind of real healing in this community after what we’ve just gone through.”
The city of Louisville announced on Sept. 15 a $12 million settlement of the Taylor family’s wrongful death lawsuit. The city also agreed to enact police reforms which include using social workers to provide support on certain police runs and requiring commanders to review and approve search warrants before seeking judicial approval.
It’s a tough time to recruit officers
Gentry not only has the difficult task of repairing a fractured department under the microscope, she has to do it at a difficult time to recruit police officers.
Last week, two Louisville officers were shot and wounded at a protest.
“Over half of the people that were supposed to start the [rookie] class during this protest declined to become police officers. So the class of 40 is down to 19. So people don’t want to be the police right now and that is frightening to me,” Gentry said. “You can’t train morality for people. You can’t train somebody to be a moral person who’s not a moral person. You’ve got to pick the right people.”
Gentry was sworn in Thursday morning at police headquarters. And that will also be the first day in weeks that the plywood that blocks the windows of the building are expected to be removed.
The appointment of Gentry comes after Rochester’s mayor appointed the city’s first female chief after the death of Daniel Prude in police custody.
Cynthia Herriott-Sullivan, who worked for the Rochester Police Department for 24 years before her retirement in 2009, will take over as interim chief, effective October 14.
It’s not lost on Gentry that she is another woman of color being asked to helm a department reeling from the aftermath of a controversial death.
“Why does it take that before black women who are qualified and capable get an opportunity to lead?” Gentry said. “Why did it take 200 years for this department to give a female an opportunity? I’m well qualified, well equipped for this job even if there were no crisis.”