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In Taylor case, limits of law overcome calls for justice

“Arrest the cops who killed Breonna Taylor” became a rallying cry this summer, emblazoned on T-shirts worn by celebrities and others while protesters filled the streets demanding police accountability.

In the end, none of the officers were charged with Taylor’s killing, although one was indicted for shooting into a neighboring home that had people inside.

The outcome demonstrates the vast disconnect between widespread public expectation of justice and the limits of the law when police use deadly force.

“Criminal law is not meant to respond to every sorrow and grief,” Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron said Wednesday. “And that is, that is true here. But my heart breaks for the loss of Miss Taylor.”

Taylor, a 26-year-old Louisville emergency medical worker, was shot several times in her hallway after three plainclothes narcotics detectives busted down the door of her apartment after midnight March 13. The officers entered the home as part of a drug investigation. No drugs were found.

Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, was with her at the apartment and fired a shot at Louisville police Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly after the door was broken down. Walker said he fired because he feared he was being robbed or that it might be an ex-boyfriend of Taylor’s trying to get in.

Mattingly was struck in the leg and returned fire, along with other officers who were outside the apartment.

But the officers who opened fire were determined to be justified in using force because they acted in self-defense. The officer who shot into a neighbor’s apartment was the one who was charged with a felony. Brett Hankison faces up to five years in prison on each of the three wanton endangerment charges.

The grand jury’s decision was condemned by activists, celebrities and others as a miscarriage of justice. Minutes after the announcement, demonstrators began to march down a Louisville thoroughfare, chanting “No justice, no peace.”

“The rallying cries that have been echoing throughout the nation have been once again ignored by a justice system that claims to serve the people,” said attorney Ben Crump, who is representing Taylor’s family. “But when a justice system only acts in the best interest of the most privileged and whitest among us, it has failed.”

The long-awaited decision came amid calls for police reform across the U.S., spurred by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and other Black Americans by law enforcement. The backdrop now includes a divisive election season, with a fight over an open Supreme Court seat and repeated comments from President Donald Trump portraying demonstrators as violent mobs.

The outcome in the Louisville case came as no surprise to legal experts, who said murder charges would never stand up in court because the officers were fired at first. Police are shielded by laws and longstanding court rulings giving them wide latitude to use deadly force to protect themselves or others. It’s been rare to charge police with crimes in the death of civilians, and winning a conviction is harder.

“You can’t get justice from a tragedy. What we have is a series of events that culminated in the use of self-defense” both by Taylor’s boyfriend and the officers, said Jan Waddell, a Louisville defense attorney.

“Just because Breonna was in caught the middle of that and she was the victim of a shooting doesn’t mean that either one of those parties engaged in criminal activity,” he said.

The fact that the officers were not only fired upon first but had a warrant allowing them to legally enter the apartment would have provided them with a powerful defense, experts said. That made Taylor’s case less clear cut than other recent killings that have stirred outrage, like that of Floyd, who died in May after a Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee into his neck for several minutes.

Prosecutors will likely even face challenges in securing a conviction against Hankison for wanton endangerment, observers said. The FBI is still investigating potential violations of federal law in the case.

“We see this over and over again where an officer is a criminal defendant in one of these cases ... and when they take the witness stand it seems that juries are very reluctant to second-guess the split-second life or death decisions of police officers in potentially violent encounters,” said Philip Stinson, a former police officer and criminologist at Bowling Green State University. “I think that’s going to be a difficult case for the prosecution to prevail on if this goes to trial.”

Glasgow EPB approves new electric rate structure

GLASGOW – The Glasgow Electric Plant Board voted Tuesday to use a proposal drafted by one of its board members as a working model for a new electric rate structure.

The proposal from board member D.T. Froedge calls for a flat base rate of $10 for residential customers; a flat bate rate of $20 for all commercial customers, excluding industrial customers; and kilowatt hour costs to be based on volume used and flat with no peak and no time-of-use based charges.

It also asks for the price per kilowatt hour to be determined by the ratio of the sum of all residential and commercial costs divided by the sum of the kilowatt hours used by commercial and residential customers, and for the monthly rate to be set and stabilized by a running average over three to four months.

In addition, the proposal said there should be no net increase in total costs and that industrial kilowatt power costs not be subsidized by commercial and residential costs.

The decision was made to present the proposal to Tennessee Valley Authority officials.

Before the board voted on the proposal, EPB board Chairman Tag Taylor said: “I’m going to tell you right now this is not going to pass muster with TVA.”

The proposal won’t get TVA approval because it violates federal and state law, and it is not within the confines of the EPB’s contract with TVA, he said.

Froedge said he wanted his proposal to be used as a working basis for a new electric rate structure and not necessarily used as it was proposed.

“I had proposed a rate that is pay for what you get,” he said. “Right now, people on the high end are getting cheaper kilowatt hours than the people on the low end.”

He said that under his proposal, customers would pay the same rate if they used one kilowatt hour or if they used 100,000 kilowatt hours.

“The people at the top who use a lot, they pay more because they get more,” Froedge said. “Right now, if you work the night shift, you get one cost. If you work the day shift or you are not at home during the peak hours, you get another cost. We are picking who pays, winners and losers, and I don’t think this is fair. I don’t think it’s right for the people.”

Before the board approved Froedge’s proposal, EPB Superintendent William Ray explained six options that he and his staff had prepared.

Three options showed the average usage of kilowatt hours based on current rates, which have a larger fixed customer charge with a smaller balance of fixed costs collected by volume.

Three others showed a very low kilowatt hour customer consumption.

One of the options that showed the average usage of kilowatt hours calls for an increase in the customer charge, making it $39.44 a month.

“The reasoning for that is not that we are collecting more money from people, it is a shot at transparency, showing people what the actual cost of serving them is instead of including it in the kilowatt hour charge or collecting it volumetrically,” he said.

A second option, also based on the average usage of kilowatt hours, features a customer charge of $15 per month.

“We already had this done when D.T.’s suggestion was $10 (per month),” Ray said.

The EPB’s current customer charge is $31.97 per month.

He presented a slide showing how that rate compared to those of other area utility companies. Farmers’ Rural Electric Cooperative has a customer charge of $14 a month. Warren Rural Electric Cooperative Corp.’s is $18.80 per month and Bowling Green Municipal Utilities’ is $18.81 per month.

“You can see how we would look if you did a simple survey of what everybody’s customer charges are. That makes it look great,” he said, adding that the rest of the EPB’s fixed charge is collected volumetrically.

He also said other area utility companies are also collecting the rest of their fixed charges volumetrically.

“When people say, ‘Look at how bad the plant board is. They are charging $32 and BGMU is charging $18.’ Well, yeah, but ours is transparent,” Ray said. “It is right there out in front of everybody. BGMU is collecting about the same thing that we are. They are just doing it volumetrically instead of through a simple and transparent fixed charge.”

He said that although there is a suggestion that the EPB go exclusively volumetric and not do the variable rates any longer, 68 percent of residential customers have voted in favor of the variable rate, and 80 percent of the small commercial customers have also voted in favor of it because that is what they have chosen.

Ray said the EPB has been trying to increase the customer charge over a period of years so that it would collect more of its fixed cost through a fixed charge.

The EPB’s goal is to be able to collect 100 percent of its fixed cost through a fixed charge by 2023, but he said the board indicated it wanted to go in a new direction.

With a $15 customer charge, the EPB would collect 30 percent of its fixed cost, leaving 70 percent of fixed cost to be collected volumetrically.

“That would be scary especially when you looked back at this slide with the decay of volume,” he said.

In 2014, the board voted to move to a non-volumetric rate because the EPB’s volume was collapsing.

Ray and his staff also developed a rate architecture called the defining block, which calls for collecting a majority of its fixed costs through a low number of kilowatt hours rather than spreading the collection of the fixed costs across all kilowatt hours.

“The problem with trying to design a rate around the average user is that there are so few average users,” Ray said. “Most of them are either higher than average or lower than average.”

He then showed the board a slide that featured sample bills. One was for the existing variable rate and was $114 per month. If the board had approved the option that called for increasing the customer charge to $39.44 from $32 per month and at the same time lowered the kilowatt charge, the monthly bill would be $116 per month.

For the option with the $15 customer charge and the defining block, the monthly bill would be $117 per month.

Taylor called the volumetric proposals “a tad bit regressive” and said it would be the people who have a hard time paying their monthly utility bills who will be “shouldering the biggest burden of this increase. It doesn’t seem to be kind of what we had hoped to move away from.”

Froedge reiterated he would like to see a rate design based on the one detailed in the meeting.

“I don’t see any reason not to do it,” he said.

Ray explained the current EPB rates are entirely cost-based and said customers already only pay for what they get.

“The customer charge, which is transparent on the existing rates, represents what you are getting by being allowed to have a connection to the grid. That’s what it costs to maintain that connection whether you decide to buy any energy or not,” he said, adding energy is then purchased at a wholesale cost. “We don’t make any money on energy. … We get compensated for providing the cost of the connection.”

The EPB has to have the rate structure in place before the first of the year so it can be submitted to TVA for approval and then implemented.

Humane Society's virtual auctions aim to boost fundraising

The Bowling Green/Warren County Humane Society has started holding weekly virtual public auctions to raise money after the coronavirus pandemic forced the cancellation of other scheduled fundraisers.

Every Thursday from 5 to 9 p.m., a virtual live bidding auction on the humane society’s Facebook page will be held on a variety of items. Tracy Moser of the humane society said the auctions will take place for the foreseeable future.

“We are going to ride this gravy train as far as it goes,” Moser said. “Whenever our donations run out is when we will stop. We are just trying to pay the bills and beat the numbers that are usually raised through our Fur Ball fundraiser.”

The Fur Ball is usually the humane society’s largest fundraiser.

“It’s heartbreaking,” Moser said of the cancellation. “Fur Ball is one of our biggest fundraisers, but we just couldn’t ask businesses to donate that much given what’s going on.”

Pickup for items won in the auction is from 11 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Fridays at the shelter’s Davis/Mosby center.

To participate in the live bidding auction, participants must listen to the item description and wait for the opening bidding number. If they are willing to pay that much, bidders then comment that number or the amount they want to bid.

If a bid happens during the final 30-second countdown, the clock will be restarted. At the end of the 30 seconds, the humane society will give a 15-second time delay to make sure viewers aren’t lagging behind, and the winning bidder will then be announced.

Once a winner is announced, bidding cannot be reopened. The humane society also asks the public to bid only in $1 increments and that those who are finished bidding comment “I’m out.”

In the humane society’s first week of auctions, a total of $9,250 was raised, which is a result that excites Moser.

Picture album auctions will also take place and begin once the albums are posted online by the humane society. These are offered more like silent auctions as participants will comment their bid and check back to see the winning bid.

Each picture will have a description and a starting bid. There are usually around 12 items to bid on in a picture album auction, and these auctions run for two to three days at a time.

Lastly, the shelter will host sidewalk sales on Fridays from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. with all items $4 and under.

The public is welcome to look closer at the items for sale, but the humane society asks that if you do get out of your vehicle that you park in a space behind the building and that you wear a mask.

Murder defendant identified at second shooting

A trial witness testified Thursday that a man charged in a Bowling Green slaying was involved in a shooting at Franklin the night before the deadly shooting that is the subject of this trial.

Vincent Ficklin, 48, of Franklin, is on trial in Warren Circuit Court on charges of murder and first-degree robbery.

Ficklin is accused of killing Timothy Massey, 41, of Bowling Green, with a single gunshot Feb. 10, 2017, at a house on West 15th Avenue and then taking Massey’s Ford Expedition, which was recovered about a week later in Mississippi.

On the trial’s third day, Warren County Commonwealth’s Attorney Chris Cohron called a number of witnesses in an effort to tie Ficklin to a shooting Feb. 9, 2017, outside the American Legion hall in Franklin.

Shell casings recovered from both crime scenes were examined by a firearms expert and determined to have been fired from the same unknown weapon, Cohron said.

Ficklin is awaiting trial in Simpson County on charges of attempted murder, first-degree assault and first-degree wanton endangerment.

On Thursday, Donnell Flippin testified about driving to the American Legion hall with two people and talking with Ficklin briefly before going inside.

Flippin said he owed Ficklin about $60 for drugs at the time and Ficklin had walked to his truck to ask about the money.

“I said I’d pay him after I came back from the scrapyard and he started acting asinine and said, ‘If you can’t pay, then can I use your truck?’ ” Flippin said. “I said no and he stormed off.”

After spending some time in the hall, Flippin returned to the truck and was inside when he heard a loud noise and one of his windows shatter.

Christine Crowder, who was also in the truck, had been hit in the left forearm and right hand by a bullet. Flippin said he pushed Crowder out of the truck and chased Ficklin when he saw him running.

“I was going to run him over if I could because he shot my truck window out,” Flippin said, adding that he returned to get Crowder and drove her to the hospital after losing sight of Ficklin.

Flippin testified that he saw Ficklin with a gun as he was running, but he did not see who shot at his truck.

Ficklin’s attorney, Jason McGee of the state Department of Public Advocacy, asked whether Flippin owed money to Adrian Nolan, who was seen with Massey in the hours before his death.

Flippin denied he owed money to Nolan but said he had used his truck as collateral when buying drugs from him and testified he had taken his truck back from Nolan not long before the shooting.

“I took my truck back because I’d done some work for (Nolan) and I really didn’t think I owed him anything,” Flippin said.

Crowder testified that she remembered Flippin and Ficklin having an apparently friendly conversation outside the Legion hall before the shooting, but she did not see anyone with a gun that night.

Another witness, Freda Pegues, said she saw Ficklin out of the corner of her eye as she walked out of the Legion hall to get into her ride home, then heard two shots from Ficklin’s direction seconds after seeing him. “I didn’t want to stay around amongst that stuff,” Pegues said.

Pegues also testified that she did not see Ficklin with a gun at the time.

Police track movements

Detective Eric Stroud of the Bowling Green Police Department testified Thursday about law enforcement’s efforts to piece together Massey’s final hours on the night of Feb. 9, 2017, and the early morning of Feb. 10, along with the actions of Ficklin and Donnie Flippin, who were the last two people to see him.

Donnie Flippin is Donnell Flippin’s cousin.

Stroud said police, through interviews and surveillance footage, documented Massey’s Ford Expedition stopping at White Castle, La Quinta Inn and Home Towne Suites early Feb. 10, 2017, with Massey, Ficklin, Donnie Flippin and Nolan occupying the vehicle at various points.

Jurors were shown surveillance footage from several locations.

Massey is last captured on video at Home Towne Suites on Mel Browning Road, knocking on the door of a room for about seven minutes before leaving at 4:29 a.m., Feb. 10, 2017, Stroud said.

Massey’s Expedition had a GPS tracker placed there by the car lot from which the vehicle was purchased, and police were able to track the vehicle after it left the West 15th Avenue house where Massey was shot.

Stroud said the vehicle’s last GPS coordinates were registered in Pulaski, Tenn., about 16 miles from the Alabama state line, the day after Massey died, and police recovered the vehicle from there.

City police obtained search warrants for a cellphone registered to Ficklin and used the locations of cell towers where Ficklin’s number pinged in order to attempt to track his movements as well.

Stroud said the cellphone records showed Ficklin’s phone hitting towers in Franklin late Feb. 9, 2017, from the time of the VFW shooting until 2:19 a.m. the next day, when the number starts pinging at towers closer to Bowling Green.

A cell tower at Western Kentucky University’s campus pinged Ficklin’s phone three times between 3:08 a.m. and 4:29 a.m., and then Ficklin’s phone hit near Gordon Avenue at 5:38 a.m.

Police tracked Ficklin’s phone through towers later that morning near Oakland, Park City and Horse Cave, and then south through Tennessee and into Huntsville, Ala.

Surveillance cameras outside businesses on Chestnut Street, Broadway Avenue and Scottsville Road recorded Donnie Flippin walking past at various intervals in the hours after Massey was believed to have been shot, starting at Mellow Mushroom at 5:52 a.m. until he reached Home Towne Suites and is seen leaving there with Nolan at 9:11 a.m. Feb. 10, 2017.

Stroud learned Donnie Flippin had been arrested in Simpson County during a drug bust the day after Massey was shot, and the detective interviewed Flippin five times over the next few days at Simpson County Detention Center.

Stroud said Flippin lied about a number of details in his first two interviews, before being forthcoming the next day in a third interview.

“In the third interview he was beginning to come off it,” Stroud said. “In my opinion, (Donnie Flippin) felt like we were coming down, and for everything I was able to corroborate he was being truthful.”

Jurors heard a recording of the interview Stroud conducted with Ficklin in Mississippi after his arrest, in which Ficklin denied having a gun in his possession on the day of the shooting and said he had traveled from Franklin to Bowling Green with Massey and Donnie Flippin to the house on West 15th Avenue where Flippin sold drugs.

Ficklin arrested in Mississippi

Jacquelyn Derrick, who dated Ficklin at the time and has two children in common with him, testified that Ficklin called her Feb. 11, 2017, at her home in Alabama and had her come and pick him up at an exit ramp in Tennessee.

Derrick said Ficklin was not carrying a change of clothes or any other luggage and was not near a vehicle when she picked him up.

Derrick said Ficklin told her he had been driving “some dope fiend’s” vehicle when it ran out of gas in Tennessee.

Ficklin stayed at Derrick’s home for about a week before taking her car while she was at work. Derrick said she hadn’t allowed Ficklin to take the car, but he called and said he was taking the car to her mother’s home in Mississippi.

Instead, the car was found stuck in a logging road deep in the Mississippi country, and Ficklin was found Feb. 19, 2017, by Dwayne Phillips, a deputy coroner in Smith County, Miss., who was exploring a disturbance on his property.

Phillips said he was outside at the time and his dog started barking toward a wooded area, and he walked that way and saw a man later identified as Ficklin climbing a willow tree near a pond.

“He looked like he had been through a lot of bushes and saw briars,” Phillips said Thursday. “Some of his clothes were torn.”

After Ficklin came down from the tree, he began to roll on the ground and complain about being attacked by snakes, and Phillips used his county-issued radio to notify a deputy to come to the property, where Ficklin was arrested for trespassing.

Vincent BERNARD Ficklin