NPR.org, By Rachel Treisman, Brakkton Bookerm and Vanessa Romo, Posted September 24th 2020
Following months of outrage, activism and anticipation, a Kentucky grand jury has decided to indict one of the three Louisville Metro Police Department officers involved in the fatal shooting of Breonna Taylor in March.
Brett Hankison, who was terminated in June, has been charged with three counts of wanton endangerment over shooting into neighboring apartments. Bond was set at $15,000.
The grand jury did not announce charges against Jonathan Mattingly and Myles Cosgrove, the other two officers involved. None of the three faces state charges directly over Taylor’s death.
The announcement comes six months after Taylor, a 26-year-old emergency medical technician, was killed in her home during a botched narcotics raid.
At a Wednesday afternoon press briefing, Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron said Mattingly and Cosgrove, who were first fired upon by Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, “were justified in their use of force.”
Walker has maintained he did not hear the officers announce themselves before entering the home. He has said he mistook them for intruders and fired a warning shot, which hit Mattingly in the leg. Then officers opened fire.
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According to Cameron, “evidence shows that officers both knocked and announced their presence at the apartment.” He cited the officers’ statements and one additional witness. There is no video or body camera footage of the officers executing the search warrant, he said.
“While there are six possible homicide charges under Kentucky law, these charges are not applicable to the fact before us, because our investigation showed, and the grand jury agreed, that Mattingly and Cosgrove were justified in their return of deadly fire,” Cameron said.
The attorney general said a ballistics report by the FBI determined that Mattingly fired six times and Cosgrove 16 times.
He also said there were discrepancies between the investigation carried out by Kentucky State Police and the FBI over which officer fired the shot that killed Taylor.
State investigators could not determine which of the officers killed Taylor, while the FBI found that Cosgrove fired the fatal shot, Cameron said.
Cameron said his office will vigorously prosecute the charges brought against Hankison. He could face a maximum sentence of five years for each count. The FBI will continue to investigate potential violations of federal law, the attorney general added.
Shortly after the grand jury returned its indictment, Taylor family attorney Ben Crump expressed disappointment about the decision.
“Jefferson Grand Jury indicts former ofc. Brett Hankison with 3 counts of Wanton Endangerment in 1st Degree for bullets that went into other apartments but NOTHING for the murder of Breonna Taylor. This is outrageous and offensive,” Crump said in a tweet.
“Today’s decision is not accountability and not close to justice. Justice would have been [Louisville Metro Police Department] officers never shooting Breonna Taylor in the first place,” Carl Takei, senior staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union’s Criminal Law Reform Project, said in a statement.
“The choice to bring these charges alone and so late highlights the indifference to human life shown by everyone involved in Breonna Taylor’s murder.”
President Trump praised the Kentucky attorney general for his comments urging people to remain peaceful and reminding the public that “justice is not often easy.”
Trump said Cameron was “handling it very well.”
The president also noted that Kentucky’s governor has called up the National Guard, which Trump called “a good thing.”
He said he would be speaking to the governor shortly.
Protesters immediately started to gather following the grand jury’s decision.
Kentucky state Rep. Attica Scott, a Black woman who represents west Louisville, spoke to NPR by phone Wednesday from the city’s Jefferson Square Park, which has been the center of protests for months.
“I’m disappointed,” Scott said, adding she had hoped that all three officers who fired their weapons would be indicted.
“Disappointed and not surprised. I’m very clear that justice was not served today.”
Last month Scott proposed a bill called “Breonna’s Law” that would require police officers executing search warrants in Kentucky to knock and verbally announce themselves. The measure would also make it mandatory for officers to activate their body cameras while serving a warrant.
Ahead of the grand jury announcement, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer ordered a countywide curfew from 9 p.m. to 6:30 a.m. for 72 hours, beginning Wednesday night. On Tuesday, the mayor declared a preemptive state of emergency as the city braced for possible protests.
The police department shut down parts of downtown Louisville to car traffic, saying it wanted to ensure the area is safe for demonstrators and those who live and work there.
Taylor’s name has become a rallying cry over the summer at nationwide protests against racial injustice and police violence.
Demonstrators took to the streets to demand justice and accountability for Taylor and other Black Americans killed or severely injured by law enforcement this year, including George Floyd, Rayshard Brooks and Jacob Blake.
However, Cameron said Wednesday that Taylor’s case should not be compared with these other recent ones.
“Ms. Breonna Taylor’s death has become a part of a national story and conversation,” Cameron said. “But we must also remember the facts and the collection of evidence in this case are different from cases elsewhere in the country.”
Some of the recent protests in Louisville grew tense and violent. In June, a Black resident was shot and killed as police responded to curfew violations related to ongoing protests, prompting the firing of the police chief. In late August, 64 protesters were arrested after staging a sit-in on a highway overpass.
Protesters in Louisville marked their 100th consecutive night of action in early September.
The other officers, Mattingly and Cosgrove, were placed on administrative reassignment.
“Every day is still March the 13th,” Taylor’s mother, Tamika Palmer, said in August, five months to the day after the shooting.
Taylor’s death and the ensuing protests have led to some policy changes in Louisville.
In June, the City Council voted unanimously to ban no-knock warrants. The legislation, also called Breonna’s Law, requires police to wear body cameras when serving warrants and activate them five minutes before starting an operation.
The officers were not wearing body cameras during the fatal raid, though NPR member station WFPL reported the city required all officers to wear and use them when serving warrants. The mayor has since ordered an outside firm to conduct a review of the Louisville Metro Police Department.
Last week, the City Council passed a no-confidence vote against the mayor over his handling of Taylor’s shooting and the unrest that followed. They offered him a list of proposed reforms but stopped short of calling for his resignation.
In a video responding to the vote, Fischer said several of the suggested police reforms are underway but noted “the work needed goes beyond public safety.”
The settlement includes a host of reforms to be adopted by police. These include establishing a housing and voucher program to encourage officers to live in lower-income city neighborhoods, and creating a clearer command structure when executing warrants at multiple locations, as was the case the night of Taylor’s death.
Tamika Palmer, Taylor’s mother, said in an NPR interview last week that she appreciated people of all races who have kept her daughter’s case in the national spotlight.
When asked what steps she and her family would take if the investigation ended with no charges against the officers, Palmer responded: “I won’t go away. I’ll still fight.”