LOUISVILLE, Ky. — A grand jury convened to investigate the March 13 police killing of Breonna Taylor, a Louisvillle ER technician, recommended charges against only one of the three officers involved.
“Criminal law is not meant to respond to every sorrow and grief,” Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron said during his announcement of the grand jury’s findings. “That is true here, but my heart breaks for the loss of Miss Taylor.”
Former Det. Brett Hankison was indicted on three counts of wanton endangerment, not for shooting Taylor but for endangering the lives of her neighbors when he fired his gun into her apartment. If convicted on all counts, Hankison could spend up to 15 years in prison.
Hankison, who was fired for his involvement in the incident, was among a trio of officers sent to search Taylor’s apartment on March 13 as part of a larger drug trafficking investigation. The Associated Press reported neither Taylor nor her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, were considered suspects, but law enforcement suspected an ex-boyfriend had been using her apartment to receive packages containing drugs.
Cameron said the three officers — Hankison, Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly and Det. Myles Cosgrove — arrived at Taylor’s apartment early in the morning, knocked on the door and announced themselves before entering. This part of the account, which Cameron said was corroborated by all three officers and an on-scene witness, contradicts prior accounts in which other witnesses said police entered without knocking.
Only Mattingly entered the apartment, according to Cameron. Inside, he saw Taylor and Walker standing at the end of a hallway; Walker fired a gun at him.
All three officers returned fire, Cameron said. None of their shots would hit Walker.
Six hit Taylor, who died at the scene. She was 26 years old.
Although Taylor died in March, her case would not receive widespread public attention until May, when her name — along with that of George Floyd, an unarmed man killed by police in Minneapolis — became a nationwide rallying cry for activists protesting police killings of unarmed Black people and calling for large-scale changes to the United States criminal justice system. The push to “defund police” by reallocating public money to other social services, although not a universal cause among these protesters, emerged during the spring protests.
Even after large demonstrations subsided, protesters and public figures continued to demand the arrests and dismissal of all three officers involved in the early-morning search, sometimes in in-person gatherings and sometimes on social media. The alleged involvement of a "no-knock" warrant led to a successful push for the warrants to be banned in Louisville. Taylor's family sued the city of Louisville for wrongful death and received a $12 million settlement on Sept. 15.
Speaking Wednesday, Cameron — who is Black — said he had a "difficult" conversation with Taylor's family ahead of the announcement but characterized much of the nationwide reaction as outsiders’ attempts to interfere in Kentucky business.
“There will be celebrities, influencers and activists who, having never lived in Kentucky, will try to tell us how to feel, suggesting they understand the facts of this case and that they know our community and the commonwealth better than we do, but they don’t,” he said. “Let’s not give in to their attempts to influence our thinking or capture our emotions. At the end of the day, it is up to us.”
Cameron also repeatedly described Taylor’s death as a “tragedy” outside the ability of the law to remedy and voiced his faith in the decision of the grand jury, saying its members had "every fact" that state and federal investigators had uncovered in their long investigation of the incident. He refused to disclose the jury's racial or gender makeup.
He promised his office would “vigorously” prosecute the wanton endangerment charges against Hankison and would not move to levy additional charges against Cosgrove or Mattingly, despite public pressure to do so.
“In a world that is forcing many of us to pick a side, I choose the side of justice,” he said. “I choose the side of truth. I choose a path that moves the commonwealth forward and toward healing.”
At a briefing Wednesday afternoon, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear requested that Cameron, like other prosecutors, post online all "information, evidence and facts" from the investigation that would not impact the felony counts.
“Everyone can and should be informed, and those who are currently feeling frustration, feeling hurt, they deserve to know more. I trust Kentuckians. They deserve to see the facts for themselves,” Beshear said.
By mid-afternoon, some demonstrators took to the streets of Louisville as the city was placed under a state of emergency and businesses boarded up windows.
“I would ask that we not engage in any type of violence, and that we not put ourselves in a position, and that people not put themselves in a position, where someone can hijack what they are trying to do, can try to incite violence around them,” the governor said.