A Kentucky grand jury brought no charges against Louisville police for the killing of Breonna Taylor during a drug raid gone wrong, with prosecutors saying Wednesday two officers who fired their weapons at the Black woman were justified in using force to protect themselves.
The grand jury instead charged fired officer Brett Hankison with three counts of wanton endangerment for firing into Taylor’s neighbours’ homes during the raid on the night of March 13. The FBI is still investigating potential violations of federal law in the case.
Taylor, a Black emergency medical technician, was shot multiple times by officers who entered her home during a narcotics investigation on March 13. The warrant used to search her home had been approved as a “no-knock” warrant, but at a news conference, state Attorney General Daniel Cameron said Hankison and the two other officers who entered Taylor’s apartment did knock and announce themselves before entering the apartment, and that one civilian witness corroborated that evidence.
The charges drew immediate sadness, frustration and anger that the grand jury did not go further. The wanton endangerment charges each carry a sentence of up to five years. Protesters began marching through the streets of Louisville, where Taylor was killed, after the announcement, shouting “No justice, no peace.” Some sat quietly and cried.
Attorney Ben Crump, who is representing Taylor’s family, tweeted that the charges involved “NOTHING for the murder of Breonna Taylor. This is outrageous and offensive!”
If Brett Hankison’s behavior was wanton endangerment to people in neighboring apartments, then it should have been wanton endangerment in Breonna Taylor’s apartment too. In fact, it should have been ruled wanton murder!
“Justice has NOT been served,” tweeted Linda Sarsour of Until Freedom, a group that has pushed for charges in the case.
Right after the decision, protesters brought cases of water to the Louisville park where people have gathered to demand justice for Taylor. Some began preparing food.
Later, police in the city cordoned off a street with yellow tape, telling protesters to move back, and officers in protective gear could be seen handcuffing some people. After scuffles broke out, the police ordered the crowd to disperse and said chemical agents may be used if they don’t.
Military vehicles arrived in the city ahead of a 9 p.m., local time, curfew.
Gov. Andy Beshear, a Democrat, urged Cameron to post online all the evidence and facts that can be released without affecting the charges filed.
“Those that are currently feeling frustration, feeling hurt, they deserve to know more,” he said. “They deserve to see the facts for themselves. And I believe that the ability to process those facts helps everybody.”
The case exposed the wide gulf between public opinion on justice for those who kill Black Americans, and the laws under which those officers are charged, which regularly favour working police and do not often result in steep criminal accusations.
At a news conference, Cameron spoke to that disconnect.
“Criminal law is not meant to respond to every sorrow and grief,” Cameron told reporters after the charges were announced.
“But my heart breaks for the loss of Miss Taylor. And I’ve said that repeatedly. My mother, if something was to happen to me, would find it very hard,” he added, choking up.
Acted ‘in self-defence’
But Cameron, who is the state’s first Black attorney general, said that the officers acted in self-defence after Taylor’s boyfriend fired at them.
“According to Kentucky law, the use of force by [Officers Jonathan] Mattingly and [Myles] Cosgrove was justified to protect themselves. This justification bars us from pursuing criminal charges in Miss Breonna Taylor’s death.”
WATCH | Cameron explains what happened in Breonna Taylor’s apartment:
Commenting on the inevitable disappointment by those who wanted criminal charges brought in Taylor’s death, he said:
“The decision before my office as the special prosecutor in this case was not to decide if the loss of Ms. Taylor’s life was a tragedy. The answer to that is unequivocally yes.
“I understand that Breonna Taylor’s death is part of a national story, but the facts and evidence in this case are different than others” involving police shootings.
“If we simply act on emotion or outrage, there is no justice. Mob justice is not justice. Justice sought by violence is not justice. It just becomes revenge.”
A Republican, Cameron is a protege of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and has been tagged by some as his heir apparent. His was also one of 20 names on U.S. President Donald Trump’s list to fill a future Supreme Court vacancy.
WATCH | Louisville settles with Taylor’s family, vows policing changes:
Hankison was fired from the city’s police department on June 23.
A termination letter sent to him by interim Louisville Police Chief Robert Schroeder said the white officer had violated procedures by showing “extreme indifference to the value of human life” when he “wantonly and blindly” shot 10 rounds of gunfire into Taylor’s apartment in March.
Hankison, Mattingly, Cosgrove and the detective who sought the warrant, Joshua Jaynes, were placed on administrative reassignment after the shooting.
Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, opened fire when police burst in, hitting Mattingly. Walker was charged with attempted murder of a police officer, but prosecutors later dropped the charge.
Walker told police he heard knocking but didn’t know who was coming into the home and fired in self-defence.
On Sept. 15, the city settled a lawsuit against the three officers brought by Taylor’s mother, Tamika Palmer, agreeing to pay her $12 million US ($16 million Cdn) and enact police reforms.
Protesters in Louisville and across the country have demanded justice for Taylor and other Black people killed by police in recent months.
The release in late May of a 911 call by Taylor’s boyfriend marked the beginning of days of protests in Louisville, fuelled by her shooting and the violent death of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis on May 25.