A former Louisville police officer has been indicted on first-degree wanton endangerment charges for his actions on the night Breonna Taylor was killed by police -- but not for her death. Two other officers at the shooting were not indicted.
The long-awaited grand jury charges against the former officer, Brett Hankison, were immediately criticized as insufficient by demonstrators and activists. They had demanded more serious felony counts and the arrests of the three officers involved in the March shooting. The charges pertain to Hankison allegedly firing blindly through a door and window in Taylor's building.
The other two officers -- Sgt. John Mattingly and Det. Myles Cosgrove -- were not charged following months of demonstrations and unrest. Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron told reporters Wednesday the officers were "justified in their use of force" because Taylor's boyfriend fired at officers first. An FBI ballistics analysis showed Cosgrove fired the shot that killed Taylor, he said.
The grand jury decision comes more than six months after Taylor, a 26-year-old Black EMT and aspiring nurse, was shot to death after the three Louisville police officersbroke down the door to her apartment while executing a late-night warrant in a narcotics investigation on March 13.
"The decision before my office is not to decide if the loss of Breonna Taylor's life was a tragedy," said Cameron, the first Black person to hold the post and a Republican rising star. "The answer to that question is unequivocally yes."
Cameron called the Taylor's death "a gut-wrenching emotional case." He defended the length of the investigation, saying the time reflected "how important it was to get this right."
"I certainly understand the pain that has been brought about by the tragic loss of Ms. Taylor. I understand that as an attorney general who is responsible for all 120 counties, in terms of being the chief legal officer -- the chief law enforcement officer, I understand that. I understand that as a Black man -- how painful this is, which is why it was so incredibly important to make sure that we did everything we possibly could to uncover every fact."
Attorney Ben Crump, who represents Taylor's family, in a statement called the decision "outrageous and offensive."
"If Hankison's behavior constituted wanton endangerment of the people in the apartments next to hers, then it should also be considered wanton endangerment of Breonna. In fact, it should have been ruled wanton murder," he said.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky in a tweet called the decision to not charge the officers in her death "the latest miscarriage of justice in our nation's long history of denying that Black lives matter."
"Once again, a prosecutor has refused to hold law enforcement accountable for killing a young Black woman. Breonna Taylor should still be alive today."
The NAACP said in a statement that the justice system "failed" Taylor and the charges against one officer do "not go far enough."
First-degree wanton endangerment is a Class D felony, the lowest of four classes of felonies. The maximum sentence is five years; the minimum is one year.
Demonstrators at a makeshift memorial to Taylor in downtown Louisville called for Cameron to step down after the charges were announced in court and the former's detective's bond was set at $15,000. Some demonstrators marched in the downtown area. News footage Wednesday afternoon showed some clashes between protesters and police in riot gear.
"I understand that Miss Breonna Taylor's death has become a part of a national story in conversation," Cameron said. "We must also remember the facts and the collection of evidence in this case are different than cases elsewhere in the country. Each is unique and cannot be compared."
Cameron said he spoke with Tamika Palmer, Breonna Taylor's mother, before his press conference. He said there's nothing he can do to "take away the grief and heartache" that comes with Taylor's death.
Louisville has prepared for the possibility of unrest. For months, protesters have criticized the length of the investigation and demanded the arrests of all officers involved.
Anticipating new protests, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer and Louisville Interim Police Chief Robert Schroeder Wednesday afternoon announced a 72-hour countywide curfew starting 9 p.m. Government buildings will be closed.
The Kentucky National Guard has been activated, Schroeder said.
"I urge everyone to commit once again to a peaceful, lawful response, like we've seen here for the majority of the past several months," Fisher said.
The city and the police department had already declared states of emergency and set up barricades restricting vehicle access to downtown areas. Stores and restaurants have boarded up their windows, and some federal buildings closed for the week. Protesters started gathering Wednesday morning, hours before the expected announcement.
Taylor's death set off outrage across the country, chants of "say her name," calls to arrest the officers, and a renewed focus on the Black women killed by police. Her story gained wider attention during nationwide demonstrations that followed the late May killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police.
Cameron was named a special prosecutor in the case in May, and the FBI opened an investigation as well. After the announcement of the the grand jury's decision FBI Louisville in a statement said the agency "continues to investigate all aspects of the death of Breonna Taylor. Our work will continue beyond the state charges announced today."
Early Tuesday, Sgt. Mattingly, the officer who was shot, sent a mass email to the department defending his actions and slamming the city's leadership.
In June, Hankison was fired for "wantonly and blindly" firing into Taylor's apartment, Louisville's police chief said. Six officers involved in the incident are under internal investigation, LMPD said on Tuesday.
The city of Louisville announced on Sept. 15 a historic $12 million settlement of the 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.
Police believed Taylor was home alone when she was in fact accompanied by her boyfriend, who was legally armed, according to a CNN review of the shooting.That miscalculation, along with the decision to press forward with a high-risk, forced-entry raid under questionable circumstances, contributed to the deadly outcome.
Taylor's ex-boyfriend was the actual focus of a narcotics investigation that led officers to execute the warrant on her apartment, where no drugs were found.
Police said a man was shipping drugs to Taylor's apartment to avoid detection of a trafficking ring, according to a police affidavit for a search warrant, which was obtained by CNN.
The search warrant authorized police to search Taylor's apartment, two vehicles, and three people, including Taylor, and to seize, among other things, drugs and drug paraphernalia, money, safes, weapons, documents and computers. The warrant did not specifically connect Taylor to any alleged drug activity, and Taylor's family and their attorney have maintained that she was not involved in her ex-boyfriend's alleged drug trade.
Taylor was sleeping next to her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker III, in the early hours of March 13, and when they heard a noise they both got up and walked to the door.
"She's yelling at the top of her lungs — and I am too at this point — 'who is it?' " recalled Walker, her boyfriend. "No answer. No response. No anything."
Walker told investigators when he heard banging at the door his first thought was that it was Taylor's ex-boyfriend. He was concerned there might be trouble, so he grabbed his gun.
As Walker and Taylor made their way down a hallway toward the front door, Walker said, the door flew off its hinges.
"So I just let off one shot," he said. "I still can't see who it is or anything."
Cameron said Wednesday the officers both knocked and announced their presence at the apartment -- an account he insisted was corroborated by a witness near Taylor's apartment.
After the officers used a battering ram to enter, Mattingly was shot in the leg, severing his femoral artery, he told investigators.
He and two other officers -- Hankison and Cosgrove -- then discharged their weapons, according to the CNN review. Taylor was killed in the barrage of shots from the three officers. Walker, who was unharmed, dialed 911 and told the dispatcher someone had kicked in the door and shot his girlfriend.
Mattingly's attorney, Todd McMurtry, defended his client's conduct.
"Sgt. Mattingly was following orders of superior officers, was not involved in the planning process of the arrest, and at all times followed established police procedures," McMurtry said.
Walker was arrested and, six days later, indicted for the attempted murder of a police officer. The Louisville area's top local prosecutor later agreed to have the indictment against Walker dismissed.
The chaotic police operation that night was exacerbated by Hankison, who was accused by his own department of "blindly" firing 10 rounds into Taylor's apartment from an outdoor patio. Hankison has since been fired and is appealing his termination. His attorney, David Leightty, has declined comment.
Schroeder, the interim police chief, wrote in a June letter that Hankison violated standard operating procedure when his "actions displayed an extreme indifference to the value of human life" when he "wantonly and blindly fired ten (10) rounds" into Taylor's apartment.
Some rounds reached an apartment next door, "endangering the three lives in that apartment," Schroeder wrote. The chief called the officer's conduct "a shock to the conscience."
The officers were not wearing body cameras, police said.
Schroeder wrote that Hankison was disciplined in January 2019 for reckless conduct that injured an "innocent person." He gave no other details.
The Louisville city council in June passed Breonna's Law, which banned no-knock warrants and requires officers serving search warrants to wear body cameras.
Taylor's family filed the wrongful death lawsuit two months after her killing,claiming charges of battery, wrongful death, excessive force, negligence and gross negligence. The lawsuit asserted that Taylor was shot at least eight times. In announcing the $12 million settlement, Fischer, the Louisville mayor, said the city is not admitting wrongdoing.
"I cannot begin to imagine Ms. Palmer's pain," Fischer said, referring to Taylor's mother. "And I am deeply, deeply sorry for Breonna's death."
Taylor, described by relatives as a hard-working, goal-oriented young woman who placed an emphasis on family, had been working as a certified emergency medical technician at the time of her death.
Walker has also filed suit, saying he "lives in constant fear" since he was arrested -- wrongfully, he claims -- for allegedly shooting one of the Louisville officers.LMPD has declined comment, citing the ongoing investigation and pending litigation.
Walker said in the $10.5 million suit that he was maliciously prosecuted for firing a single bullet with his licensed firearm at "assailants" who "violently broke down the door" after midnight that March.
A portrait of Taylor was featured on the cover of the September issue of Oprah Winfrey's "O, The Oprah Magazine," the first time in the magazine's history that anyone but Winfrey has been on the cover. The magazine put up 26 billboards -- one for each year of her life -- around Louisville calling for the officers involved in her killing to be arrested and charged.
Other celebrities have also sought to keep the case in the spotlight, including NBA superstar LeBron James, who -- along with his Los Angeles Lakers teammates -- donned the MAGA hats worn by Trump supporters with the message: "Make America Great Again Arrest The Cops Who Killed Breonna Taylor."
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported which officer fired the shot that killed Breonna Taylor. That shot was fired by Detective Myles Cosgrove, according to Attorney General Daniel Cameron.
By: Ray Sanchez and Elizabeth Joseph