One of the three Louisville police officers involved in the fatal shooting of Breonna Taylor has been indicted by a Kentucky grand jury, following a four-month investigation into the 26-year-old EMT’s death that sparked protests against police brutality nationwide.
Jefferson County Circuit Judge Annie O’Connell on Wednesday announced the grand jury’s decision to charge former detective Brett Hankison with three counts of wanton endangerment in connection to the police raid on the night of March 13.
The first-degree charge, a Class D felony which carries a penalty of up to five years in prison, relates to Hankinson shooting into the neighboring apartments during the incident, not Taylor’s death.
Hankinson was fired by the Louisville Metro Police Department in June after officials said he violated policy by ‘wantonly and blindly’ firing his gun during the raid.
Sgt Jonathan Mattingly and Detective Myles Cosgrove, who were also present at the time of the fatal operation, were not charged.
Neither the grand jury nor the presiding judge elaborated on the charges.
State Attorney General Daniel Cameron addressed the long-awaited decision shortly after the announcement in a news conference in the state capital, Frankfort.
Cameron gave a detailed account of the months-long investigation into the events leading up to deadly shooting, which he said had been pieced together by ballistics reports, 911 calls, and witness interviews, due to the lack of bodycam footage.
Investigators believe Cosgrove was responsible for firing the bullet that took Taylor’s life. Taylor was shot at least five times after officers barged into her apartment while acting on a search warrant for a drug investigation.
Her 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 had told police he heard knocking but didn’t know who was coming into the home and fired in self-defense.
Cameron said Cosgrove and Mattingly were not charged after investigators determined their actions were justified because Walker opened fire.
The three officers involved did not take part in the obtaining of the warrant, he said.
The raid had been widely reported by the media as a ‘no-knock’ warrant however, further investigations later proved the cops had knocked before entering.
Walker had told investigators he did hear knocking, but maintained the cops did not identify themselves as police.
They knocked on Taylor’s apartment door and announced their presence outside, which Cameron said was corroborated by a neighbor who witnessed the arrival.
Getting no answer, Cameron said police officers ‘breached the door’ and gained entry into the apartment.
Mattingly entered first, and at the end of a corridor saw Taylor and with Walker who was pointing a gun.
Walker fired, injuring Mattingly in the thigh. Mattingly returned fire, and his colleagues began shooting soon after, Cameron said. Hankison fired 10 bullets, Cameron said.
Six bullets hit Taylor, though there is no ‘conclusive’ evidence that any came from Hankinson’s gun, Cameron said. Bullets fired by Hankison traveled into a neighboring apartment.
In the lead up to Wednesday’s announcement, protesters have consistently pressured Cameron to act, and celebrities and pro athletes had joined them in calling on the attorney general to charge the police who shot Taylor.
At one point, demonstrators converged on his house and were charged with felonies for trying to intimidate the prosecutor.
The AG had previously refused to set a deadline for his decision on the investigation – which comes six months after Taylor’s death.
Kentucky State Police were out in force outside the historic museum, with squad cars and orange cones blocking the building as the verdict loomed.
Meanwhile in Louisville, officials had been bracing for more protests and possible unrest as the public nervously awaits the decision.
In a midday press conference, Mayor Greg Fischer announced he will impose a 72-hour curfew in the city, from 9pm to 6.30am.
‘No matter what Attorney General Cameron announces, I urge everyone to commit, once again, to a peaceful, lawful response,’ the mayor told reporters.
While emphasizing he does not know the grand jury’s finding, the mayor has declared a state of emergency in the city, and Louisville Metro Police Department has closed off much of downtown to vehicles.
The mayor and police said they were trying to plan ahead of time to protect both demonstrators and the people who live and work there.
Courthouses, offices and restaurants were already boarded up on Tuesday in the mostly deserted blocks around the city’s Jefferson Square Park, the site of regular demonstrations against police brutality that have spread across the nation.
Concrete barriers ringed the area, with a handful of checkpoints manned by police who would only allow people with essential business to drive downtown.
‘Our goal with these steps is ensuring space and opportunity for potential protesters to gather and express their First Amendment rights,’ Mayor Greg Fischer, a white Democrat, said in a statement.
‘At the same time, we are preparing for any eventuality to keep everyone safe.’ He emphasized he did not know when any decision might come.
Taylor, 26, was killed shortly after midnight on March 13 when three plainclothes officers used a battering ram to force their way in to her Louisville home with a so-called no knock warrant.
Fearing intruders, her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, fired a gun. The three officers fired their guns, striking Taylor five times.
The city’s main federal courthouse has also been closed all week in an order by Chief Judge Greg Stivers of the Western District of Kentucky.
Last week, the city of Louisville agreed to pay Taylor’s family a record-breaking $12million in a wrongful death lawsuit that her mother Tamika Palmer filed against the city and its police department back in April.
At a September 15 press conference announcing the settlement, Palmer repeated her plea for charges to be brought against the officers involved in her daughter’s death.
‘As significant as today is, it is only the beginning,’ Palmer said. ‘We must not lose focus on what the real job is, and with that being said, it’s time to move forward with the criminal charges, because she deserves that and much more.’
In addition to the $12million, the settlement will also include a series of police reforms for Louisville.
Among the reforms is a requirement that police commanders must approve all search warrants before they are sent to a judge.
Mayor Greg Fischer stated that the settlement had nothing to do with Cameron’s criminal investigation and said the city would be enacting reforms regardless of the outcome.
‘I’m deeply, deeply sorry for Breonna’s death,’ Fischer said. ‘My administration is not waiting to move ahead with needed reforms to prevent a tragedy like this from ever happening again.’
As part of the settlement, the mayor said Louisville police officers will be offered housing credits to move to some of the poorest parts of the city in the hopes of improving community ties.
They will also be encouraged to regularly volunteer for community organizations and will face increased random testing for drug use.
Ben Crump, an attorney for Taylor’s family, noted that the settlement was not only the largest ever paid by the city of Louisville, but also the largest ever for a black woman killed by police.
‘We won’t let Breonna Taylor’s life be swept under the rug,’ Crump said.
The attorney also called for charges against the officers and urged people to ‘say her name’ – a phrase that has become a refrain for those outraged by the shooting but dejected by the lack of attention Black women have been getting.
The lawsuit filed by Taylor’s mother alleged that police used flawed information when they obtained the no-knock warrant to enter her apartment.
Police descended on her apartment after securing a court-approved warrant as part of a drug investigation involving her ex-boyfriend that allowed officers to enter her home without any warning.
Taylor and her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, had been sleeping in bed when the officers served the warrant at around 1am.
Walker fired his gun when officers stormed into the apartment and has since said he thought he was defending against a home invasion.
At the time, Walker told police that he could hear knocking on the night of the shooting but did not hear police announce themselves.
Walker said he was ‘scared to death’ so he grabbed his gun and when the door was knocked down, he fired a shot that ended up striking an officer in the leg.
Investigators said police were returning fire when they shot Taylor eight times.
No drugs were found at her home.
The city has already taken some reform measures, including passing a law named for Taylor that bans the use of the no-knock warrants. Police typically use them in drug cases over concern that evidence could be destroyed if they announce their arrival.
Fischer fired former police chief Steve Conrad in June and last week named Yvette Gentry, a former deputy chief, as the new interim police chief. Gentry would be the first Black woman to lead the force of about 1,200 sworn officers.
The department has also fired Officer Hankison, who is appealing the dismissal.
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SOURCE: Daily Mail, Karen Ruiz; The Associated Press