FRANKFORT, Ky. — The eyes of a nation have been focused on Louisville in the 194 days since 26-year-old EMT Breonna Taylor was killed in a barrage of gunfire from three Louisville Metro Police Officers serving a search warrant at her apartment.
Demonstrations and protests broke out Wednesday night and two Louisville Metro police officers were shot during the chaos.
Interim Police Chief Robert Schroeder said during a brief news conference Wednesday night that both officers, who were not identified, sustained non-life-threatening injuries.
What You Need To Know
- Breonna Taylor shot by Louisville police officers on March 13
- Attorney General handed case to grand jury
- One of three officers indicted
- Decision sparks more protests
Since the night of the shooting on March 13, there have been multiple protests and other demonstrations nationwide calling for Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron to arrest the officers involved, Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly, former Det. Brett Hankison and Det. Myles Cosgrove, and charge them with murder. Celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey and Lebron James have also spoken publicly about the case and expressed their desire for the officers’ arrest.
From a room inside the Kentucky History Museum on Wednesday, Sept. 23, Cameron announced the long-awaited decision, which was determined by a Jefferson County grand jury. Hankison, who has since been fired from the LMPD, was charged with three Class D felony counts of wanton endangerment, each punishable by up to five years in prison and a $30,000 fine. Cameron set a $15,000 cash bond for Hankison. The grand jury did not return a bill of indictment on any charges for Mattingly or Cosgrove. Hankison was booked at the Shelby County jail shortly after the announcement. He posted bail and was subsequently released.
Cameron said during the press conference he presented the findings from the case to the grand jury this past Monday and the decision was made just moments before he made the announcement.
“I urge everyone listening today to not lose sight of the fact that a life has been lost — a tragedy under any circumstances,” Cameron said. “The decision before my office as special prosecutor in this case is not to decide whether the loss of Ms. Taylor’s life was a tragedy. The answer to that question is unequivocally yes.”
Cameron said the findings show Hankison fired his gun through a window from outside Taylor’s apartment and those bullets entered a separate residence of a man, woman and child, which resulted in the grand jury’s decision to file charges.
“The loss of Ms. Breonna Taylor’s life is a tragedy, and our office has worked tirelessly since receiving the case in mid-May to review all of the evidence in preparation for presenting it to an independent grand jury,” Cameron said. “The grand jury determined that there is no evidence to support a criminal violation of state law caused Ms. Taylor’s death. The grand jury found that there was sufficient evidence to indict Det. Hankison for wanton endangerment for firing his weapon outside a sliding glass door and through a bedroom window, with some bullets traveling through that apartment and entering the apartment next door while three residents were at home.”
There is no conclusive evidence any bullets fired from Hankison’s weapon struck Taylor and the ballistics analysis conducted by the Kentucky State Police did not identify which of the three officers fired the fatal shot, Cameron said. A ballistics analysis by the FBI crime lab determined the fatal shot was fired by Cosgrove.
Cameron said he also plans to create a task force to determine the best practices for executing search warrants.
“Conducting a top-to-bottom review of the search warrant process is necessary to allow input on the current system and determine if changes are required,” he said. “This is a necessary step for our law enforcement, citizens, and elected leaders to take together, and I look forward to leading this important discussion.”
The city of Louisville prepared for Wednesday’s announcement, with many businesses and schools closing and traffic being detoured away from areas where protests are likely. Several protesters were in Frankfort Wednesday but dispersed after Cameron’s announcement without incident.
The reactions since the announcement have been nothing short of outrage. Taylor’s family, legal team, protesters and politicians have expressed their displeasure with the grand jury’s decision.
“I can’t make it make sense in my head,” said Lonita Baker, an attorney for the Taylor Family. “Wanton endangerment to a neighboring apartment constitutes wanton endangerment to Breonna. She was clearly unarmed – as indicated in Mattingly’s statement – yet multiple bullets were fired at her while she was already on the ground.”
Baker also said the search warrant was “obtained with lies” and questioned the lack of a perjury charge. She also inquired about wanton endangerment charges for the apartment above Taylor’s where another Black family lived.
“If there were facts sufficient to indict for wanton endangerment to other people, there were facts sufficient to indict for wanton murder of Breonna,” she said.
Another attorney for the Taylor Family, Sam Aguiar, criticized the grand jury’s decision and placed the blame on himself.
“Way to really rub it in,” he said. “Three counts for the shots into the apartment of the white neighbors, but no counts for the shots into the apartment of the Black neighbors upstairs above Breonna’s, let alone everything else you got wrong. I’m so sorry, Breonna. And Tamika. And Juniyah. And Kenny. And Bianca. And Tahasha. And everyone. This isn’t right and I should’ve done more.”
Taylor Family Attorney Ben Crump called the decision “outrageous and offensive.”
“Jefferson County grand jury indicts former officer Brett Hankison with three counts of wanton endangerment in first degree for bullets that went into other apartments, but nothing for the murder of Breonna Taylor,” he said. “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. This amounts to the most egregious disrespect of Black women killed by police in America.”
Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Louisville, made a statement about the grand jury’s decision and referenced a leaked email Mattingly sent to his fellow officers in which he wrote, “I know we did the legal, moral and ethical thing that night.”
“In no sense could this be considered moral or ethical,” Yarmuth said. “That this killing has been deemed ‘legal,’ that an officer involved could still feel that her death was justified, shows how very, very far we still have to go. No, Breonna Taylor's killing was neither moral nor ethical, and it’s past time for the law to reflect that. Breonna did not deserve to be killed in her home. She deserves justice. I join the many who demand change so that no one has to face the same ‘legal’ fate as Breonna Taylor, in our community or anywhere else, ever again.”
Kentucky Secretary of State Michael Adams applauded Cameron’s efforts in the investigation but also called for improvements to the state’s justice system.
“Attorney General Cameron has shown immense courage in taking on the investigation of the killing of Breonna Taylor; great diligence in painstakingly running down every lead; and extraordinary grace under pressure in detailing his findings before the eyes of our country,” Adams said. “A prosecutor’s highest duty is not charges or convictions, but justice, even when it leads to an emotionally unsatisfactory result. Our attorney general and the sitting grand jury in Jefferson County applied the facts to the law. Our next step as a Commonwealth is to improve the law. I applaud the Attorney General’s efforts toward improvement of our justice system, and I hope that reform legislation will be enacted in the 2021 legislative session, if not sooner.”
ACLU of Kentucky Executive Director Michael Aldridge said Cameron’s announcement is 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,” he said. “Breonna Taylor should still be alive today. We join the Taylor family and the community in protesting and mourning the Commonwealth’s choice to deny justice for Breonna. The results of this investigation reflect insufficient standards for police use of force, government-sanctioned violence and terror in communities of color, and a need to completely rebuild our justice system. The ACLU of Kentucky will continue working with community leaders, activists, and elected officials to radically change policing so this never happens again.”
Leaders in other cities in Kentucky were also prepared for unrest as a result of the decision. Lexington Mayor Linda Gorton announced most downtown businesses would close at 1 p.m. Wednesday and suggested people avoid the area. She said non-emergency city employees who work downtown were sent home.
“I am urging everyone to remain calm as events unfold in Louisville,” she said. “Protests need to remain peaceful. As always, our police are prepared to protect this community.”
Cameron said his office will continue to prosecute the charges brought in this case as it proceeds through the justice system and moves to trial while the FBI continues its investigation into potential violations of federal law.
Protests were initially peaceful following the announcement until demonstrators were met by a police line a couple hours into their march. A clash between police and protesters ensued and pepper balls were sprayed, injuring some people there. Authorities also made some arrests.
As the 9 p.m. curfewed neared, some protesters started small fires, including one at Jefferson Park and at the Hall of Justice. And at around 8:30 p.m., two Louisville Metro police officers were shot during the protests.
The circumstances surrounding the shooting were not made clear, but Interim Police Chief Robert Schroeder during a brief news conference Wednesday night said both officers, who were not identified, sustained non-life-threatening injuries.
"I'm very concerned about the safety of our officers. Obviously, we've had two officers shot tonight and that is very serious. It's a very dangerous condition. I think the safety of our officers and the community we serve is of the utmost importance," Schroeder said.
One person was taken into custody. That person has not been identified.
Wednesday's announcement also spurred protests in Breonna's name around the country, including in Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., New York, Dallas, Las Vegas, San Diego and Columbus, Ohio.
To see what happened during the day, check out our blog of all the events.