Officer involved in Breonna Taylor's death charged with wanton endangerment; family's lawyer blasts 'outrageous' decision

Crystal Hill
·Reporter
·6 mins read

A grand jury in Jefferson County, Ky., indicted former Louisville police detective Brett Hankison on Wednesday in connection with the fatal shooting of Breonna Taylor, charging him with three counts of wanton endangerment, in a decision that devastated advocates who sought more serious charges in Taylor’s killing.

The two other officers involved in the case, Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly and detective Myles Cosgrove, were not charged, and none of the officers were charged for their role in her death.

“While there are six possible homicide charges under Kentucky law, these charges are not applicable to the facts before us because our investigation showed, and the grand jury agreed, that Mattingly and Cosgrove were justified in their return of deadly fire after having been fired upon by Kenneth Walker,” Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron said Wednesday.

The Republican attorney general said that according to Kentucky law, the use of force by Mattingly and Cosgrove was justified to protect themselves. “This justification bars us from pursuing criminal charges in Ms. Breonna Taylor’s death.”

The earlier announcement of the indictment outraged civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump, an attorney for Taylor’s family. “Jefferson County Grand Jury indicts former ofc. Brett Hankison with 3 counts of Wanton Endangerment in 1st Degree for bullets that went into other apartments but NOTHING for the murder of Breonna Taylor,” Crump tweeted. “This is outrageous and offensive!”

Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron addresses the media following the return of a grand jury investigation into the death of Breonna Taylor, in Frankfort, Ky., Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020. Of the three Louisville Metro police officers being investigated, one was indicted. (Timothy D. Easley/AP)
Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron addresses the media following the return of a grand jury investigation into the death of Breonna Taylor, in Frankfort, Ky., Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020. Of the three Louisville Metro police officers being investigated, one was indicted. (Timothy D. Easley/AP)

On Instagram, Breonna Taylor’s sister, Juniyah, said the system had failed Taylor.

“You was failed by a system you worked hard for and I am so sorry,” her post said. “I love you so so so so so much.”

Cameron said he spoke with Taylor’s mother, Tamika Palmer, before the announcement and informed her of the decision not to charge the officers with homicide.

Wanton endangerment in the first degree is a Class D felony, and applies to those who have shown extreme indifference to the value of human life. It carries up to five years in prison for each count.

Taylor, 26, died after police tried to enter her residence on March 13 while she and her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, were sleeping. Louisville officials said officers executed a no-knock warrant at the home, but claim that they knocked anyway and announced themselves before breaking down the door, according to a statement from the city.

Walker said he heard a pounding at the door but didn’t hear police announce themselves, the city said. Walker fired and hit Mattingly in the thigh, according to Cameron. The officers all returned fire.

“Evidence shows that officers both knocked and announced their presence,” Cameron said Wednesday, adding that after Walker fired his gun, police responded with 22 shots of their own. A ballistic analysis, Cameron said, determined that a shot by Cosgrove killed Taylor.

A file photo, date not known, provided by the Louisville Metro police department shows officer Brett Hankison. The department has fired Hankison, one of the police officers involved in the fatal shooting of Breonna Taylor. (Louisville Police Department via AP, File)
A file photo, date not known, provided by the Louisville Metro police department shows officer Brett Hankison. The department has fired Hankison, one of the police officers involved in the fatal shooting of Breonna Taylor. (Louisville Police Department via AP, File)

Hankison fired his weapon 10 times, Cameron said, sending bullets into apartments adjacent to Taylor’s. At the time of the incident, three residents in those apartments were home.

“There is no conclusive evidence that any bullets fired from Hankison’s weapon struck Miss Taylor,” Cameron said.

There was no video or body camera footage of the incident. Therefore, Cameron said, his inquiry relied on ballistics evidence, 911 calls, police radio traffic and interviews with the people involved.

The warrant that brought the officers to Taylor’s apartment was part of an investigation into a drug trafficking suspect, who is Taylor’s former boyfriend, the Associated Press reported.

The decision to charge Hankison with endangering others, while not pursuing a case against the officers who killed Taylor drew a rebuke from attorneys representing Taylor’s family.

“I can’t make it make sense in my head,” attorney Lonita Baker said on Facebook. “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.”

Louisville Metro Police interim Chief Robert Schroeder terminated Hankison on June 19, according to the city, alleging he “blindly” fired 10 rounds into Taylor’s apartment. The other two officers were placed on administrative leave.

Louisville police turned over the investigation into the shooting to Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron’s office in May.

Taylor’s death sparked an outcry across the nation, and she became yet another symbol for demonstrators protesting against police brutality and misconduct targeting Black Americans. Protesters, activists, athletes and celebrities worldwide have called for the officers involved to be charged criminally.

"Our reaction to the truth today says what kind of society we want to be,” Cameron said. “Do we really want the truth, or do we want a truth that fits our narrative? Do we want the facts or are we content to blindly accept our own version of events. We as a community must make this decision. I understand that Miss Breonna Taylor’s death has become a part of a national story and conversation, but 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."

When asked about Cameron’s decision not to charge the officers with homicide, President Trump said Wednesday he didn’t yet know much about the decision, but added that he loves “the Black community, and I've done more for the Black community with the possible exception of Abraham Lincoln."

Cameron spoke at the Republican National Convention in August on behalf of Trump’s reelection.

A woman reacts to news in the Breonna Taylor shooting, Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020, in Louisville, Ky. A grand jury has indicted one officer on criminal charges six months after Breonna Taylor was fatally shot by police in Kentucky. The jury presented its decision against fired officer Brett Hankison Wednesday to a judge in Louisville, where the shooting took place. (Darron Cummings/AP)
A woman reacts to news in the Breonna Taylor shooting, Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020, in Louisville, Ky. A grand jury has indicted one officer on criminal charges six months after Breonna Taylor was fatally shot by police in Kentucky. The jury presented its decision against fired officer Brett Hankison Wednesday to a judge in Louisville, where the shooting took place. (Darron Cummings/AP)

For days, Louisville had been gearing up for potential unrest following Wednesday’s decision, with several downtown businesses boarding up storefronts. Democratic Mayor Greg Fischer set a three-day curfew starting on Wednesday from 9 p.m. to 6:30 a.m.

“Our hope is that people will lawfully and peacefully express themselves,” Schroeder said ahead of the decision. “We will not tolerate destruction of property.”

Last week, Taylor’s mother, Tamika Palmer, settled a wrongful death lawsuit against the city for $12 million. The settlement included an agreement that the city would implement a number of police reforms.

Thumbnail credit: AP

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