A grand jury on Wednesday indicted a former Louisville police detective for endangering Breonna Taylor’s neighbors by recklessly firing his gun during a raid on her apartment in March, but no officer was charged with killing Taylor.
The three-count indictment concerns Brett Hankison, a detective at the time, who fired into the sliding glass patio door and window of Taylor’s apartment building, both of which were covered with blinds, in violation of a department policy that requires officers to have a line of sight.
At least some of his rounds traveled through the walls into the apartment directly behind Taylor’s, where a pregnant woman, her husband and their 5-year-old child were asleep. The rounds shattered a glass door of the adjoining apartment, but did not harm the couple and their child.
Hankison is the only one of the three officers who was dismissed from the force, with a termination letter stating that he showed “an extreme indifference to the value of human life.”
In a news conference following the announcement of the grand jury’s decision, Kentucky’s attorney general, Daniel Cameron, said, “The decision before my office is not to decide if the loss of Breonna Taylor’s life was a tragedy — the answer to that question is unequivocally yes,” he said.
He later added, “I know that not everyone will be satisfied. Our job is to present the facts to the grand jury, and the grand jury then applies the facts,” he said, adding: “If we simply act on outrage, there is no justice — mob justice is not justice. Justice sought by violence is not justice. It just becomes revenge.”
The decision came after more than 100 days of protests and a monthslong investigation into the death of Taylor, a 26-year-old emergency room technician who was shot five times in the hallway of her apartment by officers executing a search warrant.
Because the officers did not shoot first — it was the young woman’s boyfriend who opened fire; he has said he mistook the police for intruders — many legal experts had thought it unlikely the officers would be indicted in her death.
Taylor’s name and image have become part of a national movement over racial injustice, with celebrities writing open letters and erecting billboards demanding that the white officers be criminally charged for the death of a young Black woman. City and state officials feared that a grand jury decision not to prosecute the officers would inflame a city that has been roiled by demonstrations that have sometimes turned violent.
Taylor’s mother sued the city of Louisville for wrongful death and received a $12 million settlement last week. But she and her lawyers have insisted that nothing short of murder charges for all three officers would be enough, a demand taken up by thousands of protesters in Kentucky and across the country.
Many legal experts said that indictments would be unlikely, given the state’s statute allowing citizens to use lethal force in self-defense.John W. Stewart, a former assistant attorney general in Kentucky, said he believed that at least two of the officers who opened fire were protected by that law.
“As an African American, as someone who has been victim of police misconduct myself, getting pulled over and profiled, I know how people feel,” Stewart said. “I have been there, but I have also been a prosecutor, and emotions cannot play a part here.”
Two officers, Sgt. Jon Mattingly and Detective Myles Cosgrove, returned fire in the direction of Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, according to internal documents. In the chaos that ensued, Mattingly was shot, injuring the femoral artery in his leg, and the others scrambled to drag him out of the apartment and apply a tourniquet to his leg.
In Louisville, protesters erupted in anger over the grand jury’s decision.
Protesters gathered in downtown Louisville shrieked in disgust after the charges in the Breonna Taylor case were announced. They were particularly upset that the only officer charged was required to post a bond of just $15,000.
After the announcement, which the protesters listened to live, ended with only one officer charged, people yelled, “That’s it?”
Some people swore. One person called for the crowd to burn the city down. Several people sobbed and had to be consoled.
One woman sitting on a chair with a T-shirt bearing Taylor’s image had to be consoled by several people.
“It tells people, cops can kill you in the sanctity of your own home,” Linda Sarsour, a Palestinian American activist, said as she wiped tears from her face.
Desaray Yarbrough, who lives in Louisville and came out of her house when the march came by, said the attorney general’s announcement would do nothing to quell angry demonstrators.
“It’s unjustifiable,” Yarbrough said. “The lack of charges is getting ready to bring the city down.”
Protesters started marching through the streets shortly after the decision was announced, as a helicopter buzzed overhead.
For about 10 minutes, a group of about 150 protesters blocked the intersection of Broadway and Sixth Street, just outside the barricade.
Protesters argued with angry drivers who had their way blocked. Most cars turned around at the direction of the protesters who stood in their way.
Within minutes, more than a dozen police officers arrived, and the protesters continued down Broadway.
Block by block, the police caravan followed. Some, armed with assault rifles, stood by their vehicles.
On Second Street, four police cruisers in line with the march were surrounded by demonstrators.
Many walked by with their hands up, while a few yelled at the officers and held up their middle fingers.
By 2:15, about 250 demonstrators were marching, with as many as two dozen police cruisers in pursuit.
The officer is charged with ‘wanton endangerment.’ What does that mean?
The grand jury indicted Hankison for three counts of “wanton endangerment in the first degree,” a felony that carries up to five years in prison for each count.
Cameron, the Kentucky attorney general who will now oversee the prosecution of Hankison, said the former detective had been charged with the crimes because the grand jury believed that the shots he fired had endangered three people in an apartment next to Taylor’s.
Under Kentucky law, a person is guilty of the crime when “under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life, he wantonly engages in conduct which creates a substantial danger of death or serious physical injury to another person.”
Cameron said on Wednesday that the FBI was still investigating whether any of the officers committed a federal crime, such as violating Taylor’s civil rights.
Other cities are bracing for protests.
In anticipation of the grand jury’s decision, Louisville police officers placed barricades around downtown this week to reduce access to the area, and Robert J. Schroeder, the city’s interim police chief, told officers that he would not approve any requests for time off.
“We all know something is coming,” Schroeder said Tuesday. “We don’t know what it is.”
Mayor Greg Fischer, a Democrat, issued a state of emergency order Tuesday in anticipation of possible “civil unrest” following the announcement of the grand jury decision by the Kentucky attorney general. A local judge also signed an order shutting down the federal courthouse in downtown.
Fischer said on Twitter that the restrictions on the city’s downtown were to keep people safe while allowing for possible protests.
Anger over Taylor’s killing has spread far from Louisville, and Gov. J.B. Pritzker of Illinois indicated this week that he was also preparing for the grand jury’s decision. A spokeswoman for Pritzker said that he had spoken to Mayor Lori Lightfoot of Chicago and had asked the state’s National Guard to be ready for the possibility of demonstrations in Illinois.
Police officers with a ‘no-knock’ warrant broke down Taylor’s door.
The officers who broke down Taylor’s door shortly after midnight March 13 had come with a search warrant, signed by a local magistrate. They had court approval for a “no-knock” warrant, which Louisville has since banned, but the orders were changed before the raid, requiring them to knock first and announce themselves as the police.
Walker has said that he and Taylor did not know who was at her door. Only one neighbor, out of nearly a dozen, reported hearing the officers shout “police” before entering.
Taylor’s death became a Black Lives Matter rallying cry.
For months, Taylor’s death has been a rallying cry. Michelle Obama and Kamala Harris, the Democratic vice-presidential nominee, called out her name during the Democratic National Convention. Oprah Winfrey paid for billboards demanding the officers be charged, writing in her magazine, “We have to use whatever megaphone we can.”
Frustration has mounted in Louisville at the pace of the investigation into the fatal shooting. That frustration has been compounded by a city administration that refused to release basic records — including her autopsy and the body camera footage of officers who responded to the shooting — and that made inexplicable errors in some of the documents it did release, including a report incorrectly claiming that she had not been injured and that the door to her apartment was never breached.