Grand Jury Indicts Only One of Three Cops Involved in Breonna Taylor Case—and Not for Her Death

People gather in Jefferson Square awaiting word on charges against police officers, 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. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

By Keya Vakil

September 23, 2020

Officer Brett Hankison was indicted on three counts of “wanton endangerment” in the first degree over firing his weapon into neighboring apartments.

Only one of the three Louisville police officers who shot and killed Breonna Taylor more than six months ago will face charges—and not for Taylor’s death—a Kentucky grand jury announced Wednesday.

Officer Brett Hankison was indicted on three counts of “wanton endangerment’ in the first degree over firing his weapon into neighboring apartments—a far less severe charge than those sought by Taylor’s family and attorney. He was not charged in any way for his role in killing Taylor. Hankison could face up to five years for each count, if found guilty.

The grand jury decided not to indict the other two officers, Jonathan Mattingly and Myles Cosgrove. 

Taylor, a 26-year-old Black EMT and aspiring nurse, was killed in March after police executed a warrant and entered her apartment, allegedly believing it to be tied to a drug investigation involving Taylor’s ex-boyfriend.

While police had received court approval for a “no-knock” warrant, the orders were reportedly changed before the raid to “knock and announce,” meaning that the police—who were all white—had to identify themselves. Taylor was at home with her current boyfriend, 27-year-old Kenneth Walker.

The officers allegedly knocked on the door, waking the couple up. Walker, a Black man, claimed he and Taylor both asked who was at the door, but did not hear a response. He later told police he feared it was the ex-boyfriend trying to break in. Police then used a battering ram to enter the apartment. Walker said he was afraid the police were intruders, and fired one shot from his gun, striking Mattingly in the thigh. 

The three plainclothes officers responded by firing more than 20 shots, five of which hit Taylor, killing her. 

Officers did not find any drugs, and Taylor’s family and their attorney insist that she was not involved in her ex-boyfriend’s alleged drug operation.

Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron, who was appointed as a special prosecutor in the case by Gov. Andy Beshear, explained the lack of more severe charges during a press conference Wednesday afternoon.

“Our investigation showed and the grand jury agreed that Mattingly and Cosgrove were justified in their return of deadly fire after being fired upon by Kenneth Walker,” Cameron said. “This justification bars us from pursuing criminal charges in Ms. Breonna Taylor’s death.”

Cameron also said the warrant was not a “no-knock warrant” as previously reported—a claim he said was corroborated by a witness and would contradict prior reports. “Evidence shows that officers both knocked and announced their presence at the apartment,” Cameron said. “In other words, the warrant was not served as a no-knock warrant.”

While Taylor’s killing did not initially draw significant public attention, the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers two months later sparked a nationwide movement for racial justice, which included widespread calls to “arrest the cops who killed Breonna Taylor.”

RELATED: The ‘Warrior Mindset’ of Cops Is One of the Biggest Obstacles to Police Reform

Wednesday’s announcement was met with outrage from civil rights activists and advocates for police reform.

“I think it’s grossly insufficient. It does not deal with the fact that the life of Breonna Taylor was taken,” Reverend Al Sharpton said on MSNBC on Wednesday.

The backlash was not unexpected, and Louisville city leaders prepared as such. On Wednesday, shortly before the grand jury report was delivered, Mayor Greg Fischer announced a 72-hour countywide curfew from 9 p.m. to 6:30 a.m., beginning on Wednesday. The curfew does not apply to people commuting to work, houses of worship for services, or seeking medical attention for themselves or others. 

“Our goal is ensuring space and opportunity for potential protesters to gather and express their First Amendment rights,” Fischer said in a statement. “At the same time, we are preparing for any eventuality to keep everyone safe.”

The Kentucky National Guard was also activated ahead of the announcement.

Grand Jury Indicts Only One of Three Cops Involved in Breonna Taylor Case—and Not for Her Death
A Louisville police officer guides a motorist through a roadblock in downtown Louisville, Kentucky, on Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020. Police were preparing for an announcement in the Breonna Taylor investigation into police officers’ actions the night she was shot to death in her home. (AP Photo/Dylan Lovan)

City leaders began preparing for potential protests earlier this week, with police leadership declaring a “state of emergency” and canceling all vacation days and other days off requests for police officers. Fischer also issued an executive order on Tuesday declaring a state of emergency to prepare for possible civil unrest. He simultaneously signed another order banning on-street parking and restricting access to five downtown parking garages. Police officials also set up barricades across the downtown area, to prevent cars from entering the neighborhood. 

While they will not face criminal charges at the state level, Mattingly, Hankison, Cosgrove, and three other officers are still under internal investigation by the Louisville Metro Police Department, and Hankison was fired in June for “wantonly and blindly” firing into Taylor’s apartment. 

Mattingly, meanwhile, sent an email to more than 1,000 colleagues last Saturday in which he called protesters “thugs,” and criticized Fischer, former LMPD Chief Steve Conrad, and the FBI, VICE News reported.

Last week, the Taylor family secured a civil agreement with the city of Louisville. Fischer announced that the city had reached a $12 million settlement deal with Taylor’s family, one of the largest for a police killing in American history. As part of the deal, city leaders agreed to major police reforms, including incentivizing officers to live within the city to better improve community relations, a commitment to retain social workers and expand their role in the department, reforming warrant procedures, and efforts to strengthen accountability for officers. 

Cameron announced Wednesday that he would also create a task force that will review the search warrant process in Kentucky.

Grand Jury Indicts Only One of Three Cops Involved in Breonna Taylor Case—and Not for Her Death
This undated photo provided by Taylor family attorney Sam Aguiar shows Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Ky. (Courtesy of Taylor Family attorney Sam Aguiar via AP, File)

In June, city lawmakers passed “Breonna’s Law,” banning the use of no- knock warrants.

Taylor’s family and their attorney Benjamin Crump, however, had sought manslaughter charges at the minimum. On Wednesday, Crump reacted to the charges on Twitter with anger. “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,” Crump wrote. “In fact, it should have been ruled wanton murder!”

Update (Sept. 23, 2:32 p.m.): This story has been updated with statements from Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron.

READ MORE: How Elected Officials From Trump to City Mayors Have Stopped Police Reform


  • Keya Vakil

    Keya Vakil is the deputy political editor at COURIER. He previously worked as a researcher in the film industry and dabbled in the political world.

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