Breonna Taylor Shooting: 1 of 3 Involved Officers Is Charged -- but Not with Her Death
No police officers will be charged with the fatal shooting of Breonna Taylor, an incident that led to months of protests and made Taylor a face of the Black Lives Matter movement. However, one of the three involved officers was indicted for wanton endangerment for allegedly firing bullets that risked injury to persons in an adjacent apartment, Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron said Wednesday.
Nothing determined that former detective Brett Hankison, the lone officer who will now face criminal charges, fired the shot that killed Taylor, a 26-year-old aspiring nurse who had been working as an emergency room technician, on March 13 in her Louisville apartment, Cameron said at a news conference.
That shot was fired by another officer, detective Miles Cosgrove, according to Cameron. But no additional charges were filed against Cosgrove or Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly because "our investigation showed, and the grand jury agreed, Mattingly and Cosgrove were justified in their return of deadly fire after having been fired upon by Kenneth Walker," Cameron said.
Walker is Taylor's boyfriend, who was with her when the officers entered the apartment while executing a search warrant in an investigation into a suspected drug dealer.
The decision against bringing murder or manslaughter charges, along with the absence of charges against Mattingly and Cosgrove, seemed certain to spark a backlash as the city's mayor prepared by enacting a curfew and Louisville Metro Police confirmed that the state's National Guard had been activated, reports local TV station WLKY.
An attorney for Hankison did not immediately respond to the announcement of the charges.
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Ben Crump, an attorney for Taylor's family, tweeted after the announcement: "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!"
Walker has said he thought it was a break-in. A wrongful death lawsuit filed by Taylor's mother, Tamika Palmer, alleged that Walker, a licensed gun owner, fired a warning shot as the unknown persons breached the front door with a battering ram, and that officers responded by firing into the apartment.
Cameron countered reports that the officers enacted a "no-knock" warrant, and said an independent witness heard officers announce their presence before entering the apartment. But when they did not get an answer, "the decision was made to breach the door."
In response to Walker's shot at the incoming individuals, Mattingly fired six bullets, Cosgrove fired 16, and Hankison fired 10, Cameron said. Six bullets struck Taylor. Only one of them was fatal, and would have caused her to die within two minutes, he said.
Hankison, who with the other officers had been placed on administrative reassignment after the shooting, was fired in May after receiving a termination letter that said he “wantonly and blindly” shot 10 times into Taylor’s apartment.
The three counts of wanton endangerment against Hankison are class D felonies, punishable by up to 5 years for each count if convicted.
Although the suspected drug dealer didn't live at Taylor's apartment — and had, in fact, just been arrested at a different location — officers alleged that he had once retrieved a package at Taylor's residence, which prompted their search warrant.
Ahead of Wednesday's announcement, Mattingly sent an email on Saturday to more than 1,000 Louisville Metro Police colleagues that criticized Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer, the FBI, protesters and others, while defending the officers' actions, reports the Courier Journal.
“Regardless of the outcome ... I know we did the legal, moral and ethical thing that night,” Mattingly wrote. “It’s sad how the good guys are demonized, and the criminals are canonized.”
Earlier this month the City of Louisville reached a $12 million settlement with Taylor's mother in the wrongful death lawsuit. When the settlement was made public, the mayor addressed Palmer directly at a news conference, saying, "I cannot begin to imagine Miss Palmer's pain, and I'm deeply, deeply sorry for Breonna's death."
The shooting sparked months of protests in the city, and Taylor's name joined those of others invoked across the country by protesters seeking justice for Black victims of alleged bias or police brutality -- among them Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia, George Floyd in Minnesota and Jacob Blake in Wisconsin.
After Walker's shot hit Mattingly in the thigh, Walker was arrested and charged with attempted murder of a police officer. Those charges were dropped May 22, after the FBI opened an investigation into the case.
Taylor was studying to become a neonatal nurse at the time of her death, Palmer previously told PEOPLE.
She said her daughter always wanted to help others. Her calling started at a young age when she helped her grandmother, who had diabetes.
“Even as a kid, I remember she would ask, ‘Can I stick your finger?,’” says Palmer. “You know, being a diabetic, you've got to prick your finger to test your blood sugar.”
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Later, Taylor helped adults with disabilities and then drove people who needed rides to appointments and grocery stores. She later became a certified EMT and drove an ambulance before becoming an emergency room technician at two local hospitals.
Taylor's death drew widespread outrage, and interest in her case grew after the May 25 police killing of Floyd galvanized the Black Lives Matter movement. Celebrities such as Beyoncé, Jennifer Lawrence, Oprah Winfrey and LeBron James had publicly rallied around Taylor's case and called for the officers to be charged.
Cameron said that even as he concluded his independent investigation, a federal investigation of the case is ongoing.
To help combat systemic racism, consider learning from or donating to these organizations:
• Campaign Zero (joincampaignzero.org) which works to end police brutality in America through research-proven strategies.
• ColorofChange.org works to make government more responsive to racial disparities.
• National Cares Mentoring Movement (caresmentoring.org) provides social and academic support to help black youth succeed in college and beyond.