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A Kentucky grand jury brought no charges against Louisville police for the killing of Breonna Taylor during a drug raid gone wrong, with prosecutors saying Wednesday that two officers who fired their weapons at the Black woman were justified in using force to protect themselves.
The grand jury instead charged fired Officer Brett Hankison with three counts of wanton endangerment for firing into Taylor’s neighbors’ homes during the raid on the night of March 13. The FBI is still investigating potential violations of federal law in the case.
Along with the killing of George Floyd in Minnesota, Taylor’s case became a major touchstone for the nationwide protests that have gripped the nation since May — drawing attention to entrenched racism and demanding police reform. Taylor’s image has been painted on streets, emblazoned on protest signs and silk-screened on T-shirts worn by stars.
The charges drew immediate sadness, frustration and anger that the grand jury did not go further. The wanton endangerment charges each carry a sentence of up to five years. Protesters began marching through the streets of Louisville, where Taylor was killed, after the announcement, shouting “No justice, no peace.” Some sat quietly and cried.
For months, actors, sports stars, musicians and other celebrities have been using their platforms to call for justice in the police shooting death of Breonna Taylor, including at Sunday’s Emmy Awards. Her picture was used on the cover of O:The Oprah Magazine this year and even Beyoncé sent a letter to the Kentucky Attorney General asking for justice.
Many celebrities and sports stars decried the decision. Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron referenced the calls from stars and their likely reaction during his remarks, and urged people to keep protests peaceful.
“There will be celebrities, influencers and activists who having never lived in Kentucky will try to tell us how to feel, suggesting they understand the facts of this case, that they know our community and the Commonwealth better than we do, but they don’t,” Cameron said. “Let’s not give in to their attempts to influence our thinking or capture our emotions.”
Attorney Ben Crump, who is representing Taylor’s family, called the grand jury’s decision “outrageous and offensive!”
“Justice has NOT been served,” tweeted Linda Sarsour of Until Freedom, a group that has pushed for charges in the case.
Taylor, an emergency medical worker, was shot multiple times by officers who entered her home on a no-knock warrant during a narcotics investigation. The warrant used to search her home was connected to a suspect who did not live there, and no drugs were found inside. The use of no-knock warrants has since been banned by Louisville’s Metro Council.
The case exposed the wide gulf between public opinion on justice for those who kill Black Americans, and the laws under which those officers are charged, which regularly favor working police and do not often result in steep criminal accusations.
At a news conference, state Attorney General Cameron spoke to that disconnect.
“Criminal law is not meant to respond to every sorrow and grief,” Cameron told reporters after the charges were announced. “But my heart breaks for the loss of Miss Taylor. And I’ve said that repeatedly. My mother, if something was to happen to me, would find it very hard,” he added, choking up.
But Cameron, who is the state’s first Black attorney general, said that the officers acted in self-defense after Taylor’s boyfriend fired at them. He added that Hankison and the two other officers who entered Taylor’s apartment announced themselves before entering — and so did not execute the warrant as “no-knock,” according to the investigation.
“According to Kentucky law, the use of force by [Officers Jonathan] Mattingly and [Myles] Cosgrove was justified to protect themselves,” he said. “This justification bars us from pursuing criminal charges in Miss Breonna Taylor’s death.”
Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, opened fire when police burst in, hitting Mattingly. Walker was charged with attempted murder of a police officer, but prosecutors later dropped the charge.Walker told police he heard knocking but didn’t know who was coming into the home and fired in self-defense.
Regarding the disappointment of those who wanted criminal charges brought in Taylor’s death, Cameron remarked, “The decision before my office as the special prosecutor in this case was not to decide if the loss of Ms. Taylor’s life was a tragedy. The answer to that is unequivocally yes.”
A Republican, Cameron is a protege of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell who has been tagged by some as his heir apparent. His was also one of 20 names on President Donald Trump’s list to fill a future Supreme Court vacancy.
Before charges were brought, Hankison was fired from the city’s police department on June 23. A termination letter sent to him by interim Louisville Police Chief Robert Schroeder said the white officer had violated procedures by showing “extreme indifference to the value of human life” when he “wantonly and blindly” shot 10 rounds of gunfire into Taylor’s apartment in March.
Hankison had already been placed on administrative reassignment, as were Sgt. Johnathan Mattingly, Officer Myles Cosgrove and the detective who sought the warrant, Joshua Jaynes. On Sept. 15, the city settled a lawsuit against the three officers brought by Taylor’s mother, Tamika Palmer, agreeing to pay her $12 million and enact police reforms.
Protesters in Louisville and across the country have demanded justice for Taylor and other Black people killed by police in recent months. The release in late May of a 911 call by Taylor’s boyfriend marked the beginning of days of protests in Louisville, fueled by her shooting and the killing of Floyd while at the hands of police in Minneapolis on May 25. Several prominent African American celebrities including Oprah and Beyoncé have joined those urging that the officers be charged.
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