Fired Officer Is Indicted in Breonna Taylor Case; Protesters Wanted Stronger Charges

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — A grand jury weighing evidence in one of the country’s most contentious police shootings indicted a former Louisville police detective on charges of reckless endangerment on Wednesday for his role in the raid on the home of Breonna Taylor, but the two officers who shot Ms. Taylor six times faced no charges.

Protesters poured into the streets in Louisville after the announcement, and at least two police officers were shot shortly before a 9 p.m. curfew. There were also demonstrations in New York, Chicago, Milwaukee and smaller cities around the country.

The demonstrators called for all three officers, who are white, to be held to account for Ms. Taylor’s death in March. The officers had fired a total of 32 shots after they stormed her apartment with a warrant.

Prosecutors found that the two officers who shot Ms. Taylor, who was Black, were justified in their use of force because they had identified themselves as officers and had then come under fire from her boyfriend, who said he thought it was intruders forcing their way inside. The charges against former Detective Brett Hankison were for firing recklessly into a neighbor’s apartment.

Ms. Taylor’s death, which came months before George Floyd was killed by the Minneapolis police, became a rallying cry for racial justice protesters nationwide. On Wednesday afternoon, hundreds of demonstrators chanted Breonna Taylor’s name between sobs and scowls as they wound their way through the streets of Louisville. They carried signs that said “abolish police” and “Black lives matter.” Dozens of cars followed, honking their horns.

For more than two hours, the police followed in silver cruisers without intervening. But eventually a line of officers in riot gear confronted protesters, released chemical agents and arrested several people in the crowd.

At a news conference on Wednesday in Frankfort, Kentucky’s attorney general, Daniel Cameron, walked through the grand jury’s decision in detail in an effort to defuse the rage.

“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.

Mr. Cameron, a Republican, acknowledged that not everyone would be satisfied with the charges and said that as a Black man, he understood the pain that was brought about by Ms. Taylor’s death.

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transcript

One Officer Charged in Breonna Taylor Case

Daniel Cameron, Kentucky’s attorney general, announced that a grand jury indicted one officer on criminal charges in the fatal shooting of Breonna Taylor.

“On March 13 — in the months since taking this case, our dedicated team of prosecutors and investigators, with more than 200 years of combined career experience, conducted a thorough investigation to better understand the events that led to Ms. Taylor’s death. After hearing the evidence from our team of prosecutors, the grand jury voted to return an indictment against Detective Hankison for three counts of wanton endangerment, for wantonly placing the three individuals in Apartment 3 in danger of serious physical injury or death. The charge one, endangerment in the first degree, is a Class D felony, and if found guilty, the accused can serve up to five years for each count.” Reporter: “Mr. Cameron, Mr. Cameron, Rukmini Callimachi with The New York Times — right here —” “Yes, sorry.” “Hi, two questions for you: No. 1, you said that she was shot six times, yet her death certificate says five. Can you please explain the discrepancy? And the second thing is, journalists in this room, myself included, have taken apart that apartment complex looking for witnesses, to the point that you made about the knocking and announcing. Of a dozen witnesses that I spoke to, only one, a man who was directly upstairs, heard them announce. Do you think that’s enough, in the middle of the night when somebody is asleep, for just one person in a tight-knit apartment block, to have heard that? Is that a sufficient way of announcing?” “Well, let me try to answer your second question first. Your question was, is it enough for me? I think the more pertinent question is, what was the evidence provided to the grand jury? What was sufficient for their purposes? They got to here, and listened to all the testimony and made the determination that Detective Hankison was the one that needed to be indicted — indicted — knowing all of the relative points that you made. So there is a bullet that was lodged — and bullet might be too generous a term — there was an object that was lodged into, into one of her feet. And so that is what is being referred to as the sixth, I guess, projectile. My job is to present the facts to the grand jury, and the grand jury then applies those facts to the law. If we simply act on emotion or outrage, there is no justice. Mob justice is not justice. Justice sought by violence is not justice. It just becomes revenge. I certainly understand the pain that has been brought about by the tragic loss of Ms. Taylor. I understand that as a attorney general, who is responsible for all 120 counties in terms of being the chief legal officer, the chief law enforcement officer. I understand that. I understand that as a Black man, how painful this is, which is why it was so incredibly important for make sure that we did everything we possibly could to uncover every fact.”

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Daniel Cameron, Kentucky’s attorney general, announced that a grand jury indicted one officer on criminal charges in the fatal shooting of Breonna Taylor.CreditCredit…Whitney Curtis for The New York Times

“Justice is not often easy and does not fit the mold of public opinion. And it does not conform to shifting standards,” Mr. Cameron said.

The grand jury decision to indict Mr. Hankison came after more than 100 days of protests on the streets of Louisville and after a monthslong investigation into the death of Ms. Taylor, a 26-year-old emergency room technician who was shot in the hallway of her apartment by officers executing a search warrant as part of a drug investigation.

Grand jurors indicted Mr. Hankison, a detective at the time, on three counts of “wanton endangerment,” saying he had imperiled the lives of three of Ms. Taylor’s neighbors by firing bullets that reached their apartment.

Mr. Hankison fired through a door and window of Ms. Taylor’s apartment building that were covered with blinds, violating a department policy that requires officers to have a line of sight. At least some of his rounds reached the apartment directly behind Ms. Taylor’s, where a pregnant woman, her husband and their 5-year-old child were asleep. The rounds shattered the family’s glass door but did not harm anyone.

Mr. Hankison is the only one of the three officers who fired their weapons who was dismissed from the force, with a termination letter stating that he showed “an extreme indifference to the value of human life.”

All summer across America, Ms. Taylor’s name has been chanted and her image held up on posters at rallies protesting police brutality, with celebrities writing open letters and erecting billboards that demanded the officers be criminally charged.

In anticipation of the grand jury’s decision, the Louisville Metro Police Department canceled vacations and Chief Robert J. Schroeder said officers would not be granted time off. A local judge signed an order shutting the federal courthouse downtown, where storefronts and office towers were boarded up because of demonstrations that sometimes turned violent.

The concern about further unrest appeared prescient after two police officers were shot on Wednesday night. In a video livestreamed by the department, officers fired several projectiles while marching south along Brook Street. Moments later, several other bangs were heard, and the officers scattered. “Shots fired, shots fired,” said the woman recording the video as she ran for cover. Officers took cover behind a police truck and began shouting “officer down!”

Robert J. Schroeder, the Louisville police chief, said at a brief news conference that a suspect was in custody and that neither of the officers’ injuries were life-threatening.

Tensions boiled over at several protests nationwide. In Buffalo, a truck drove through a group of people who had gathered to protest, according to a local reporter at the scene. Demonstrators blocked highway traffic in Milwaukee, and protesters who marched from Brooklyn into the Lower East Side of Manhattan yelled at patrons in restaurants: “Wake up, this is your fight too!”

ImageProtesters marched in Louisville after Wednesday’s announcement.
Credit…Xavier Burrell for The New York Times

Earlier Wednesday in downtown Louisville, crowds who had gathered to listen as the indictment was read aloud cried out in fury and grief.

After the announcement, protesters shrieked in disgust. Shouts of “That’s it?” rose from the crowd. One person called for the city to be burned down. Several people broke down in sobs.

Desaray Yarbrough, who walked out of her Louisville house as people in the crowd marched past it, said the announcement would do nothing to quell angry demonstrators.

“It’s unjustifiable,” Ms. Yarbrough said. “The lack of charges is getting ready to bring the city down.”

Ms. Taylor’s mother, who had sued the city of Louisville for wrongful death in April, received a $12 million settlement last week. But Ben Crump, a lawyer for the family, wrote on Twitter that the lack of additional charges was “outrageous and offensive.”

Many legal experts had predicted that indictments would be unlikely, given that a state statute in Kentucky allowed citizens to use lethal force in self-defense and that it was Ms. Taylor’s boyfriend who had fired first.

“As an African-American, as someone who has been victim of police misconduct myself, getting pulled over and profiled, I know how people feel,” said John W. Stewart, a former assistant attorney general in Kentucky. “I have been there, but I have also been a prosecutor, and emotions cannot play a part here.”

During the raid, two officers, Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly and Detective Myles Cosgrove, returned fire after Ms. Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, fired one shot that struck Sergeant Mattingly in the leg, Mr. Cameron said. Mr. Walker’s bullet pierced Sergeant Mattingly’s femoral artery, and officers scrambled to apply a tourniquet to his leg.

The officers who broke down Ms. Taylor’s door shortly after midnight on 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.

Credit…Xavier Burrell for The New York Times

Mr. Walker has said that he and Ms. Taylor did not know who was at her door. Only one neighbor, out of nearly a dozen interviewed by The New York Times, reported hearing the officers shout “police” before entering.

The warrant for Ms. Taylor’s apartment was one of five issued in a case involving her ex-boyfriend Jamarcus Glover, who is accused of running a drug trafficking syndicate. At the other addresses that were searched, officers found a table covered in drugs packaged for sale, including a plastic sachet containing cocaine and fentanyl, police logs and a laboratory report show.

The surveillance leading police officers to Ms. Taylor’s home included a GPS tracker showing repeated trips by Mr. Glover to her home; photographs of him emerging from her apartment with a package in his hands; footage showing her in a car with Mr. Glover arriving at one of the trap houses he operated; and his use of her address on bank records and other documents. The F.B.I. has opened an investigation into whether the inclusion of her name and address on the warrant violated her civil rights, as her family’s lawyers have claimed.

The announcement on Wednesday revealed several new details in the case. Investigators at an F.B.I. laboratory reviewed the ballistics evidence and concluded that the shot that killed Ms. Taylor was fired by Detective Cosgrove. A total of 32 shots were fired by the police: 16 by Detective Cosgrove, 10 by Mr. Hankison and six by Sergeant Mattingly. The attorney general said none of Mr. Hankison’s rounds struck Ms. Taylor.

Mr. Cameron, who ran on a law-and-order platform, said the investigation and the grand jury determined that the police had properly knocked and announced their presence before bursting into Ms. Taylor’s apartment — a point disputed by Mr. Walker and by a number of neighbors who have said in interviews with reporters that they heard no announcement.

For months, Ms. 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.”

Rukmini Callimachi reported from Louisville and Frankfort, Ky., Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs from New York, and John Eligon and Will Wright from Louisville. Julie Bosman contributed reporting from Kenosha, Wis. Kitty Bennett contributed research.

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