Grand jury indicts 1 of 3 officers in Breonna Taylor shooting. But not for her death

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — A Jefferson County grand jury has indicted one of three Louisville officers connected to the March 13 fatal police shooting of 26-year-old Breonna Taylor.

But the charges are for putting Taylor’s neighbors in danger, not for killing her — a move an attorney for her family called “outrageous and offensive.”

The grand jury’s decision, announced Wednesday:

  • Former detective Brett Hankison was indicted on three counts of first-degree wanton endangerment.
  • Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly was not indicted.
  • Detective Myles Cosgrove was not indicted.

“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,” attorney Ben Crump wrote on Twitter. “In fact, it should have been ruled wanton murder!”

A wanton endangerment charge is a class D felony and carries a penalty of one to five years in prison. The charges read by Judge Annie O’Connell on Wednesday said that Hankison “wantonly shot a gun” into adjoining Apartment 3.

The occupants of that apartment were identified by initials. None of victims identified in the indictment was BT — Breonna Taylor.

That means the grand jury did not find that Hankison wantonly fired into Taylor’s apartment the night she died or that any of the officers are criminally liable in her death.

The judge set a $15,000 cash bond for Hankson. A warrant has been issued for his arrest.

In May, Taylor’s neighbor, Chesey Napper, filed a lawsuit against the LMPD officers, claiming that the officers’ shots were “blindly fired” and nearly struck a man inside. Napper was pregnant and had a child in the home, according to the lawsuit.

“I can’t make it make sense in my head,” attorney Lonita Baker, who represented Taylor’s family in their civil lawsuit, wrote on Facebook. “Wanton endangerment to a neighboring apartment constitutes wanton endangerment to Breonna.”

Sam Aguiar, Baker’s co-counsel, also expressed dismay at the decision, writing on Facebook, “way to really rub it in” and apologizing to Taylor’s family members.

“Three counts for the shots into the apartment of the white neighbors, but no counts for the shots into the apartment of the black neighbors upstairs above Breonna’s. Let alone everything else you got wrong,” Aguiar wrote. “This isn’t right and I should’ve done more.”

Cameron said the grand jury decided homicide charges are not applicable because the investigation showed that Mattingly and Cosgrove were justified in returning deadly fire after they were fired upon by Kenneth Walker, Taylor’s boyfriend, who has said he didn’t know police were at the door.

He said there was “nothing conclusive to say” that any of Hankison’s bullets hit Taylor.

Three Louisville Metro Police Department officers fired their guns into Breonna Taylor's apartment: Brett Hankison, Jonathan Mattingly and Myles Cosgrove.

“Justice is not often easy and does not fit the mold of public opinion. And it does not conform to shifting standards,” Cameron said. “I know that not everyone will be satisfied with the charges we’ve reported today.

“My team set out to investigate the circumstances surrounding Ms. Taylor’s death. We did it with a singular goal in mind: pursuing the truth. Kentucky deserves no less. The city of Louisville deserves no less. If we simply act on emotion or outrage, there is no justice. Mob justice is not justice.”

A visibly upset Tamika Palmer, Taylor’s mother, traveled to Cameron’s announcement in Frankfort but left without commenting. Attorneys for the Taylor family said they would not be talking or issuing a statement.

Taylor’s sister, Juniyah Palmer, posted a picture on Instagram of her with Breonna, saying, “Sister, I am so sorry.”

‘Is that it?’

Around 200 protesters gathered at Jefferson Square Park as the announcement was played on a loudspeaker.

As the decision concluded, there was confusion at first, then anger from those who had gathered.

“Is that it?” One woman asked.

Protesters almost immediately began chanting “No justice, no peace.” Several cried at the grand jury decision.

“I’m heartbroken,” Logan Cleaver, a protester, said Wednesday immediately after the grand jury’s decision was announced. “This is not a justice system if it’s not for everybody.”

The announcement comes after Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron’s office presented its findings to the grand jury earlier this week. His team has been investigating the Taylor shooting since May.

In anticipation of Cameron’s announcement, Mayor Greg Fischer invoked a 72-hour curfew, effective Wednesday night, from 9 p.m. to 6:30 a.m.

Last week, Fischer announced the city agreed to a $12 million settlement with Breonna Taylor’s family that includes more than a dozen police reforms.

The uncertainty swirling around the decision on possible criminal charges in Taylor’s death has drawn both local and international attention as protesters have marched and chanted on Louisville’s streets for 119 consecutive days.

Protesters in Louisville and supporters across the U.S. have called for “justice for Breonna” and other Black Americans, such as George Floyd in Minneapolis, who have been killed by police. 

Taylor’s death and the ensuing protests have been showcased in news reports and in public statements by celebrities, athletes, sports leagues and politicians from Joe Biden to Beyonce to LeBron James, all calling for justice and the arrest of the officers who shot the unarmed Louisville woman.

In the past week, the tension escalated to an unnerving pitch as national network crews arrived in Louisville and rumors spread wildly that a decision was imminent, only to be proven wrong again and again. 

Wednesday’s announcement comes as images of a restricted downtown Louisville have flashed across the world. 

Downtown has taken on the appearance of a city under siege, with plywood nailed across business fronts and concrete barriers cordoning off a 25-block perimeter.

Louisville Metro Police interim Chief Robert Schroeder said the restrictions, long planned amid “unprecedented times,” were meant to protect public safety, property, protesters and avoid conflicts between drivers and demonstrators.

Protesters will still be able to access downtown on foot to demonstrate and retain their First Amendment rights, city officials said.

“I hope all of this is not needed,” Schroeder said.

Through it all, Cameron, a rookie Republican attorney general elected in November 2019 and a protege of Majority Leader Mtich McConnell, has stayed quiet. Until the decision came down today.

The ER technician was killed after officers used a “no-knock” search warrant at her apartment shortly before 1 a.m. March 13, looking for drugs and cash as part of a larger narcotics investigation connected to her former boyfriend.

Fact check:Debunking 8 widely shared rumors in the Breonna Taylor police shooting

Police knocked on the door and said they announced themselves before using a battering ram to force their way inside. Kenneth Walker, Taylor’s boyfriend, said they were in bed when they heard pounding at the door, asked who it was and heard no response.

When the door burst open, Walker fired a single shot from his Glock handgun. Police said that round hit Mattingly in the thigh, severing an artery.

Mattingly, Cosgrove and Hankison fired more than two dozen rounds in response, spraying the apartment. Her death certificate says she was hit five times. She died in her hallway.

Walker was charged with the attempted murder of a police officer and assault before those charges were dropped at the request of Commonwealth’s Attorney Tom Wine.

Mattingly and Cosgrove have been on administrative reassignment since the shooting. Hankison was fired for firing indiscriminately into Taylor’s apartment.

Wounded officer in Breonna Taylor case emails cops: ‘I’m proof they do not care about you’

‘I can no longer remain silent’:Breonna Taylor’s boyfriend sues, claims police misconduct

The officers involved have not spoken publicly until Tuesday, when Mattingly sent a 2 a.m. email to more than 1,000 colleagues saying they had done the “legal, moral and ethical thing that night.”

Walker has since filed a lawsuit against the department, arguing he is a victim of police misconduct and seeking immunity from prosecution. And his attorney, Steve Romines, has questioned whether Mattingly was accidentally shot by fellow officers in the mayhem. 

The FBI is also investigating Taylor’s death for possible civil rights violations by the officers.

More:Report details why Louisville police decided to forcibly search Breonna Taylor’s home

This story will be updated.

Tessa Duvall: 502-582-4059; tduvall@courier-journal.com; Twitter: @TessaDuvall. Darcy Costello: 502-582-4834; dcostello@courier-journal.com; Twitter: @dctello. Support strong local journalism by subscribing today: www.courier-journal.com/subscribe