LOUISVILLE, Ky. — For five months, the demand has echoed across Louisville and around the country: “Arrest the cops who killed Breonna Taylor.”
On Wednesday, they got their answer.
A Jefferson County grand jury Wednesday indicted Brett Hankison, 44, on three counts of first-degree wanton endangerment. Jurors said several bullets he fired outside Taylor’s apartment March 13 went into a neighboring unit where a pregnant woman, a man and a child were home.
But neither he nor two other Louisville officers who fired their weapons at Taylor’s apartment — Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly and Detective Myles Cosgrove — were charged with killing Taylor, an unarmed Black woman.
And Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron made it clear he expects no further criminal charges to be filed in connection with the events at Taylor’s apartment that night.
Taylor, a 26-year-old emergency room technician, was shot six times by the officers and died in the hallway of her South Louisville apartment during an attempted LMPD search for drugs and cash that went horribly wrong.
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Immediately after the 1:15 p.m. announcement Wednesday, protesters at downtown’s Jefferson Square expressed their frustration and began to march through downtown. Trash can fires were lit in the evening as several hundred people marched through the city.
For Taylor’s family, attorneys and the protesters who have taken to Louisville’s streets for 119 consecutive days, the grand jury’s indictment was a bitter disappointment.
A week after celebrating the city of Louisville’s $12 million settlement with Taylor’s family that included more than a dozen police reforms, emotions tumbled.
“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,” family attorney Ben Crump wrote on Twitter.
“In fact, it should have been ruled wanton murder!”
But Cameron, whose office has been investigating the officers’ conduct at Taylor’s apartment for four months, pushed back. In a televised news conference from Frankfort, he said the criminal justice system “isn’t the quest for revenge,” and he cautioned those angered by the outcome.
“Our reaction to the truth today says what kind of society we want to be: Do we really want the truth, or do we want a truth that fits our narrative? Do we want the facts, or are we content to blindly accept our own version of events?”
Later Wednesday, President Donald Trump called Cameron “brilliant” and commended his handling of the case, applauding the attorney general’s statement that “justice is not often easy.”
“I said, ‘Write that down for me, please, ’cause I think it was a terrific statement,’” the president said in an evening news conference.
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At 4:30 p.m. Hankison was booked into the Shelby County jail. He was released by 5:02 p.m. after posting $15,000 cash bond.
Stewart Mathews, a Cincinnati attorney, is representing Hankison and said Cameron did “an excellent job” describing his handling of the case and its conclusions.
“He said he presented the evidence to the grand jury and didn’t try to influence them one way or another, which I appreciate very much, based on prior cases I’ve been involved with in the past where that was not necessarily the case from the prosecutors,” Stewart said.
Hankison will be entering a not guilty plea, Stewart said.
Wanton endangerment is a Class D felony and carries a penalty of one to five years in prison. The grand jury charges Jefferson Circuit Judge Annie O’Connell read said that Hankison “wantonly shot a gun” into Apartment 3 next to Taylor’s unit.
The occupants who Hankison is charged with threatening with his errant shots were identified by their initials. None of them was BT — Breonna Taylor.
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‘I can’t make it make sense’
Those same bullets cost Hankison his job in June. LMPD interim Chief Robert Schroeder fired him for “blindly” shooting 10 rounds into Taylor’s apartment and the adjoining unit.
Crime scene photos from the aftermath of the shooting show the neighbor’s shattered sliding glass door, with at least five bullet holes puncturing the glass, vertical blinds and curtains, while five more rounds went through a covered bedroom window.
Those bullets also penetrated into Apartment 3, where the patio door at the back of the apartment was shattered. A clock on the wall was struck twice, and the dining table was hit at least once, photos showed.
None of the three residents was injured, but they did file a May lawsuit against the LMPD officers claiming the shots were “blindly fired” and nearly hit a man inside. Chelsey Napper was pregnant and had a child in the apartment at the time, according to the lawsuit.
Attorneys for Taylor’s family expressed dismay and confusion at the grand jury’s conclusion.
“I can’t make it make sense in my head,” attorney Lonita Baker wrote on Facebook. “Wanton endangerment to a neighboring apartment constitutes wanton endangerment to Breonna.”
Sam Aguiar, Baker’s co-counsel, added “way to really rub it in” and apologized 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.”
Crime scene photos indicate at least one bullet traveled through the ceiling of Taylor’s apartment and into the one upstairs.
Taylor’s mother, Tamika Palmer, had previously pushed Cameron “to get all the facts, to get the truth and to get justice for Breonna.”
She said after an August meeting with Cameron that she was more confident after meeting with him that “truth will come out and that justice will be served.”
But on Wednesday, a visibly upset Palmer traveled to Cameron’s announcement in Frankfort and 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.”
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Cameron said he’d met with family members of Taylor’s before his press conference, calling it a hard and difficult meeting, but he declined to share specifics.
“I certainly understand the pain that has been brought about by the tragic loss of Ms. Taylor,” he said.
“I understand that as a Black man, how painful this is. Which is why it was so incredibly important to make sure that we did everything we possibly could to uncover every fact.”
Who killed Breonna Taylor?
Cameron said the grand jury decided homicide charges were not applicable because the investigation showed Mattingly and Cosgrove were justified in shooting back after they were fired upon by Kenneth Walker, Taylor’s boyfriend.
Walker has said he didn’t know police were on the other side of the door when officers used a battering ram to bust it in.
In total, police fired 32 shots into Taylor’s apartment.
From the doorway, Mattingly fired six shots and Cosgrove fired 16 “in a matter of seconds,” according to Cameron’s investigation. From outside, Hankison shot 10 more.
Of the six shots that struck Taylor, Cameron said only one was fatal. (He noted the sixth shot was a “projectile” lodged in one of Taylor’s feet, despite her death certificate listing five shots as the cause of death.)
A Kentucky State Police analysis did not identify which of the three officers fired the fatal shot, but the FBI crime lab concluded it came from Cosgrove. Cameron said this creates a “reasonable doubt” of who actually killed Taylor.
Cameron noted there was “nothing conclusive to say” that any of Hankison’s 10 shots hit Taylor.
The attorney general also rebutted the idea, suggested by Walker’s civil attorney, that Mattingly was struck in his femoral artery by friendly fire. The officers fired .40-caliber handguns; Mattingly was struck by a 9 mm round.
“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.”
Cameron also said his investigation did not delve into the process of obtaining the warrant that led police to break down Taylor’s door. Instead, federal law enforcement is examining that aspect of the case and any potential civil rights violations.
Cameron, a Republican elected in November as the commonwealth’s top law enforcement official, announced he would create a task force to “review the process for securing, reviewing and executing search warrants in Kentucky.”
‘They deserve to know more’
Gov. Andy Beshear, a former attorney general before being elected governor in November, called on Cameron to make as much of his office’s findings public as possible.
“Everyone can and should be informed, and those that are currently feeling frustration, feeling hurt, they deserve to know more,” he said. “I trust Kentuckians. They deserve to see the facts for themselves, and I believe that the ability to process those facts helps everybody.”
State Rep. Charles Booker, who ran for U.S. Senate in the Democratic primary to unseat Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, said “justice failed us today.”
“It failed us in a way that it has been failing us for generations,” he said.
There is no justifying Taylor’s death at the hands of police, he said. Booker has participated in the ongoing demonstrations in Louisville.
“Keep demanding change … but don’t be quiet, don’t slow down, and most importantly, lean in with love,” he said. “Breonna, thank you for being the light. We’ll keep fighting to honor your name.”
‘Is that it?’
As the grand jury’s decision was announced around 1:15 p.m., around 200 protesters gathered at Jefferson Square Park to listen to the judge’s words over a loudspeaker.
At first, there was confusion, then anger from those 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.”
At Taylor’s former apartment complex, resident Renee Pruitt said Wednesday’s wanton endangerment charges amounted to a “slap on the wrist.”
Pruitt, 39, a health care worker was there with her children the night Taylor was shot, awaking to gunfire. She was among those who called 911.
Her apartment was upstairs from Taylor across an open stairwell. It wasn’t hit, but others were — which she said was terrifying.
Standing outside a shrine of poems, flowers, a Black Lives Matter sign and artwork of Taylor, Pruitt said she learned of the grand jury’s decision while working downtown, before they were sent home for possible unrest.
“My head just dropped,” she said. “You blindly shot into this apartment, and not to mention other peoples’ and you get three counts of wanton endangerment?
“Breonna deserves more than that.”
In anticipation of Cameron’s announcement, Fischer invoked a 72-hour curfew, effective Wednesday night, from 9 p.m. to 6:30 a.m.
The uncertainty swirling around the decision 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.
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 has stayed quiet. Until the decision came down.
Reporters Morgan Watkins and Chris Kenning contributed to this story. Tessa Duvall: 502-582-4059; email@example.com; Twitter: @TessaDuvall. Darcy Costello: 502-582-4834; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @dctello.