Louisville police officers said that just after midnight on March 13, they repeatedly knocked on Breonna Taylor’s door to issue a search warrant—before using a battering ram to break down the entrance to the 26-year-old’s front door.
Law enforcement’s telling of the chaotic night that ended in Taylor’s death inside her apartment conflicts with testimony given by her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, who told authorities that he hadn’t heard the officers knock on the door, and if he had, it would have changed “the whole situation because there’s nothing for us to be scared of.”
Their conflicting accounts have come to light in about 20 hours of grand jury recordings released Friday by the Kentucky Attorney General’s office. The grand jury ultimately decided not to charge the three officers involved in Taylor’s fatal shooting for her death.
A judge ordered AG Daniel Cameron to take the extraordinarily unusual step of releasing the grand jury recording, a process that is typically kept secret, after an unidentified juror filed a motion requesting the release of all information in Taylor’s case—stating “certain questions were left unanswered.”
But the hours of audio don’t give a complete picture of the proceedings, as the audio doesn’t include jury deliberations, prosecutor recommendations, and opening and closing statements. Cameron said those parts were not recorded as they’re not considered “evidence,” a practice he called “customary.”
“I’m confident that once the public listens to the recordings, they will see that our team presented a thorough case to the Jefferson County Grand Jury,” Cameron said in a Friday statement about an hour after the recordings were released. “Our presentation followed the facts and the evidence, and the Grand Jury was given a complete picture of the events surrounding Ms. Taylor’s death on March 13th. While it is unusual for a court to require the release of the recordings from Grand Jury proceedings, we complied with the order, rather than challenging it, so that the full truth can be heard.”
The redacted records, which were released at 11:40 a.m, have been broken down into 14 separate audio files from Sept. 21 to Sept. 23. A transcript of the recording has not been released.
The grand jury made the stunning decision last month to indict just one officer, Brett Hankison, for recklessly firing shots that endangered people in other apartments. Mattingly and Cosgrove—the latter was the cop who fired the shot that killed Taylor—weren’t charged. Cameron has said they were “justified to protect themselves.”
“Do we really want the truth, or do we want a truth that fits our narrative?” Cameron said last week amid outrage over the grand jury decision.
Maybell Romero, an associate professor at Northern Illinois University College of Law, told The Daily Beast that while each state is free to set different rules on how their grand jury proceedings go, it is extremely “strange” that the attorney general didn’t include recommendations and arguments in the audio release.
“If anything, his decision not to include his arguments makes it harder for the public to find inconsistencies and scrutinize the investigation,” Romero said. “Most people are not going to listen to hours and hours of testimony, it’s a heavy lift and requires a lot more work. So this may just be a way for him to shield himself.”
In the days since the grand jury’s decision, questions have emerged about the narrative and recommendations that were presented to jurors. Cameron revealed last week that the only charge recommended was wanton endangerment, despite previously stating that he’d talked to jurors about “every homicide offense, and also presented all of the information that was available.”
Cameron had also said a witness confirmed the three officers’ account that they announced their presence before entering Taylor’s home. However, according to documents and audio obtained by Vice News last week, that sole witness, Aaron Sarpee, initially told investigators he didn’t hear police announce themselves. Two months later, he changed his story.
On Friday, an attorney for Taylor’s family called out prosecutors for denying one grand juror’s request to hear Sarpee’s police interview, telling the juror to rely on a summary it.
“We knocked on the door, said police, waited I don’t know 10 or 15 seconds. Knocked again, said police, waited even longer,” Louisville Police Lt. Shawn Hoover said in an interview on March 13, according to audio played before the grand jury. “So it was the third time that we were approaching, it had been like 45 seconds if not a minute. And then I said, ‘Let’s go, let’s breach it.’”
Detective Michael Nobles also told investigators that officers knocked before entering Taylor’s apartment with a battering ram—and that he heard movement and voices inside. One of the voices, he said, belonged to a woman. According to the grand jury audio, another officer also testified that police did not ultimately execute the warrant on Taylor’s apartment as a “no-knock.”
In an interview played for the grand jury, Cosgrove described the raid, saying it was a chaotic scene with bright flashing lights, as officers breached the door of a home that investigators believed would be a “soft target,” requiring them to “use our maturity as investigators get into this house.” Cosgrove admitted he wasn’t exactly sure what happened, but he remembered seeing a shadow of a person that was “larger than a normal human shadow” when they executed the raid.
“I know that I have fired. I just sensed that I’ve fired,” Cosgrove said in the recording. “It’s like a surreal thing. If you told me I didn’t do something at that time, I’d believe you. If you told me I did do something, I’d probably believe you, too.”
Nobles said that once there was a break in gunfire, he ran out to the parking lot. Later, he sat with Mattingly outside and tied a tourniquet around his leg, which had been hit with a bullet.
Detective Herman Hall, who works in the attorney general’s office, told the grand jury that officers did not have a detailed plan for their search of Taylor’s home. When asked why officers directly involved in the raid were not wearing body cameras, Hall said he didn’t know.
“Were drugs, money or paraphernalia recovered from apartment 4? ... The answer to that is no,” Hall said. “They didn’t go forward with executing the initial search warrant that they had for Breonna Taylor’s apartment.”
Taylor’s boyfriend and 11 other residents who lived in the Louisville apartment building all said they didn’t hear the cops announce themselves. Walker said he thought he was being burglarized and fired a warning shot that triggered the tragic chain of events.
“All of a sudden, there’s a whole lot of shots. They’re just shooting, like, we’re both on the ground,” Walker said in his police interview, later expressing confusion as to why authorities would kick down Taylor’s door. His claim matches the 911 call the 28-year-old made, during which he told a dispatcher: “Somebody kicked in the door and shot my girlfriend.”
“If we knew who it was, that would have never happened,” Walker said.
A Kentucky State ballistics report obtained by Vice and several other outlets also showed an inconsistency in Cameron’s assertion that Walker shot Mattingly in the thigh—which prompted the officers to return fire with up to 20 shots. Cameron said investigators had ruled out “friendly fire” as the source of the shot, but the ballistics report said that “due to limited markings of comparative value,” the 9mm bullet that hit Mattingly was neither “identified nor eliminated as having been fired” by Walker’s gun.
Further showing how seemingly disorganized the raid on Taylor’s apartment was, grand jurors were also played a series of 911 calls and radio calls from Hankison, who is heard saying officers “encountered rifle fire” and an officer is down.
“Officer down on Springfield!” Mr. Hankison shouted into the radio at 12:43 a.m. Later, Hankison stated he believed Mattingly had been wounded by an individual who had an “AR” and was “barricaded” inside Taylor’s apartment. Hankison is seemingly referring to an AR-15, or a military-style semiautomatic rifle.
The grand jury was also presented with body-cam footage of after the deadly shooting. In one video, an officer says that after he and others heard that Taylor had been fatally shot “we weren’t rushing in there to check.”
During a news conference earlier this week, the lawyer for the grand juror stressed that truth and transparency are essential for a case that has become one of the most talked about in the country.
Lonita Baker, an attorney for Taylor’s family, applauded the “brave” juror and said the “public deserves better than the word games Daniel Cameron is playing to avoid telling the full truth.”
“Reading between the lines, it is obvious that Daniel Cameron lied to Tamika Palmer, the citizens of Kentucky, and the world when he said the grand jury agreed that Officers Mattingly and Cosgrove were justified to kill Breonna.”