LOUISVILLE, Kentucky—The three Louisville Metro Police officers involved in the death of Breonna Taylor will not be charged with killing the 26-year-old, a stunning decision that immediately stoked outrage in a city already on edge after months of protest.
Just one of the officers, former cop Brett Hankison, was indicted on Wednesday on three counts of wanton endangerment, stemming from shots he fired that hit or endangered three people in neighboring apartments.
Officer Jonathan Mattingly and Officer Myles Cosgrove, who fired the shot that killed Taylor, were not charged. Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron said later Wednesday that Hankison’s shots didn’t kill Taylor, and the use of force by Mattingly and Cosgrove “was justified to protect themselves.”
Hankison, who will be held on $15,000 bond once arrested, had already been fired from the Louisville P.D. for “extreme violations” of police protocol in the shooting. The 44-year-old “wantonly and blindly” fired 10 shots into Taylor’s apartment after her boyfriend fired the first shot—including shooting through the patio door and window, and into a neighbor’s apartment, according to a termination letter.
Cameron said Wednesday that it was unlikely additional charges would be laid against the officers. Asked by reporters what charges he recommended to the grand jury—a proposal that jurors usually consider first—Cameron refused to answer and said he wouldn’t be releasing the grand jury’s report.
“My office was not tasked with determining if this was a tragedy, as it was,” he said. “My job was to put emotions aside and investigate facts to see if state law was violated.”
Wednesday’s news was met with shock, silence, and weeping in Louisville, a city bracing for a replay of the protests that helped make Taylor a national symbol of police brutality and racial injustice.
“I’m just disappointed. I’m not angry,” said Dr. Jeronda Majors, a principal at Knight Middle School in the city. “I’m just a Black woman in America. It’s just more of the same. More disappointment.”
Three attorneys for Taylor’s family described the outcome as “outrageous and offensive.” “How ironic and typical that the only charges brought in this case were for shots fired into the apartment of a white neighbor, while no charges were brought for the shots fired into the Black neighbor’s apartment or into Breonna’s residence,” they wrote.
Taylor and her boyfriend, Kenny Walker, were asleep in their apartment on March 13 when officers executed a “no-knock” search warrant as part of an investigation into a suspected drug dealer, Jamarcus Glover, who had already been arrested.
Officers initially claimed that, despite the “no-knock” status, they still knocked several times and announced their presence. However, a wrongful death lawsuit filed by Taylor’s family claimed that the plainclothes officers entered without knocking or announcing, and approached the house in unmarked cars.
On Wednesday, Cameron appeared to confirm for the first time that officers announced their presence before entering Taylor’s home.
Walker was startled awake and believed the apartment was being burglarized. He used his legal firearm to fire one shot in self defense, which hit Mattingly in the thigh and was followed by officers returning fire with up to 20 shots.
According to the lawsuit, no first aid was given to Taylor and she “lived for another five to six minutes” before dying on the floor of her home.
The charges come days after the city of Louisville reached a $12 million settlement with Taylor’s family in their wrongful death lawsuit over the alleged use of excessive force.
In Frankfort, where the state attorney general made his announcement, indignation was mixed with raw bewilderment that the charges did not actually address Taylor’s killing.
“It’s sickening man. It’s crazy that with the charge that was sent down, it doesn’t even have to deal with Breonna,” Josan Brown, 18, told The Daily Beast.
“And then to have snipers out here and wonder why violence happens.... I don’t support it, but when you take measures like that, I mean how else is everyone supposed to react?”
In Louisville, both the mayor and the interim police chief made “state of emergency” declarations in anticipation of the grand jury’s decision this week. Streets and downtown parking garages were closed, some local businesses boarded up their storefronts, and the federal courthouse was shuttered for the week.
Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear activated the National Guard on Wednesday to quell any fallout and the mayor implemented a three-day curfew.
Beshear, a former attorney general, called on Cameron to release more evidence and information on the grand jury decision. “When I was attorney general I never expected people to just rely on my judgment,” he said Wednesday. “People need to see the evidence.”
Monique Lenthon, 33, was in Jefferson Square Park, also known as Injustice Square Park, with her 7-year-old daughter, Hayden, as the grand jury decision was announced. She was disappointed but not shocked.
“I think Louisville has Southern charm racism, where it’s not blatant and in your face,” she told The Daily Beast. She couldn’t help but look ahead to the prospect of more unrest in a city that already had helicopters swirling overhead and a trash can smoldering.
“She’d be in school right now but they cancelled it,” Lenthon said of her daughter. “We’re going to head home now because we just don’t know what’s going to happen.”
The basis for the warrant on Taylor’s home has been a source of contention. An affidavit alleged that Glover went to Taylor’s apartment in January and left with a “suspicious USPS package” before going to a “known drug house.” The warrant also stated that a car registered to Taylor was seen in front of the “drug house” on several occasions.
In reality, neither Taylor nor Walker, her new boyfriend, had “any criminal history for drugs of violence,” or any drugs at the apartment, the lawsuit filed by Taylor’s family alleged.
According to the police report, officers spent over two months conducting surveillance and even tracked one of Taylor’s phones. But the surveillance didn’t show that Walker, a legal firearm owner, was in Taylor’s house the night of the shooting—and the officers who entered her home believed she was alone.
An ambulance also left Taylor’s street an hour before the raid—counter to standard police practice—meaning she didn’t get help for more than 20 minutes after the shooting, until her boyfriend called 911.
“Her killing was criminal on so many levels,” the three Taylor family attorneys said Wednesday. “An illegal warrant obtained by perjury. Breaking into a home without announcing...More than 30 gunshots fired, many of which were aimed at Breonna while she was on the ground...A documented and clear cover-up, and the death of an unarmed Black woman who posed no threat and who was living her best life.”
Hankison was later fired while Mattingly, Cosgrove, and the detective who requested the warrant were put on administrative leave. Six more officers are reportedly under investigation for their role in the raid.
The settlement reached earlier this month includes reforms on how warrants are handled by authorities, such as requiring the presence of emergency medical personnel and requiring that commanders approve warrants before they’re presented to a judge. The deal was the largest settlement paid by the city of Louisville for a police misconduct case.
Kent Wicker, the attorney representing Mattingly, said in a statement to The Daily Beast Wednesday that the grand jury’s decision not to indict his client or Cosgrove “shows that the system worked and that grand jurors recognized and respected the facts of the case.”
“The death of Breonna Taylor is a tragedy. But these officers did not act in a reckless or unprofessional manner. They did their duty, performed their roles as law enforcement officers and, above all, did not break the law,” Wicker said.