This week, Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron made the bombshell announcement that the cops who fatally shot Breonna Taylor would not be charged with killing her, calling their use of force in the March raid “justified to protect themselves.”
In that justification, he said that one witness corroborated the three officers’ insistence that they knocked and identified themselves at Taylor’s Louisville home while executing a search warrant in connection with a narcotics investigation. It contradicted claims from Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenny Walker, and 11 other residents, who said they didn’t hear the cops announce themselves. Instead, Walker thought he was being burglarized and fired a warning shot that triggered a tragic chain of events.
But, according to documents and audio obtained by VICE News on Saturday, that sole witness initially told investigators days after the March 13 raid that he didn’t actually hear officers Brett Hankison, Jonathan Mattingly, and Myles Cosgrove announce themselves.
The witness—identified by VICE as Aarin Sarpee but by other outlets and public records as Aaron Julue Sarpee—was picking up his daughter from a unit above Taylor’s when the raid took place.
It wasn’t until he was interviewed a second time, about two months after the raid by a sergeant in LMPD’s Public Integrity Unit, that Sarpee said he heard police say, “This is the cops.”
Sarpee’s flip-flop, the latest twist in a case that has made Taylor an icon in the Black Lives Matter movement, calls into question the strength of Cameron’s case and the grand jury report, which state officials are demanding be made public.
“I never had faith in Daniel Cameron to begin with, I knew he was too inexperienced with a job of this caliber. I knew he chose to be at the wrong side of the law,” Tamika Palmer, Taylor’s mother, said in a Friday statement. “My hope was that he knew he had the power to do the right thing, that he had the power to start the healing of this city, that he had the power to help mend over 400 years of oppression. What he helped me realize is that it will always be us against them. That we are never safe.”
On Wednesday, a grand jury indicted only Hankison, though only for recklessly firing shots that endangered people in other units. Mattingly and Cosgrove—the cop who fired the shot that killed Taylor—weren’t charged.
Cameron’s charging recommendations were at least partly based on Sarpee’s testimony, since the attorney general said Wednesday that investigators had “an independent witness” corroborate the officer’s account.
“My office was not tasked with determining if this was a tragedy, as it was,” Cameron said Wednesday, admitting that it was unlikely more charges would be laid. “My job was to put emotions aside and investigate facts to see if state law was violated.”
Wednesday’s charges came more than six months after a “no-knock” warrant was issued for Taylor’s apartment as part of a controversial narcotics investigation into the 26-year-old’s ex-boyfriend, Jamarcus Glover.
According to VICE, LMPD’s Public Integrity Unit first contacted Sarpee a week after the shooting. The officers involved in Taylor’s warrant had previously said Sarpee was outside the apartment upstairs and got in an argument with Hankison as they were banging on Taylor’s door.
When Sgt. Jason Vance asked Sarpee if he heard anyone identify themselves as law enforcement, he answered: “No, nobody identified themselves.”
At the end of the March 21 conversation, Vance told Sarpee investigators would be calling him again to conduct a formal interview. Investigation notes suggest attempts were made to contact Sarpee but he didn’t speak to the Public Integrity Unity again until May 15.
In a seven minute call, Sgt. Amanda Seelye pressed Sarpee on whether he knew the individuals entering Taylor’s home were officers and if he heard them announce themselves.
This time, Sarpee said he heard police identify themselves, a change that suddenly corroborated the testimonies of the officers at the scene.
“It’s been so long now,” Sarpee told Seelye on the call. “I recall some of it.”
Sarpee also told The New York Times that he saw the officers as he stepped out onto the exterior staircase of Taylor’s apartment unit with his 2-year-old. He said that before the officers ordered him to go back inside the apartment, he heard at least three loud knocks on Taylor’s door and heard at least one of the officers scream “Police!” Sarpee, however, insisted to the Times he only heard them say the statement once.
Despite Sarpee’s changing story, his claim to have heard police from the front of an apartment doesn’t offer complete clarity on whether Taylor and her boyfriend would have heard it from their bedroom towards the back of their unit.
Sarpee did not immediately respond to The Daily Beast’s request for comment. VICE reported that the witness declined to speak with them, saying he had to speak with his lawyer first. The LMPD and Attorney General’s office also did not immediately respond to request for comment.
Hankison was fired in June for “extreme violations” of police protocol after “wantonly and blindly” firing 10 shots into Taylor’s apartment–including several shots through the patio door and window, and into a neighbor’s apartment—after Walker fired an initial shot. 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.
Earlier this month, the city of Louisville reached a $12 million settlement with Taylor’s family in their wrongful death lawsuit.