Politics

Why the Breonna Taylor Case Has Stalled

People march in a protest against police brutality and racism. One holds up a sign that reads "Justice 4 Breonna Taylor."
A demonstration in Minneapolis on June 26. Brandon Bell/Getty Images

Shortly after midnight on March 13, Breonna Taylor and Kenneth Walker were in bed when police started pounding on the door of their apartment in Louisville, Kentucky. Walker thought someone was breaking in, so he got up and took a gun to protect himself and his girlfriend. Louisville Metro Police broke down the door with a battering ram, and Walker fired a shot, wounding Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly. Police fired back, hitting Taylor multiple times. She died at the scene.

In the four months since Breonna Taylor’s death, her name has become a rallying cry in nationwide protests against police brutality. But still, no criminal charges have been filed in her killing. On Thursday’s episode of What Next, I spoke with Tessa Duvall, a reporter for the Louisville Courier Journal, about why the case has stalled. Our conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Tessa Duvall: In the immediate aftermath of the Breonna Taylor shooting, the police department held a press conference, which is pretty standard, and said that this was about an officer having been shot in the attempt to serve a search warrant. It was a very short press conference, maybe seven or eight minutes, and it was really presented [as] a story about an officer’s injury and well-being.

Mary Harris: When did the understanding of what happened that night begin to change?

It really took a couple of months for people to start digging in and seeing this was perhaps more complicated than we had originally been led to believe.

There were photos of Breonna Taylor’s apartment that were released by attorneys for her family, and just the array of household items that had bullets in them—pots and pans, a clock, a toolbox. There were holes in the bathroom, in the windows. The sliding glass patio door was shattered. There were bullet holes through the curtains covering that patio door. There were bullet holes in the hallway, and there was blood everywhere. Those were some of the first glimpses of how chaotic and violent this encounter was.

These photos were released just a few days before George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis. His death increased the pressure on Louisville police. The chief eventually was fired. No-knock warrants got banned in the city. And one of the officers involved in Breonna’s death, Brett Hankison, was fired. But protests continued.

What protesters in Louisville want is criminal charges. That is the end goal for this. Banning no-knock warrants, in their opinion, is great. There never should have been one used in Breonna Taylor’s case in the first place, is what a lot of them would say. So they see banning no-knock warrants as an important step, but that’s not the solution. People really want charges and won’t settle for anything less than charges being brought against those officers. And the longer it takes, the more the frustration builds.

In the weeks after Breonna Taylor’s death, the police department started investigating itself. And last month they did release an incident report from the night of Breonna’s death. Can you characterize that a little bit?

So we have gotten very few documents from Louisville Metro Police about what happened the night Breonna died, but one of the documents they did ultimately turn over was the initial incident report, which was useless. It contained absolutely no helpful information. It had her name. It had her age, I think. It lists the situation as a death investigation with police involved, but then also checked “no” under forced entry, even though police admit they used a battering ram to get into her apartment. Under injuries, it listed “none,” which—we knew that she was dead. So there obviously were injuries. We also know that an officer was injured in this incident. So it was not only heavily redacted, it was full of inaccuracies. The irony is that police resisted releasing this—for what reason, I don’t know, because, as I said, it was not helpful.

Who is investigating what happened that night now?

So the police did an investigation into this case through its Public Integrity Unit, and the findings of that investigation have been turned over to the state attorney general’s office. Daniel Cameron is the attorney general in Kentucky, and his office has had that file for a couple of months now. The reason it’s in his hands is because he is special prosecutor over this case. The local commonwealth’s attorney, who typically would handle a case like this, actually recused himself, citing a conflict of interest because he was at the time pursuing the attempted murder charges against Kenny Walker. Those have since been dismissed.

Attorney General Daniel Cameron has said that he does not have a timeline on this, that it’s an ongoing investigation, and that we will all get these results when we get them and not a moment sooner before he’s ready to turn them over.

So now that it’s been so many months and there’ve been protests every day, where are the protests focused?

Right now it really seems the biggest focus is making sure that Breonna Taylor is not forgotten. It’s almost as if protesters are sending the message, We haven’t forgotten her name. We haven’t forgotten those officers’ names either. We know that two of them are still on the payroll, and we know that charges haven’t been filed.

We saw last week 87 protesters were arrested at Attorney General Daniel Cameron’s house. They were originally charged with felonies for trying to intimidate the participant in a legal process, and ultimately the felony charges were dismissed, but protesters are willing to go to jail and to escalate and to keep the pressure on however possible. So they are not satisfied right now. And that is the message that they’re sending by showing up every single day.

Other cities seem to have acted faster, whether you look at Atlanta and the death of Rayshard Brooks or Minneapolis and what happened there. What do you think the difference is in Louisville? Why is it moving at a different pace?

If you were to ask the mayor, he would blame it on the lack of body camera footage: Because there is not footage, things can be open to interpretation. When people saw that video of what happened to George Floyd, that was immediately decried by police officers all over the country who said, “This is not what policing looks like.” With Breonna Taylor, people are able to pick at it. One of the most common things I hear is, well, Kenny Walker shot at police officers, and therefore that justifies what happened next. Or that if Breonna had not been involved with Jamarcus Glover [an ex-boyfriend who was suspected in a narcotics investigation], then she would have never been on the search warrant. So there are people who will certainly try to justify what happened through things like that.

Who’s saying that to you?

That is not necessarily coming from anyone in position of authority, but that is coming from people who I hear from, readers—and because this is such a national story, I’m hearing from people all over the place that if Kenny Walker had never shot, then she’d still be alive. Or if she wasn’t connected with this drug dealer, then she’d still be alive. There are obviously people who can do the mental gymnastics to justify just about anything. But I think from a more official perspective, it’s almost like this case is a “he said, she said.” What Kenny Walker heard and saw on one side of the door is his perspective, and what officers say they did on the other side of the door is their set of facts, and how do you rectify these two and come up with what really happened?

But you say part of the reason the record in Breonna Taylor’s death seems incomplete is because one side remains silent.

There’s still a lot we don’t know from the officers’ perspective. We have heard Kenny Walker’s full interview at this point, attorneys for Breonna Taylor’s family have been very vocal about what they feel happened, but the police have been very tight-lipped about all of this. So we have not seen things like ballistics reports. We don’t know who fired the shots that were ultimately fatal. We have only heard from one of the three officers who was involved in the shooting, but we know there were many more on scene. And all of those things provide really important context to what happened that night.

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