The Slatest

What to Make of the New Developments in the Breonna Taylor Case

Protesters hold sings calling for "justice for Breonna"
Protesters march in Louisville on Saturday Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

Last week, the state of Kentucky announced that the three officers involved in the killing of Breonna Taylor would not be charged with any crimes directly connected to her death. Since then, several new pieces of evidence have emerged complicating the picture the state—and the police—have painted.

Here are the new developments.

Hankison pleaded not guilty.

Brett Hankison, the only officer to be charged with a crime stemming from the incident, pleaded not guilty in court on Monday. Hankison was charged with three counts of first-degree wanton endangerment over bullets that pierced a neighboring apartment occupied by a man, a pregnant woman, and a child. According to the state, Hankison fired his gun 10 times through “a sliding glass door and through a bedroom window.” Hankison was fired in June for violating department policy but is appealing that decision. The attorney general’s office has said that Hankison’s actions showed “extreme indifference to human life” but that they did not know if any of his bullets hit Taylor.

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Critics have demanded to know why Hankison was charged with endangering Taylor’s neighbors but not Taylor herself, given the alleged recklessness of his shooting. If Hankison is convicted on all three charges, he faces between three and 15 years in prison.

The ballistics reports doesn’t fully support the state’s account of events.

Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron’s narrative is one of self-defense: the three officers who fired their weapons did so because Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, had shot at them first, hitting Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly in the thigh.

According to Walker, he and Taylor were awoken to hammering at the door—but no identification from police—and called out to ask who was there. (Police say they announced themselves before knocking down the door.) Walker and Taylor, alarmed at the prospect of an intruder, dressed quickly and walked into the hallway. When Walker saw one or more figures on the other side of the hallway, he fired a warning shot out of fear, he said. He has said that he was afraid that the intruder was Jamarcus Glover, Taylor’s ex-boyfriend and the subject of the drug investigation that led to the raid. When Mattingly entered the apartment, he was struck by a bullet in the thigh, and he and the other officers began firing at Walker and Taylor in response.

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Under the state’s reasoning, it does not matter if Walker, using a legally owned firearm, thought he was acting in self-defense against a home invasion. The state reasoned that neither Walker nor the officers were wrong to fire their weapons: Taylor’s death was a tragedy brought about by misunderstandings, fear, and bad luck.

New evidence from the state ballistics report adds some uncertainty to the police version of events. According to a screengrab of the report published by Vice News on Friday, the initial ballistics report included in the police department’s file did not prove that the bullet was Walker’s. Instead it concluded that “due to limited markings of comparative value, [the bullet] was neither identified nor eliminated as having been fired from” Walker’s gun. The FBI also conducted a ballistics report, but the finding of that report is not public. In his press conference on Wednesday, Cameron stated that Walker had shot Mattingly as a matter of indisputable fact. He did not mention the inconclusive report.

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The bullet hit Mattingly in the thigh, puncturing his femoral artery and putting him in danger of bleeding out. He was rushed to the hospital and underwent surgery. The medics who aided Mattingly did not deliver aid to Taylor, who died within minutes of being shot. Vice reported Friday that photos from Mattingly’s wound “depict a bruising pattern and coloration consistent with having been shot from close proximity”—something that could indicate he was not shot by Walker standing at the other end of the hallway. However, Vice acknowledged that Mattingly’s wallet, which was pierced by the bullet, might have also caused bruising.

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It’s possible we will never know exactly what happened. If Mattingly were a victim of friendly fire, the thought would be upsetting, but it wouldn’t change much. Walker has never contested that he fired a warning shot at the person he thought was an intruder (he has said he fired it toward the ground). If in the confusion that followed the warning shot, Mattingly was hit by a bullet fired by one of his fellow officers, the officers would still be able to justify their actions as self-defense.

Video shows officers violating policies meant to safeguard the integrity of the investigation. 

On Saturday, Vice posted a clip from body camera footage in which Hankison can be seen entering Taylor’s apartment as investigators were working the scene. According to the Louisville Courier-Journal, Hankison’s presence there would be a clear violation of department protocol for the aftermath of a police shooting.

In the video, Hankison can be seen standing near a shell casing and saying, “That’s theirs?” An officer responds, “That’s ours, it looks like.” He then tells Hankison to “back out” until the department’s public integrity unit can arrive. But Hankison does not leave, and he instead asks the officers on the scene more questions.

In Louisville, according to the Courier-Journal, when officers are involved in an incident in which police fire their guns, they are meant to be separated from one another afterward and paired up with an independent “escort officer.” The escort is meant to remain with their paired officer through the entire initial investigation, monitoring the officer’s interactions and ensuring the officer makes it to the public integrity unit office. But according to Vice, the footage from the body cameras showed that none of the officers involved in the raid followed that protocol. Instead, Detective Michael Campbell, one of the officers involved in the raid, helped interview neighbors while Detective Myles Cosgrove remained at the scene. According to the FBI, Cosgrove was the one who fired the fatal shot. He fired 16 times in total, according to the state.

More videos from the scene appeared to circulate on social media.

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In his press conference, Cameron said that there was “no video or body camera footage of the officers’ attempted execution of a search warrant.” It appears true that Mattingly, Hankison, and Cosgrove were not wearing body cameras. But other officers who were at the scene after the shooting had activated body cameras. These videos appear to bolster the claim that the police had misled the public about the existence of video evidence.

Over the weekend, clips of apparent body camera footage, allegedly obtained from an attorney for the Taylor family, circulated on social media. The videos were posted by a man named Kendrick Wilson, another client of the same attorney. Wilson said the lawyer obtained the body camera footage from the family’s $12 million settlement with the city. Under the terms of the settlement, the family cannot release evidence provided by the city. Wilson is not an independent party in the matter: The Taylor family lawyer also said that he hired Wilson as an investigator to work on the Taylor case, and the lawyer’s work representing Wilson has been for a pending harassment lawsuit against Hankison.

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But if the videos Wilson posted can be trusted, they seem to show some details from the scene not already shared with the public. According to the Courier-Journal:

In one video clip Wilson posted, an officer he claims is not Hankison says his rounds went through Taylor’s window. In another, an officer can be heard stating that there was a “Black female” shot inside, along with the shooter—indicating that police might have known that Taylor had been seriously wounded before Walker exited the apartment and was arrested.

Videos also appear to show police intimidating Walker.

According to Vice, body camera footage shows that as Walker walked slowly backward during his arrest, following the officers’ orders, a narcotics dog jumped at him. An officer shouted at Walker, “Walk straight back or I will send this dog on you.” When Walker asks what he had done, Hankison replied: “You’re going to prison, that’s what’s going on. For the rest of your fucking life.”

The confusion over the case has led to calls from the Taylor family for the transcripts from the grand jury decision to be made public. It’s still unclear if the members of the grand jury were given the option to decide if the officers should be charged with any form of homicide, or if the state had decided the charges—and matter of self-defense—for them.

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