A Kentucky grand jury indicted Detective Brett Hankison, one of the three police officers involved in the fatal shooting of 26-year-old emergency medical technician Breonna Taylor, on three counts of first-degree wanton endangerment but did not bring more serious charges against Hankison or the two other officers involved.*
The charges against Hankison stem from shots fired accidentally into another apartment—and not those that killed Taylor—during the raid on Taylor’s apartment in March. The grand jury’s decision means that none of the three officers involved were charged with any form of homicide. Instead, the charge of “wanton endangerment” indicates recklessness but not an intent to kill and carries a potential sentence of one to five years in prison. Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly and Detective Myles Cosgrove, the other two officers who fired their guns that night, escaped criminal prosecution entirely.
“The use of force by Mattingly and Cosgrove was justified to protect themselves,” Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron said in a press conference Wednesday. “This justification bars us from pursuing criminal charges in Ms. Breonna Taylor’s death.”
According to Cameron, an investigation found that Mattingly shot six times into Taylor’s apartment; Cosgrove shot 16 times; and Hankison shot 10 times. Taylor was hit six times, but it’s not entirely certain which of the officers fired the fatal shot. The attorney general’s office declared the matter inconclusive, but the FBI attributed it to Cosgrove, Cameron said.
It’s also not clear if Hankison fired any of the bullets that hit Taylor, Cameron said. Hankison was fired in June for violating department policy, having been accused of “wantonly and blindly” firing into Taylor’s apartment. Unlike Cosgrove and Mattingly, Hankison fired not from the hallway but from outside a sliding glass door and through a bedroom window. The investigation found some of his bullets pierced an apartment where a man, pregnant woman, and child were living. None were harmed.
Louisville has already ordered a curfew and declared a state of emergency in preparation for protests over the announcement. Police have blocked off downtown Louisville after protesters marched there Tuesday. Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said he was prepared to deploy the National Guard.
Taylor was killed in her apartment when plainclothes police officers, serving a warrant related to a drug investigation, entered her apartment after midnight, when Taylor and her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, were in bed. The details of the shooting have remained unclear, and one central dispute in the case has to do with whether the police announced themselves before forcing their way into her apartment, as they claim, or whether they did not, as Walker and some neighbors say. According to the New York Times, while most neighbors said they had not heard police identify themselves, one neighbor did say he heard the officers shout “police” a single time, raising the possibility that they had announced themselves, but not loud enough for Taylor and Walker to hear. The attorney general’s investigation sided with the police in the matter, concluding that the officers had not executed a no-knock warrant.
Walker has said that he believed the person entering Taylor’s apartment might have been Taylor’s former boyfriend—the person whose activities were at the center of the police investigation—and appeared in the hallway with a legally owned gun as a matter of self-defense against intruders. He then fired one shot, hitting Mattingly in the leg. Police fired back. In a 911 call, Walker can be heard telling a dispatcher that he didn’t understand what was happening and that “somebody kicked in the door and shot my girlfriend.” An ambulance arrived to care for Mattingly, but no medical aid was given to Taylor. She died in her apartment, minutes after being shot.
Mattingly and Cosgrove have been placed on administrative leave. Walker was charged with attempted murder of a police officer, but the charges were dropped in May.
Taylor’s death, along with that of George Floyd, helped spur a protest movement directed at police violence. It has also led to a movement against “no-knock” search warrants, which police use to surprise suspects in their homes. Louisville’s City Council voted to ban no-knock warrants in June.
Taylor’s family has also settled a wrongful death lawsuit with the city for $12 million. As part of the settlement, the city has agreed to a number of procedural reforms. A separate internal review is investigating six Louisville police officers over whether they violated department policies.
Update, Sept. 23, 2020, at 2:25 p.m.: This post has been updated with information from the attorney general’s press conference.
Update, Sept. 23, 2020, at 3:15 p.m.: This post has been updated with reporting from the New York Times.
Correction, Sept. 23, 2020: This post originally misspelled Detective Brett Hankison’s last name.