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Kentucky grand jury indicts 1 of 3 police officers in fatal Breonna Taylor shooting – but not for her death

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 9/23/2020 Darcy Costello, Tessa Duvall and Phillip M. Bailey, Louisville Courier Journal
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. – A former police detective was indicted Wednesday on felony charges of wanton endangerment after shooting into an apartment next door to Breonna Taylor, 26, an EMT who was killed in her home by police.

Brett Hankison, who was fired in June, faces three felony counts, and bail was set at $15,000. A warrant was issued for his arrest.

Two other officers involved in the shooting, Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly and Detective Myles Cosgrove, were justified in their use of force, state Attorney General Daniel Cameron said at a news conference. All three fired their weapons at Taylor's apartment.

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A wanton endangerment charge is a class D felony and could carry a penalty of one to five years in prison.

The charges read by Judge Annie O'Connell on Wednesday said Hankison "wantonly shot a gun" into adjoining Apartment 3. The occupants of that apartment were identified by initials. None of them was BT – Breonna Taylor.

The grand jury did not find that Hankison wantonly fired into Taylor's apartment the night she died or that any of the officers are criminally liable in her death.

In May, Taylor's neighbor, Chesey Napper, filed a lawsuit against the Louisville Metro Police Department officers, claiming that their shots were "blindly fired" and nearly struck a man inside her home. Napper was pregnant and had a child in the home, according to the lawsuit.

Cameron said Wednesday that the grand jury decided homicide charges are not applicable because the investigation showed that Mattingly and Cosgrove were justified in returning deadly fire after they were fired upon by Kenneth Walker, Taylor's boyfriend, who said he didn't know police were at the door. 

Cameron said there is "nothing conclusive to say" that any of Hankison's bullets hit Taylor.

"Justice is not often easy and does not fit the mold of public opinion. And it does not conform to shifting standards," Cameron said. "I know that not everyone will be satisfied with the charges we've reported today.

"My team set out to investigate the circumstances surrounding Ms. Taylor's death. We did it with a singular goal in mind: pursuing the truth. Kentucky deserves no less. The city of Louisville deserves no less. If we simply act on emotion or outrage, there is no justice. Mob justice is not justice."

Troy Barron et al. posing for the camera: Three Louisville Metro Police Department officers fired their guns into Breonna Taylor's apartment: Brett Hankison, Jonathan Mattingly and Myles Cosgrove. © LMPD Three Louisville Metro Police Department officers fired their guns into Breonna Taylor's apartment: Brett Hankison, Jonathan Mattingly and Myles Cosgrove.

Cameron said he would create a task force to review the process of securing, reviewing and executing search warrants in Kentucky. It will be a "top-to-bottom review of the search warrant process," he said.

About 200 protesters gathered at Jefferson Square Park in downtown Louisville as the announcement was played on a loudspeaker. They almost immediately began chanting, "No justice, no peace."

"I'm heartbroken," Logan Cleaver, a protester, said after the grand jury's decision was announced. "This is not a justice system if it's not for everybody."

A visibly upset Tamika Palmer, Taylor's mother, traveled to Cameron's announcement in Frankfort but left without commenting. Attorneys for the Taylor family said they would not talk or issue a statement.

Taylor's sister, Juniyah Palmer, posted a picture on Instagram of her with Breonna, saying, "Sister, I am so sorry."

Ben Crump, a civil rights attorney who represents the Taylor family, tweeted that Hankison should have been charged with "wanton murder."

"This is outrageous and offensive!" he said.

Cameron's office presented its findings to the jury this week. His team has been investigating the Taylor shooting since May.

The uncertainty swirling around the decision on possible criminal charges in Taylor's death has drawn international attention as protesters have marched and chanted on Louisville's streets for 119 consecutive days. Protesters in Louisville and supporters across the USA have called for "justice for Breonna" and other Black Americans, such as George Floyd in Minneapolis, who have been killed by police. 

In anticipation of Cameron's announcement, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer invoked a 72-hour curfew, effective Wednesday night, from 9 p.m. to 6:30 a.m. A week ago, Fischer announced the city agreed to a $12 million settlement with Taylor's family that includes more than a dozen police changes.

Downtown Louisville has taken on the appearance of a city under siege, where plywood is nailed across business fronts and concrete barriers cordon off a 25-block perimeter.

Interim Police Chief Robert Schroeder said the restrictions, long planned amid “unprecedented times,” were meant to protect public safety, property and protesters and to avoid conflicts between drivers and demonstrators.

Protesters will be able to access downtown on foot to demonstrate and retain their First Amendment rights, city officials said.

“I hope all of this is not needed,” Schroeder said.

Cameron, a rookie Republican attorney general elected in November 2019 and a protege of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, had stayed quiet – until the decision came down Wednesday.

Mattingly, Cosgrove and Hankison have faced intense public scrutiny – and threats – in the six months since Taylor died. 

Mattingly, who was shot during the raid, and Cosgrove have been on administrative reassignment since March. Hankison was fired in June after the interim police chief determined the evidence showed he fired indiscriminately into Taylor's apartment.

Mattingly and Cosgrove, as well as four other LMPD officers, face an internal investigation for possible violations of department policy in the Taylor shooting that could cost them their job.  

Fact check: Debunking 8 widely shared rumors in the Breonna Taylor shooting

Taylor was killed after officers used a "no-knock" search warrant at her apartment shortly before 1 a.m. March 13, looking for drugs and cash as part of a larger narcotics investigation connected to her former boyfriend.

When the door burst open, Walker fired a single shot from his Glock handgun. Police said that round hit Mattingly in the thigh, severing an artery.

Mattingly, Cosgrove and Hankison fired more than two dozen rounds in response, spraying the apartment and hitting Taylor six times. Taylor, who was unarmed, died in her hallway.

Walker filed a lawsuit against the department, arguing he is a victim of police misconduct and seeking immunity from prosecution.

Cameron's office obtained the police department's Public Integrity Unit investigation into the officers' conduct May 20. The duration of the investigation prompted questions from public officials and impatience from onlookers demanding justice for Taylor.  

The FBI is also investigating Taylor's death.

Phillip M. Bailey for USA TODAY, @phillipmbailey. Tessa Duvall, @TessaDuvall, and Darcy Costello, @dctello, for the Louisville Courier Journal. 

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This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: Kentucky grand jury indicts 1 of 3 police officers in fatal Breonna Taylor shooting – but not for her death

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