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Kentucky Grand Jury Indicts 1 Of 3 Officers Involved In Breonna Taylor's Killing

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A memorial to Breonna Taylor in downtown Louisville Wednesday, as the city was anticipating the results of a grand jury inquiry into Taylor's killing. (Jeff Dean/AFP via Getty Images)
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By Rachel Treisman and Brakkton Booker | NPR

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Following months of outrage, activism and anticipation, a Kentucky grand jury has decided to indict one of the three Louisville Metro Police Department officers involved in the fatal shooting of Breonna Taylor in March.

Brett Hankison, who was terminated in June, has been charged with three counts of wanton endangerment for shooting into neighboring apartments. Bond was set at $15,000.

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The grand jury did not announce charges against Jonathan Mattingly and Myles Cosgrove, the other two officers involved. None of the three face state charges directly over Taylor's death.

The announcement comes six months after Taylor, a 26-year-old emergency medical technician, was killed in her home during a botched narcotics raid.

At an afternoon press briefing Wednesday, Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron said Mattingly and Cosgrove, who were first fired upon by Taylor's boyfriend Kenneth Walker, "were justified in their use of force."

Walker has maintained he did not hear the officers announce themselves before entering the home. He has said that he mistook them for intruders and fired a warning shot, which hit Mattingly in the leg. Then, officers opened fire.

According to Cameron, "evidence shows that officers both knocked and announced their presence at the apartment." He cited the officers' statements and one additional witness. There is no video or body camera footage of the officers executing the search warrant, he said.

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"While there are six possible homicide charges under Kentucky law, these charges are not applicable to the fact before us, because our investigation showed, and the grand jury agreed, that Mattingly and Cosgrove were justified in their return of deadly fire," Cameron said.

The attorney general said a ballistics report by the FBI determined that Mattingly fired six times and Cosgrove fired 16 times.

He also said there were discrepancies between the investigation carried out by Kentucky State Police and the FBI over which officer fired the shot that killed Taylor.

State investigators could not determine which of the officers killed Taylor, while the FBI found that Cosgrove fired the fatal shot, Cameron said.

Cameron said his office will vigorously prosecute the charges brought against Hankison. He could face a maximum sentence of five years for each count. The FBI will continue to investigate potential violations of federal law, the attorney general added.

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Shortly after the grand jury returned its indictment, Taylor family attorney Ben Crump expressed disappointment about the decision.

"Jefferson Grand Jury indicts former ofc. Brett Hankison with 3 counts of Wanton Endangerment in 1st Degree for bullets that went into other apartments but NOTHING for the murder of Breonna Taylor. This is outrageous and offensive," Crump said in a tweet.

"Today's decision is not accountability and not close to justice. Justice would have been LMPD officers never shooting Breonna Taylor in the first place," Carl Takei, senior staff attorney with the ACLU's Criminal Law Reform Project, said in a statement.

"The choice to bring these charges alone and so late highlights the indifference to human life shown by everyone involved in Breonna Taylor's murder," Takei continued.

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Signs are placed at a memorial to Breonna Taylor at Jefferson Square Park in downtown Louisville, Kentucky on September 23, 2020. (Jeff Dean/AFP via Getty Images)
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Protesters immediately started to gather following the charging decision.

Ahead of the grand jury announcement, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer announced a countywide curfew from 9 p.m. to 6:30 a.m. for 72 hours beginning Wednesday night. On Tuesday, the mayor declared a preemptive state of emergency as the city braced for possible protests.

The police department shut down parts of downtown Louisville to car traffic, saying they wanted to ensure the area is safe for demonstrators and those who otherwise live and work there.

Taylor's name has become a rallying cry over the summer at nationwide protests against racial injustice and police violence.

Demonstrators took to the streets to demand justice and accountability for Taylor and other Black victims of police brutality, including George Floyd, Rayshard Brooks and Jacob Blake.

In Los Angeles, protests have also focused on local killings, including the cases of Andres Guardado, Anthony McClain and Dijon Kizzee.

However, Cameron said Wednesday that Taylor's case should not be compared to others recent cases that involve killing or severely injuring Black Americans.

"Ms. Breonna Taylor's death has become a part of a national story and conversation," Cameron said. "But we must also remember the facts and the collection of evidence in this case are different from cases elsewhere in the country."

Some of the recent protests in Louisville grew tense and violent. In June, a Black resident was shot and killed as police responded to curfew violations related to ongoing protests, prompting the firing of the police chief. In late August, 64 protesters were arrested after staging a sit-in on a highway overpass.

Protesters in Louisville marked their 100th consecutive night of action in early September.

Across the country, people also took to social media, petitions and even billboards to call for the officers' arrest as months passed with no official announcement.

The police department fired Hankison in June, saying he "displayed an extreme indifference to the value of human life" when he "wantonly and blindly" fired 10 rounds into Taylor's apartment.

The other officers, Mattingly and Cosgrove, were placed on administrative reassignment.

"Every day is still March the 13th," Taylor's mother, Tamika Palmer, said in August, five months to the day after the shooting.

Taylor's death and the ensuing protests have led to some policy changes in Louisville.

In June, the city council voted unanimously to ban no-knock warrants. The legislation, called Breonna's Law, also requires police to wear body cameras when serving warrants and activate them five minutes before starting an operation.

The officers were not wearing body cameras during the fatal raid, though member station WFPL reports the city required all officers to wear and use them when serving warrants. The mayor has since ordered an outside firm to conduct a review of the Louisville Metro Police Department.

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Signs are placed at a memorial to Breonna Taylor at Jefferson Square Park in downtown Louisville, Kentucky on September 23, 2020. (Jeff Dean/AFP via Getty Images)

Last week, the city council passed a no-confidence vote against the mayor for his handling of Taylor's shooting and the unrest that followed. They offered him a list of proposed reforms but stopped short of calling for his resignation.

In a video responding to the vote, Fischer said several of the suggested police reforms are underway, but noted "the work needed goes beyond public safety."

And last Tuesday, the city of Louisville announced a $12 million settlement -- the largest in its history -- in a wrongful death lawsuit filed by Taylor's family.

The settlement includes a host of reforms to be adopted by the Metro Police. Those include establishing a housing and voucher program to encourage officers to live in lower-income city neighborhoods, and creating a clearer command structure when executing warrants at multiple locations, as was the case the night of Taylor's death.

Last week, Palmer, Taylor's mother, said it was time to move forward with the criminal charges, "because she deserves that and much more."

"Her beautiful spirit and personality is working through all of us on the ground, so please continue to say her name," she said, then did so herself: "Breonna Taylor."

This story originally ran on NPR.org.