By Terrance Turner
September 23, 2020 (updated March 3, Aug. 4, 2022)
U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland announced today that the Department of Justice has filed charges against four former and current Louisville police officers in connection with the death of Breonna Taylor. According to ABC News, the charges include civil rights offenses, unlawful conspiracies, unconstitutional use of force and obstruction offenses.
“The federal charges announced today allege that members of a Police Investigations Unit falsified the affidavit used to obtain the search warrant of Ms. Taylor’s home and that this act violated federal civil rights laws, and that those violations resulted in Ms. Taylor’s death,” Garland said in a news conference.
The federal charges against detective Joshua Jaynes, former Louisville detective Kelly Goodlett and sergeant Kyle Meany allege they violated Taylor’s Fourth Amendment rights when they sought a warrant to search Taylor’s home while knowing they lacked probable cause, and that they knew their affidavit supporting the warrant contained false and misleading information and omitted other material information, resulting in her death.
“Among other things, the affidavit falsely claimed that officers had verified that the target of the alleged drug trafficking operation had received packages at Ms. Taylor’s address. In fact, defendants Jaynes and Goodlett knew that was not true,” Garland said during this morning’s press conference.
“We allege that Ms. Taylor’s Fourth Amendment rights were violated when defendants Joshua Jaynes, Kyle Meany and Kelly Goodlett sought a warrant to search Ms. Taylor’s home knowing the officers lacked probable cause for the search,” the attorney general said. He further alleged that Jaynes and Goodlett conspired to mislead state, local and federal investigators who were investigating, saying the two met in a garage after Taylor’s death “and agreed to give investigators a false story.”
Charges have also been filed against Brett Hankison, a former Louisville Metro Police officer who was responsible for the death of Breonna Taylor. Hankison has been charged in a two-count indictment, ABC says, for deprivation of rights under color of law, both of which are civil rights offenses.
A jury on March 3 found Brett Hankison not guilty on three counts of wanton endangerment for unleashing a hail of bullets inside the apartment where he and other officers murdered Breonna Taylor. Not one officer was charged for Taylor’s death; instead, Hankison was accused of endangering three of Ms. Taylor’s neighbors by firing bullets into their home. The jury took all of three hours to acquit him.
On March 13, 2020, emergency medical technician Breonna Taylor was in bed with her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker. They had fallen asleep after watching the movie “Freedom Writers”, according to USA Today. The Louisville Metro Police began banging on her door around 12:40 am. They had a no-knock warrant, which allows them to enter a home without warning. The police were carrying out a drug investigation for a suspect that had already been arrested. (Jamarcus Glover, who was also named on the search warrant for Taylor’s apartment, was arrested the same night, 10 miles away, at a house on Elliott Avenue in the Russell neighborhood, per USA Today.)
So officers broke into Taylor’s home — the wrong house — wearing plain clothes, allegedly without identifying themselves, to arrest a suspected drug dealer who had already been arrested. (There were no drugs in Taylor’s apartment, by the way.) The two called out, asking who it was, but got no response, Walker said in a police interview. The officers used a battering ram to break into the apartment, according to the New York Times.
Kenneth Walker, believing his home was being burglarized, asserted his 2nd Amendment rights. He grabbed his gun and began firing at what he thought were intruders. The police responded with a torrent of gunfire. The officers — Brett Hankison, Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly, and Myles Cosgrove — fired 20 bullets into the apartment, hitting Taylor five times.
Dispatch logs obtained by USA Today show that Taylor laid where she fell in her hallway for more than 20 minutes after she was fatally shot at approximately 12:43 a.m. She received no medical attention; officers were too busy trying to put a tourniquet on Mattingly’s thigh after he was shot. An ambulance had left Taylor’s street an hour before the raid—counter to standard police practice—meaning she didn’t get help for more than 20 minutes after the shooting, per the Daily Beast.
A wrongful death lawsuit filed by Taylor’s family reveals that she lived for another “five to six minutes” while officers ignored her injuries. Breonna Taylor died from those injuries. She was 26. Her death certificate, reviewed by the New York Times, showed she had been struck by five bullets. None of those officers were initially charged in her death.
In September 2020, it was announced that of the three officers, only Brent Hankison was charged. He was charged, however, with wanton endangerment — with endangering the other people in the apartment complex (officers’ bullets also hit a neighboring unit, per the Times.) But no one — NOT ONE OFFICER — was directly charged in her death. Mr. Hankison was the only officer fired; the other two officers were placed on administrative duty. And none of them will be held directly liable for her death.
The Louisville justice system had the audacity to charge Kenneth Walker for attempted murder. (Those charges were eventually dropped.) But not one of the officers who killed Breonna Taylor was held responsible for her death. In a press conference, Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron said the three officers fired a total of 32 shots. Rounds fired by Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly and Detective Myles Cosgrove struck Ms. Taylor, he said. But that apparently still wasn’t enough to justify charging the officers with manslaughter or murder.
“According to Kentucky law, the use of force by [Officers Jonathan] Mattingly and [Myles] Cosgrove was justified to protect themselves,” Cameron said. “This justification bars us from pursuing criminal charges in Miss Breonna Taylor’s death.” He added: “But my heart breaks for the loss of Miss Taylor. And I’ve said that repeatedly. My mother, if something was to happen to me, would find it very hard,” he added, choking up. He was emotional discussing the case, according to the AP.
Black writer and author Michael Arceneaux was unconvinced by Cameron’s display:
Other voices were equally outraged. LA Charger Justin Jackson had this to say:
Activist Brittany Packyetti wrote:
New York Times writer Jenna Wortham was simple and blunt:
The family of Breonna Taylor was dismayed by the decision. “How ironic and typical that the only charges brought in this case were for shots fired into the apartment of a white neighbor, while no charges were brought for the shots fired into the Black neighbor’s apartment or into Breonna’s residence,” they wrote. The Taylor family’s lawyer, Ben Crump, denounced the decision as “outrageous and offensive,” and protesters shouting, “No justice, no peace!” began marching through the streets. Some sat quietly and wept, according to the Associated Press.
Today, Crump applauded the decision by the Justice Department. “Today was a huge step toward justice. We are grateful for the diligence and dedication of the FBI and the DOJ as they investigated what led to Breonna’s murder and what transpired afterwards. The justice that Breonna received today would not have been possible without the efforts of Attorney General Merrick Garland or Assistant AG for Civil Rights Kristen Clarke,” Crump said in a statement. “We hope this announcement of a guilty plea sends a message to all other involved officers that it is time to stop covering up and time to accept responsibility for their roles in causing the death of an innocent, beautiful young Black woman.”