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How did we get here again?: Injustice for Breonna Taylor

Alexis Franklin drew this portrait of Breonna Taylor for Oprah magazine. Courtesy of Oprah magazine.

LOUISVILLE, KY. (AP) — Hours after a Kentucky grand jury brought no charges against Louisville police for Breonna Taylor’s death, protest erupted in the streets throughout the nation. Authorities said two officers were shot and wounded Wednesday night during the demonstrations that were meant to peacefully highlight the anger over Black people being victims of deadly police brutality and aggression. Shots rang out when protesters tried to avoid police blockades by moving down an alleyway. Police officers lobbed pepper balls, according to Associated Press, as people covered their ears, ran away and frantically took cover. Followed by armed police swarming the area in riot gear and military-style vehicles blocking off roadways, scuffles broke out between police and protesters, and some protesters were arrested.

Interim Louisville Police Chief Robert Schroeder said a suspect was in custody but did not offer details about whether that person was participating in the demonstrations. The latest updates state that both officers are expected to recover, and one is undergoing surgery and they are both expected to make a full recovery.

Even though a jury involved in Taylor’s case found the officers not guilty, the FBI opened its investigation into Taylor’s fatal shooting, still looking for potential violations of federal law in connection with the raid at Taylor’s home on March 13, according to The Courier-Journal. FBI Louisville says it will “collect all available facts and evidence and will ensure that the investigation is conducted in a fair, thorough and impartial manner.” Meanwhile, Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear, urged State Attorney General Daniel Cameron, the state’s first Black attorney general, to post online all the evidence that could be released without affecting the charges filed.

“Those that are currently feeling frustration, feeling hurt, they deserve to know more,” Gov. Beshear said.

Taylor was fatally shot by three plain-clothed officers from the Louisville Metro Police Department (LMPD), Jonathan Mattingly, Brett Hankison, and Myles Cosgrove on March 13, 2020. Cameron said that although the officers had a no-knock warrant, the investigation showed they announced themselves before entering. However, the “no-knock” warrant was connected to a suspect who did not live at Taylor’s address. This led many to question the nature of the warrant and the circumstances surrounding the death of the 26-year-old EMT and aspiring nurse, who was not the focal point of investigation.

Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, said he heard knocking at the door but did not hear the officers announce themselves, which eleven other neighbors concurred with this testimony. Believing the officers to be intruders, Walker, who is legally licensed to carry a firearm, fired a gun, and the officers returned over 20 shots. Taylor was shot six times, according to her death certificate.

Fox News reports that former Louisville Metro Police officer Brett Hankison was booked and released on $15,000 bail in connection with the deadly botched drug raid. A grand jury indicted Hankison on three felony counts of wanton endangerment for alleged “extreme indifference to the value of human life.” Hankison was accused of firing “blindly” into the building without a threat in his line of sight, causing stray bullets to tear into a neighboring apartment. An FBI ballistics examination determined that Cosgrove’s gun fired the bullet that killed Taylor, who was struck five times in the crossfire; but she was still alive — at least briefly. For at least five minutes, she was coughing as she struggled to breathe, according to her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, who told investigators she was alive as he called her mom and yelled for help.

“[Police are] yelling like, ‘Come out, come out,’ and I’m on the phone with her [mom]. I’m still yelling help because she’s over here coughing and, like, I’m just freaking out,” Walker said in a recorded police interview three hours after the shooting.

The Jefferson County coroner disputes that account, telling The Courier-Journal that Taylor likely died within a minute of being shot and could not have been saved, but records show that no effort was made to save her. Although the officers fired over 20 shots during the incident, the only charges handed down by the grand jury were three against Hankison — all for damaging property. Taylor’s former neighbors Chelsey Napper and Cody Etherton are working with Derby City officials for a payout for what they believe “total disregard for the value of human life.” Napper and Etherton are suing the officers because several bullets tore through the wall of Taylor’s apartment into their home. Attorney General Daniel Cameron said at a news conference on Wednesday that those bullets were shot by Hankison on March 13, 2020, according to 89. 3 WFPL News.

Cameron said that the officers acted in self-defense after Taylor’s boyfriend fired at them. He added that Hankison and the two other officers who entered Taylor’s apartment announced themselves before entering and did not execute the warrant as a no-knock, according to the police investigation. Cameron claims that while the officers did in fact have a no-knock warrant, eye witness statements reveal that the officers identified themselves and repeatedly knocked on Taylor’s door before using a battering ram to enter the unit where they were met with gunfire. However, in applying for the search warrant through the courts, police requested a no-knock entry into the apartment “due to the nature of how these drug traffickers operate,” including trying to destroy evidence and fleeing police as reported on WDRB News.

How did we get here – again?

The primary targets of the LMPD investigation were Jamarcus Glover and Adrian Walker, who were suspected of selling illegal narcotics from a known drug house more than 10 miles away. Glover was already under arrest at the time the search warrant was being carried out. The officers ended up at Taylor’s residence because Glover and Taylor dated for two years and continued to have a casual relationship, but Glover was not listed at Taylor’s residence. The search warrant included Taylor’s residence due to a suspicion that Glover was receiving packages containing drugs at Taylor’s address, and a car registered to Taylor had been seen parked in front of Glover’s house on several occasions.

The warrant also alleges that in January 2020, Glover left Taylor’s apartment with an unknown package, presumed to be drugs, and subsequently went to a known drug apartment with this package soon afterward. This warrant states that this event was verified “through a US Postal Inspector.” But in May 2020, U.S. postal inspector Tony Gooden, in Louisville said Metro police did not use his office to verify that a drug suspect was receiving packages at Taylor’s apartment as reported on WDRB News. This was one of the factors that officers listed as justification for the warrant.

A portion of a search warrant obtained by that used as justification to raid former EMT Breonna Taylor’s home. 

Gooden said a different law enforcement agency asked his office in January to investigate whether Taylor’s home was receiving any potentially suspicious mail. And after looking into the request, he said that the local office concluded it was not.

“There’s no packages of interest going there,” he said in an interview after WDRB News contacted him.

Gooden’s disclosure raised questions about the Louisville police department’s justification for a warrant that allowed officers to enter the Springfield Drive apartment without knocking or identifying themselves, or why her home was even targeted. Gooden declined to identify the agency that made the request for his office’s aid, but said it occurred in January. Around the same time, according to an affidavit, Louisville police were conducting surveillance on Taylor’s home, where they believed Glover, their main target, was keeping narcotics or proceeds from drug sales.

A day before the raid, a detective asked a judge to approve the warrant in part because he claimed a postal inspector verified that Glover was using Taylor’s home to receive parcels, according to an affidavit, falsely stating that the findings were “verified through a US Postal Inspector” that Glover was receiving packages at Taylor’s home.

It is possible that Louisville police asked a mail inspector from another jurisdiction of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service for help, Gooden said. His office almost surely would have been notified of an outside agent’s involvement, he continued.

“That didn’t happen,” said Gooden. If a postal inspector from another agency did review packages at Taylor’s apartment without notifying him, it would be inappropriate.

“They are coming into my area of responsibility looking into something that I very well may also be looking into, they shouldn’t come into my area of responsibility doing anything without notifying me,” Gooden said. The postal office stated they were actually asked to monitor packages going to Taylor’s apartment from a different agency, but after doing so, they concluded, “There are no packages of interest going there.” The public revelation put the investigation and especially the warrant into question and resulted in an internal investigation.

“If this warrant was based upon a blatant misrepresentation by LMPD officers to a circuit court judge, then add perjury to the list of the illegal officer conduct that led to a beautiful and innocent woman’s death,” Louisville attorney Sam Aguiar, who was representing Taylor’s family in the lawsuit against the officers involved, said. “They should have never been at that home. And they should all be fired and prosecuted to the full extent permitted by law.”

No drugs were found in Taylor’s apartment after the warrant was executed.

Following the incident, Walker was charged with the attempted murder of a police officer and first-degree assault. Because of this charge, Walker filed a lawsuit over his arrest the night Taylor was shot and killed by police, asking the court to declare him “immune” from prosecution when citing the state’s “stand your ground” law, according to CBS affiliate WLKY. The self-defense claim comes as part of a larger lawsuit Walker has filed against Attorney General Daniel Cameron, Louisville Metro government, Mayor Greg Fischer, 13 Louisville police officers, former Chief Steve Conrad and interim Chief Rob Schroeder, according to WLKY. The suit claims officers from the Louisville Metro Police Department “threatened Kenny’s life, illegally detained Kenny, interrogated him under false pretenses, ignored his account as corroborated by neighbors, and arrested and jailed [him].”

Despite political rhetoric and occasional guilty verdicts, most cases of police brutality and neglect go to a grand jury rather than public courts as a result of police brutality being effectively decriminalized in this country. According to a scholarly article writing by Peter L. Davis, “Rodney King and the Decriminalization of Police Brutality in America: Direct and Judicial Access to the Grand Jury as Remedies for Victims of Police Brutality When the Prosecutor Declines to Prosecute”, there is a double standard of criminality that exists in the United States, under which different rules apply to police than everyone else. The social-psychological dysfunction of this double standard is what is being addressed in protests and calls for police reform — particularly among minority communities. As Davis states “it leads to a sense of cynicism about our legal system that can result in civil disorder when properly fueled.”  

The existing measures, including civil suits and civilian review boards, have failed to deter police misconduct or curve civil unrest.  Taylor’s death was a result of assumptions, incorrect intelligence added to police reports and no actual physical evidence obtained by law enforcement to implicate Taylor as an accessory to a crime.

American citizens can be denied access to the findings in a grand jury ruling, which contains vital information that would assist lawyers and social activists with correcting the imbalance in criminal justice that often steps over that thin blue line of police protection.  

Calls are mounting from activists and politicians for more information on how a grand jury decided not to charge Louisville police officers in the killing of Taylor. As angry protests over the outcome have continued to rise nationwide, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear (D) reiterated his calls for Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron (R) to post online whatever he can from his investigation without interfering with the pending criminal case against ex-officer Hankison — who is charged with endangering neighbors the night of Taylor’s death.