More than six months after police shot and killed Breonna Taylor in her Kentucky apartment, a Jefferson County grand jury has decided to indict one of the three officers involved. Former officer Brett Hankinson has been charged with three counts of first-degree wanton endangerment, a Class D felony in the state, for shooting into a neighboring apartment. As the New York Times clarifies, none of the officers involved were charged for causing Taylor’s death, and according to The Appeal, a Class D felony is punishable by between one and five years in prison.
Taylor, who worked as an emergency medical technician, was in her Kentucky apartment with her boyfriend when police attempted what has been referred to as a “botched” search warrant execution. Her family filed a wrongful death lawsuit and hired Benjamin Crump, a civil rights attorney who is also representing the families of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery. The Louisville Courier-Journal reports that the city will pay Taylor’s family a $12 million settlement in the lawsuit, said to be the largest in the city’s history and one of the top in U.S. history. Crump had previously called for charges of second-degree manslaughter in Taylor’s case and has since said the indictment is “outrageous and offensive.”
Prior to the grand jury’s announcement, the Louisville mayor announced a countywide curfew, and the interim chief of police declared a state of emergency for the Louisville Metro Police Department. Across the nation, protestors had prepared for the announcement, setting up events in various cities.
Back in May, Crump told The Washington Post,“They’re killing our sisters just like they’re killing our brothers, but for whatever reason, we have not given our sisters the same attention that we have given to Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Stephon Clark, Terence Crutcher, Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Eric Garner, Laquan McDonald. Breonna’s name should be known by everybody in America who said those other names, because she was in her own home, doing absolutely nothing wrong.” He continued, “If you ran for Ahmaud, you need to stand for Bre.”
Below, what you need to know about Taylor’s case, her family’s settlement from the city, and how you can help right now.
What happened on March 13th?
In the early morning, police officers came to Taylor’s apartment where she was asleep with her boyfriend Kenneth Walker. According to the Associated Press, police had a warrant to search Taylor’s apartment as part of a drug investigation, though the family’s lawsuit states the suspect in the investigation had already been detained at the time of the search. Police believed one of the suspects was using Taylor’s apartment to “receive mail, keep drugs, or stash money earned from the sale of drugs,” according to the Louisville Courier-Journal.
The suit states Taylor and Walker believed the plainclothes police were breaking into the apartment since they entered “without knocking and without announcing themselves as police officers.” A judge had signed a “no-knock” provision for the police, meaning they were able to go into Taylor’s apartment without identifying themselves, though police claim they did. Walker shot at a police officer in what he says was self-defense. Police then fired into the apartment, hitting Taylor eight times. The suit says Taylor was unarmed and Walker had a license to carry. The lawsuit filed by Taylor’s family also states that neighbors have confirmed the police did not knock or identify themselves before entering.
One officer was shot in the leg, and Walker was arrested and charged with assault and attempted murder of a police officer. Prosecutors have since dismissed the charges. The Associated Press reports that no drugs were found in the apartment, and Taylor and Walker had no prior criminal history or drug convictions.
New audio from interviews with police and Walker was released in July, per NBC. In the interview, Walker is heard recounting the night of March 13th and the events that led to his girlfriend’s death.
“It’s a loud boom at the door,” he said. “First thing she said was, ‘Who is it?’ No response. We both get up, start putting on clothes, another knock at the door. She’s like, ‘Who is it?’ Loud, at the top of her lungs. No response. I grab my gun, which is legal, like I’m licensed to carry, everything. I’ve never even fired my gun outside of a range. I’m scared to death.” He added that Taylor yelled “at the top of her lungs” again to ask who was there. “No response, no anything.” He said Taylor put on clothes to answer the door, but then it came “off the hinges.”
He continued: “I just let off one shot. Like, I still can’t see who it is or anything. So now the door’s, like, flying open. I let off one shot, and then all of a sudden there’s a whole lot of shots and we like we both just dropped to the ground.”
In an interview, Sgt. Jon Mattingly, who broke down Taylor’s door with officers Myles Cosgrove and Hankison, said: “The first banging on the door, [we] did not announce.” He said, “I think after that we did. … After that, each one of them said, ‘Police, come to the door. Search warrant. Police, search warrant.'”
In his interview, Walker said he did not hear this: “All I can hear is a knock at the door.” He said, “Even if somebody was saying something on the other side, you probably couldn’t hear them. But as loud as we were screaming to say who it is, I know whoever will be on the other side of the door could hear us.”
What is Breonna’s Law?
In early June, the Louisville Metro Council’s Public Safety Committee approved a new ordinance called “Breonna’s Law” that would make it so “no-knock” warrants could only be sought if there’s “imminent threat of harm or death” and would also be limited to “offenses including murder, hostage-taking, kidnapping, terrorism, human trafficking and sexual trafficking,” according to the Courier-Journal.
On June 11th, all 26 members of the Louisville Metro Council voted to pass the ban, which prohibits any search warrant that doesn’t require police to verbally announce themselves and their purpose at the property. “Breonna’s Law” also states that any Louisville Metro Police Department or Metro law enforcement must knock and wait a minimum of 15 seconds for a response, according to NBC News. Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer signed the ordinance on June 12th.
After the ordinance was passed, Taylor’s mother, Tamika Palmer said, “I’m just going to say that Breonna, that’s all she wanted to do was save lives. So with this law, she’ll get to continue to do that,” per NBC News.
What is outlined in the Louisville PD incident report related to Breonna’s death?
Nearly three months after Taylor’s death, the Louisville Police Department released a four-page incident report from March 13th. You can read the report here, although there isn’t much to see—and what’s there runs contrary to what we know about the night Taylor was killed by police.
The report details the location (with partially redacted address), age (with redacted birth date), and full name of the victim. (The Courier-Journal notes that both Taylor’s address and date of birth have been “widely reported” already.) Charges are listed as “death investigation — LMBD involved.” Names of the three officers who fatally shot Taylor and still have yet to be charged are listed as Sgt. Jon Mattingly, 47; Myles Cosgrove, 42; and Brett Hankison, 44. (Ages reported via the Courier-Journal.) Hankison is also undergoing a sexual assault investigation after allegations by at least two women.
But what’s more concerning are the rows of information left blank and two major inaccuracies regarding the night Taylor was killed. The department’s report lists Taylor’s injuries as “none,” even though she was shot at least eight times by the three officers. The “no” box is checked under “forced entry,” even though police are believed to have used a battering ram to break through Taylor’s door.
According to the Courier-Journal, the Louisville police department blamed discrepancies on the reporting program. A statement from the department said, “Inaccuracies in the report are unacceptable to us, and we are taking immediate steps to correct the report and to ensure the accuracy of incident reports going forward.” Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer issued a statement that said, in part, “It’s issues like this that erode public confidence in LMPD’s ability to do its job, and that’s why I’ve ordered an external top-to-bottom review of the department. I am sorry for the additional pain to the Taylor family and our community.”
What else do we know about the case?
In June, Fischer confirmed that Hankison, one of the three officers, would be fired from the Louisville Metro Police. The other officers involved are on administrative reassignment.
“I find your conduct a shock to the conscience,” the department’s interim police chief, Robert Schroeder, wrote in a letter to Hankison. “I am alarmed and stunned you used deadly force in this fashion. The result of your action seriously impedes the Department’s goal of providing the citizens of our city with the most professional law enforcement agency possible. I cannot tolerate this type of conduct by any member of the Louisville Metro Police Department. Your conduct demands your termination.” Schroeder also added in his letter that Hankison had been disciplined for reckless conduct in early 2019. According to the New York Times, Hankison appealed his firing but the hearing will be delayed until a criminal investigation is completed.
Fischer has also said a new police chief will be named, body cameras will now be required when executing a search warrant, and there will be a new civilian review board for “police disciplinary matters,” according to the New York Times.
Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear had also said the local prosecutor, state attorney general, and federal prosecutor assigned to the region should review the results of the police investigation. He called reports about Taylor’s death “troubling,” according to the Times.
Vox reports: “On June 29, the Louisville Metro Council also announced a resolution to investigate the actions of Mayor Greg Fischer and his administration surrounding Taylor’s death.”
What are the terms of Louisville’s settlement with the Taylor family?
Taylor’s family has filed a lawsuit accusing the officers of wrongful death, excessive force, and gross negligence, according to The Washington Post. It was reported on September 15 by Louisville Courier-Journal that the city of Louisville will pay a “substantial” settlement to the Taylor family. “I am deeply, deeply sorry for Breonna’s death,” Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer said in a press conference, surrounded by the Taylor family and their lawyers, per the Courier-Journal.
The settlement also has multiple police reform mandates, including a demand that all search warrants be approved with a judge prior to their use by officers. Other measures include the establishment of a housing credit program to motivate officers to live in the areas they serve over and the utilization of social workers on specific police runs. “The city’s response in this case has been delayed and it’s been frustrating, but the fact that they’ve been willing to sit down and talk significant reform was a step in the right direction and hopefully a turning point,” attorney Sam Aguilar told CNN.
Taylor’s mother, Tamika Palmer, said the settlement is only one step in the continued pursuit of justice for Breonna.”Her beautiful spirit and personality is working through all of us on the ground, so please continue to say her name: Breonna Taylor,” Palmer said of her daughter, via CNN.
What has Taylor’s family said?
After the grand jury decision, Taylor’s sister Ju’Niyah Palmer posted an Instagram of her and Breonna with the caption: “sister i am so sorry 🥺” She also wrote on her Instagram Story: “sister, you was failed by a system you worked hard for and i am so sorry”
In an interview with the Washington Post from May 2020, Taylor’s mother Tamika Palmer said she first found out something was wrong when she got a call from Walker, who said he thought someone was trying to break into the apartment. He then said, “I think they shot Breonna.”
“I want justice for her,” Tamika said. “I want them to say her name. There’s no reason Breonna should be dead at all.”
Tamika also told the Courier-Journal that Taylor was working on plans for her future: “She had a whole plan on becoming a nurse and buying a house and then starting a family. Breonna had her head on straight, and she was a very decent person.”
In a separate interview with the Washington Post, Ju’Niyah said: “She was my person. I was her shadow.” She said, “Mostly at night is when I can really think, and I have moments—like, I’ll cry, but I haven’t grieved it, if that makes sense. I still don’t want to face it.”
How to help
Writer Cate Young started the #BirthdayForBreonna campaign, compiling a list of action items people can do to commemorate Taylor’s life. Young told Refinery29, “Very often when we have these moments where these stories [of police violence] bubble up, it’s usually because several cases happen in a short proximity of time, and when women are involved their names get erased. I was watching it happen in real-time and it was frustrating for me as a Black woman and an immigrant, because I’m intimately familiar with the fact that we are walked by and ignored. It was frustrating because her life mattered, too, and I wanted to make sure that we were acknowledging that she deserves justice just as much.”
Here, just some of the other ways you can help get justice for Breonna Taylor:
- Donate to the GoFundMe for Taylor’s family.
- Donate to the Louisville Community Bail Fund here to support protestors on the ground.
- Send an email to the Kentucky Attorney General, Mayor, and Governor using the links provided here.
- Send a letter to the Kentucky Attorney General and Louisville Mayor. You can find their mailing addresses here.
- On justiceforbreonna.org, you can send a note to Taylor’s family and find a list of actionsto take, including a list of officials to contact and another petition to sign.
- The Marshall Project reports U.S. House Democrats approved a bill that would ban no-knock warrants in federal law enforcement and take away funding from local police departments that did not do the same. Sen. Rand Paul has proposed a similar bill in the Senate. Contact your local representatives and ask them to support this legislation.
- Learn about the history and power of police unions. Start with this Vox explainer.
According to the Courier-Journal, Louisville Metro Council member Bill Hollander said he has received thousands of messages to his email and that his voicemail fills up multiple times a day with people asking to fire and charge the officers involved. Governor Beshear has also reportedly received thousands of emails, voice messages, and cards.
Some Louisville activists are also taking more extreme measures in their fight for justice, including going on a hunger strike to demand all three officers are fired and stripped of pension benefits. Other protestors from the Until Freedom group organized a sit-in on Attorney General Cameron’s front lawn.