On September 23rd, the Jefferson County grand jury answered the long-awaited question of whether the Louisville Metro police officers responsible for Breonna Taylor’s death would be charged. The grand jury, who relied on evidence that was presented by Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron’s office, charged one former police officer, Brett Hankison, with three counts of wanton endangerment for firing shots that went into an occupied neighboring apartment. Hankison and the other police officers involved were not indicted on charges that were directly related to Taylor’s death. According to the Associated Press, Cameron stated that although officer Myles Cosgrove fired the fatal bullet, both Cosgrove and Jonathan Mattingly were “justified” in their use of force because they were fired upon by Kenneth Walker from inside the apartment. Cameron further stated that the “state law bars us from seeking charges in Breonna Taylor’s death” and that there was “no conclusive evidence that any of Hankison’s 10 gunshots hit Taylor inside her home.”
In a press conference in Frankfort, Kentucky shortly after the grand jury’s announcement, Cameron called Breonna Taylor’s death “a tragedy” and explained his office’s role in the investigation. “Every person has an idea of what they think justice is. Our role as special prosecutor in this case is to set aside everything in pursuit of the truth. My job is to present the facts to the grand jury, and the grand jury then applies those facts to the law,” said Cameron. An hour away in Louisville, protests followed the announcement of the grand jury’s decision, with activists saying that nothing short of murder charges for the officers involved in Breonna Taylor’s death could be considered justice.
Shortly after the indictment, the Louisville Courier Journal reported that an unidentified juror in Taylor’s case demanded the release of the grand jury’s transcript as well as related recordings. The motion that was filed by the juror’s attorney, Kevin Glogower, also asked the judge to allow fellow jurors to give up their confidential status so that they could speak freely about the case and accused Cameron of using the grand jurors “as a shield to deflect accountability and responsibility for those decisions” which has “led to more seeds of doubt in the process.” The 15-hours of recordings, which were ultimately released on Friday, October 2nd, provided details of what the grand jurors were told about the night that Taylor was shot and killed in her home. The recordings, according to the Courier Journal detail a “chilling scene of false assumptions, chaos, and massive gunfire.” No transcripts have been released.
Since the grand jury made the decision and the recordings were released, many have questioned why the charges only included wanton endangerment. Cameron has claimed that it is unlikely that more criminal charges will stem from the investigation. However, federal officials are still investigating whether the police officers committed any civil rights violations and how the police department obtained the warrant. The police department is also reportedly conducting a professional standards investigation to see if the other officers involved need further training or discipline. Hankison, who was fired from the police department in June, has pled not guilty to all three charges and is free on $15,000 bond. Both Cosgrove and Mattingly remain on the police force.
The grand jury’s decision comes a week after the city agreed to pay Taylor’s family $12 million and make police reforms to settle the wrongful death lawsuit against the city. The reform measures include giving officers housing credits to live in the neighborhoods they police; requiring that only high-ranking commanders approve search warrant requests; involving social workers to help resolve situations when necessary; and additional drug testing for officers.
Instructors, click on the link below to download this week’s lecture for use in your classroom.
The deck contains a writing prompt, a debate question, as well as other assessment questions.
- Writing: In his September 23rd press conference, Attorney General Daniel Cameron spoke about the purpose of the criminal justice system. “Every person has an idea of what they think justice is. [ . . . ] If we simply act on emotion or outrage, there is no justice. Mob justice is not justice. Justice sought by violence is not justice. It just becomes revenge. And in our system, criminal justice isn’t the quest for revenge, it’s the quest for truth, evidence, and facts, and the use of that truth as we fairly apply our laws.” Consider Cameron’s statement. Do you agree with his definition of the criminal justice system, especially as it applies to Breonna Taylors’ death? Why or why not?
- Debate: Lawyers for the family of Breonna Taylor and protestors stated that nothing short of murder charges for the officers involved would be enough to bring justice for Breonna. Do you think Breonna Taylor and her family received justice in this case?
- Poll: Although the grand jury process is secretive, in controversial cases like Taylor’s, the grand jurors should have the ability to speak publicly, if they so wish. (Agree or Disagree).
- Short Answer: Explain the charges of wanton endangerment. What sentence accompanies this charge if an individual is found guilty?
Cover Image: Mural of Breonna Taylor; photo Annette Bernhardt via Flickr