A grand jury in the U.S. city of Louisville, Kentucky, Wednesday charged a former police officer with wanton endangerment for shooting into the apartment of the neighbors of a Black woman, Breonna Taylor, who was killed during a bungled drug raid in March.
The grand jury decided that two other officers were justified in firing their weapons and cleared them of wrongdoing. No officers were charged directly with Taylor’s death. All three officers involved are white.
Taylor family attorney Ben Crump said, “While not fully what we wanted, this brings us closer” to justice for Taylor. But in a second tweet, Crump said the fact that no one was charged directly with Taylor's death was "outrageous and offensive."
Initially, thousands of people peacefully protested the decision in the city of 600,000. But the protests turned violent Wednesday night, with police and protesters clashing, and protesters setting fires in downtown Louisville, according to local media.
Late Wednesday, two Louisville police officers were shot and suffered non-life-threatening wounds, a Louisville Metro Police Department spokesman said. The spokesman added that police had “one suspect in custody.”
Around 5 p.m. local time, Louisville police had declared the protest a riot and ordered protesters to “immediately disperse.” Officers employed flash bang devices to clear protesters from a downtown area later Wednesday.
Mayor Greg Fischer ordered a 72-hour curfew, beginning at 9 p.m. Wednesday. Much of the city’s downtown area had been closed to traffic.
The Louisville Courier Journal reported that nearly 30 protesters had been arrested late Wednesday.
Brett Hankison, who is white, and the lone officer charged in the case, had already been fired from the city police department after an investigation showed he fired 10 shots into Taylor’s apartment through a sliding glass door covered with blinds, violating police rules that officers should have a clear line of sight before firing their weapons.
The grand jury charged Hankison with three counts of wanton endangerment, concluding the shots he fired went through a wall into a neighboring apartment and endangered three people living there. If convicted, he faces up to five years in prison on each count.
According to Kentucky’s statute, “A person is guilty of wanton endangerment in the first degree when, under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life, he wantonly engages in conduct which creates a substantial danger of death or serious physical injury to another person.”
Hankison was booked and released from the Shelby County Detention Center Wednesday afternoon after posting $15,000 bail, according to media reports.
Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron, who is Black and oversaw the grand jury’s consideration of the case, said the other two officers involved in the raid — Jonathan Mattingly and Myles Cosgrove — “were justified in their use of force” after Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, fired at them first when they entered the apartment, thinking they were intruders.
The officers had authorization for a “no-knock” raid, but Cameron said a resident in Taylor’s apartment building heard the police officers announce their presence before entering Taylor’s apartment, even though Walker told police he did not hear it.
Cameron said Walker acknowledged firing the first shot, hitting Mattingly in the leg. Mattingly and Cosgrove fired numerous shots in return. Cameron said ballistics tests showed one of the shots fired by Cosgrove killed 26-year-old Taylor, a medical technician.
“The decision before my office is not to decide if the loss of Breonna Taylor’s life was a tragedy — the answer to that question is unequivocally yes,” Cameron said during a news conference Wednesday in Frankfurt, the state capital. “I understand that as a Black man, how painful this is ... which is why it was so incredibly important to make sure that we did everything we possibly could to uncover every fact.”
He later added, “I know that not everyone will be satisfied. Our job is to present the facts to the grand jury, and the grand jury then applies the facts. If we simply act on outrage, there is no justice. Mob justice is not justice. Justice sought by violence is not justice. It just becomes revenge.”
Later, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear asked Cameron to post online all the evidence and facts that can be released without affecting the three felony counts brought against the fired Louisville police officer.
"Everyone can and should be informed,” Beshear, a former attorney general, said during a press conference Wednesday. “And those that are currently feeling frustration, feeling hurt, they deserve to know more. I trust Kentuckians. They deserve to see the facts for themselves. And I believe that the ability to process those facts helps everybody.”
Taylor’s killing became part of this summer's national reckoning on race relations in the United States and police use of disproportionate force in minority communities. Street demonstrations broke out in dozens of cities in May after George Floyd, a Black man, died in police custody in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
The Taylor case became as prominent as Floyd’s, with celebrities and protesters alike calling for charges to be filed against all three police officers linked to her death.
Protests over the charges in Taylor’s case took place around the country Wednesday night, including in Philadelphia, Chicago, Boston, New York and Washington, D.C.
Protesters said the charges against a single officer were not sufficient.
Pastor Tim Findley, a regular at the protests held in Louisville seeking justice for Taylor, told the Courier Journal Wednesday, "It's a tragedy. This is an embarrassment, and it's exactly why there have been protests for the last (119) days. This is a disappointing, hurtful, painful day in our city.”
Louisville recently agreed to pay $12 million to Taylor’s family to settle a lawsuit it brought against the city for the manner in which the raid was carried out.