A grand jury in the U.S. city of Louisville, Kentucky, Wednesday charged a former police officer with wanton endangerment linked to the shooting death of a Black woman, Breonna Taylor, in 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.
The single charge came nearly 200 days after Taylor was killed.
Initially, thousands of people peacefully protested the decision in the city of 600,000, the largest city in the state.
Protester Linette Lowe told NBC News, “I am incredibly disheartened and heartbroken. Many of us aren’t shocked, especially those of us who have witnessed the long history of injustice in our community.”
Later, however, protesters and police clashed. The Louisville Courier Journal reported that it appeared several protesters had been arrested. About 5 p.m. EDT, Louisville police declared the protest a riot and ordered protesters to “immediately disperse.”
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.
Brett Hankison, 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.
Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron, who 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.
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 a 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 treatment of minorities. 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.
Protesters said the charges against a single officer were not sufficient.
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."
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.
VOA's Mia Bush contributed to this report.