More than two years after Breonna Taylor’s death, police officers involved in the search for the warrant that led to her killing were finally charged by the Federal Department of Justice.
In an unexpected announcement Thursday, the department accused four current and former officers of the Louisville Metro Police Department of federal crimes in connection with the police shooting of Breonna Taylor.
Police officers shot and killed the 26-year-old black woman at her home on March 13, 2020 in Louisville, Kentucky while carrying out a search warrant linked to a drug investigation. Taylor was sleeping when agents broke into her apartment that night with a “no knock warrant” and fired 32 rounds.
The killing of the police sparked national protests that continued for more than two years. Kentucky prosecutors did not accuse any of the police officers of Taylor’s death. An officer was convicted of unbridled danger for shooting at a nearby apartment, but a jury found him not guilty in March. The city settled a $ 12 million lawsuit with Taylor’s family in 2020, and in 2021 the Justice Department launched an investigation into allegations of systemic misconduct by the Louisville Police Department.
Now the Department of Justice claims that members of the Louisville Metro Police Department’s on-site investigation unit, which police say was formed to reduce violence in a high-crime area, but which has been investigated for being an alleged “rogue police unit,” he forged the affidavit that was used to obtain the warrant to search Taylor’s home. To obtain the search warrant, officers made false statements, omitted facts and relied on stale information, the department said. Then, prosecutors say, after Taylor was killed, they conspired to hide their actions.
At a press conference, Attorney General Merrick Garland said this act violated federal civil rights laws. “Breonna Taylor should be alive today,” Garland said.
The first indictment accuses former detective Joshua Jaynes and current Sergeant Kyle Meany of federal civil rights and obstruction offenses for preparing and approving an affidavit of a false search warrant.
The second charge accuses former detective Brett Hankison of civil rights offenses for shooting his service weapon into Taylor’s home through a covered window and a covered glass door. The department is also accusing current detective Kelly Goodlett of conspiring with Jaynes to forge the search warrant and conceal their actions afterward.
Social justice activists called the announcement of a victory, although many acknowledged that the criminal charges would never be able to undo the damage done. Taylor’s mother, Tamika Palmer, wrote, “They said it couldn’t and it wouldn’t be done, but they didn’t know I could and I would be up for 874 days,” noting the number of days that have passed since Taylor’s death.
As police are rarely prosecuted for shooting civilians while at work, the Justice Department’s decision to accuse officers is rare. Here’s what the fight for justice decision could mean for Breonna Taylor, and the four current and former officers.
What the allegations mean
On March 13, Louisville police had a warrant to enter and search Taylor’s home because they believed a suspect in their drug investigation was receiving packages at Taylor’s home. However, the man they were looking for, Jamarcus Glover – a man Taylor dated years ago but he didn’t keep a friendship with – did not reside in Taylor’s apartment and was detained elsewhere.
The Department of Justice claims the search warrant was invalid. Jaynes and Meany voluntarily deprived Taylor of his constitutional rights when they drafted and approved a false affidavit to obtain a search warrant for Taylor’s home, according to the department.
The prosecution claims that both men knew that the affidavit “contained false and misleading statements, omitted material facts, was based on stale information and was not supported by a probable cause,” according to the Justice Department statement. He also claims that Jaynes and Meany knew the search warrant would be carried out by armed officers, they also knew it could create a deadly situation for the officers and anyone inside Taylor’s home.
On March 12, 2020, agents from the on-site investigation unit requested five search warrants that they said were linked to a suspected drug trafficking in Louisville’s West End area. Four of the search warrants were for that neighborhood, but the fifth was for Taylor’s home, located 10 miles from the West End, according to the Justice Department.
The prosecution goes on to say that the affidavit falsely claimed that the agents had verified that their target in the alleged drug trafficking operation, Glover, had received a package at Taylor’s apartment.
The first indictment accuses Jaynes of conspiring to cover up the false affidavit after Taylor’s death and making false statements to investigators. Jaynes allegedly worked with Goodlett to do so, which the Justice Department has also accused of conspiracy. The department claims the two officers met in a garage in May 2020 and agreed to tell investigators a false story.
And when the mandate was served, the situation became deadly.
The officers who conducted the search were unaware of the false and misleading statements used to obtain the warrant, according to the Justice Department. When they got to Taylor’s apartment that night, they broke down the door. Taylor was home with his boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, who owned a gun. To believe an intruder was entering the apartment, fired a shot and hit the first officer on the door. Two officers: Jonathan Mattingly and Myles Cosgrove – then immediately fired a total of 22 rounds into the apartments, one of which hit Taylor in the chest and killed her.
The Justice Department only reported one of the officers, Hankison, who shot him that night. The two civil rights charges against Hankison contained in the second indictment allege that he used “unconstitutionally excessive force” when he fired his own weapon into Taylor’s apartment.
He fired another 10 shots after Taylor had already been shot. His bullets traveled through Taylor’s apartment and through the wall to his neighbor’s apartment. Hankison’s actions “involved an attempt to kill,” the department claims.
Because all the officers used to walk freely
Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron, the special prosecutor who conducted the state investigation into the police shooting, only recommended to the grand jury the charge of unbridled danger for Hankison, one of three officers who shot at Taylor’s apartment. .
As I wrote in 2020, “that single accusation was the only one the jurors could consider” and it was about endangering the neighbors, not Taylor or her boyfriend. Jurors were not asked to consider whether any of the officers had committed homicide or manslaughter against Taylor. While the grand jury indicted Hankison on unbridled danger charges in September 2020, a jury found him not guilty of all three counts.
New Justice Department charges against Hankison alleged excessive use of force against Taylor and her boyfriend, who was not included in the Kentucky case. The Justice Department has already conducted a civilian investigation into the Louisville Metro Government and the Louisville Metro Police Department, which Garland announced in April 2021, to investigate allegations of systemic police misconduct.
Taylor’s name has become, and remains, a rallying cry for racial justice efforts around the world. The murder also renewed attention to the #SayHerName movement, which seeks to draw attention to the many black women who are killed at the hands of the police but are generally ignored in the fight for justice.
The $ 12 million deal between Louisville and Taylor’s family included a series of police reforms, such as sending social workers to assist police and encouraging police officers to live in patrolling communities. In the wake of the murder, the Louisville Subway Council also voted unanimously to pass the “Breonna Law”, which bans the use of no-knock warrants.
Civil rights charges carry a maximum sentence of life in prison if the violation results in an attempted murder or results in death. Obstruction counts carry a maximum penalty of 20 years, while conspiracy counts and accusation of misrepresentation carry a maximum sentence of five years.