September 23, 2020 - 9:59 am
Updated September 24, 2020 - 6:39 am
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Hours after a Kentucky grand jury brought no charges against Louisville police for Breonna Taylor’s death and protesters took to the streets, authorities said two officers were shot and wounded Wednesday night during the demonstrations expressing anger over the killings of Black people at the hands of police.
Interim Louisville Police Chief Robert Schroeder said a suspect was in custody but did not offer details about whether that person was participating in the demonstrations. He says both officers are expected to recover, and one is undergoing surgery.
He says the officers were shot after investigating reports of gunfire at an intersection where there was a large crowd.
Several shots rang out as protesters in downtown Louisville tried to avoid police blockades, moving down an alleyway as officers lobbed pepper balls, according to an Associated Press journalist. People covered their ears, ran away and frantically looked for places to hide. Police with long guns swarmed the area, then officers in riot gear and military-style vehicles blocked off roadways.
The violence comes after prosecutors said two officers who fired their weapons at Taylor, a Black woman, were justified in using force to protect themselves after they faced gunfire from her boyfriend. The only charges were three counts of wanton endangerment against fired Officer Brett Hankison for shooting into a home next to Taylor’s with people inside.
The FBI is still investigating potential violations of federal law in connection with the raid at Taylor’s home on March 13.
Ben Crump, a lawyer for Taylor’s family, denounced the decision as “outrageous and offensive,” and protesters shouting, “No justice, no peace!” immediately marched through the streets.
Scuffles broke out between police and protesters, and some were arrested. Officers fired flash bangs and a few small fires burned in a square that’s been at the center of protests, but it had largely cleared out ahead of a nighttime curfew as demonstrators marched through other parts of downtown Louisville. Dozens of patrol cars blocked the city’s major thoroughfare and more police arrived after the officer was shot.
Demonstrators also marched in cities like New York, Chicago, Washington, D.C., Atlanta and Philadelphia.
Taylor, an emergency medical worker, was shot multiple times by white officers who entered her home on a no-knock warrant during a narcotics investigation. State Attorney General Daniel Cameron, however, said the investigation showed the officers announced themselves before entering. The warrant used to search her home was connected to a suspect who did not live there, and no drugs were found inside.
Along with the killing of George Floyd in Minnesota, Taylor’s case became a major touchstone for nationwide protests that have drawn attention to entrenched racism and demanded police reform. Taylor’s image has been painted on streets, emblazoned on protest signs and silk-screened on T-shirts worn by celebrities. Several prominent African American celebrities joined those urging that the officers be charged.
The announcement drew sadness, frustration and anger that the grand jury did not go further. The wanton endangerment charges each carry a sentence of up to five years.
“To not indict the officers for murder is to claim #BreonnaTaylor killed herself. Racist America constantly kills Black people and then tells Black people we killed ourselves,” tweeted Ibram X. Kendi, director of the Center for Antiracist Research at Boston University and the author of “How to Be an Antiracist.”
Morgan Julianna Lee, a high school student in Charlotte, North Carolina, watched the announcement at home.
“It’s almost like a slap in the face,” the 15-year-old said by phone. “If I, as a Black woman, ever need justice, I will never get it.”
Gov. Andy Beshear, a Democrat, said he authorized a limited deployment of the National Guard. Beshear also urged Cameron, the state attorney general, to post online all the evidence that could be released without affecting the charges filed.
“Those that are currently feeling frustration, feeling hurt, they deserve to know more,” he said.
Public opinion divided
The case exposed the wide gulf between public opinion on justice for those who kill Black Americans and the laws under which those officers are charged, which regularly favor police and do not often result in steep criminal accusations.
At a news conference, Cameron spoke to that disconnect: “Criminal law is not meant to respond to every sorrow and grief.”
“But my heart breaks for the loss of Miss Taylor. … My mother, if something was to happen to me, would find it very hard,” he added, choking up.
But Cameron, who is the state’s first Black attorney general, said the officers acted in self-defense after Taylor’s boyfriend fired at them. He added that Hankison and the two other officers who entered Taylor’s apartment announced themselves before entering — and so did not execute the warrant as “no knock,” according to the investigation. The use of no-knock warrants has since been banned.
“According to Kentucky law, the use of force by (Officers Jonathan) Mattingly and (Myles) Cosgrove was justified to protect themselves,” he said. “This justification bars us from pursuing criminal charges in Miss Breonna Taylor’s death.”
Cameron said an FBI crime lab determined that Cosgrove fired the bullet that killed Taylor.
Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, opened fire when police burst in, hitting Mattingly. Walker was charged with attempted murder of a police officer, but prosecutors later dropped the charge.
Walker told police he heard knocking but didn’t know who was coming into the home and fired in self-defense.
Cameron, who is a Republican, is a protégé of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell who has been tagged by some as his heir apparent. His was also one of 20 names on President Donald Trump’s list to fill a future Supreme Court vacancy.
At a news conference, Trump read a statement from Cameron saying “justice is not often easy.” He praised both Cameron’s handling of the case and the governor’s calling up of the National Guard.
Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden told reporters that he didn’t have enough information on the decision to comment fully but warned protesters to keep demonstrations peaceful.
“Do not sully her memory or her mother’s by engaging in any violence,” he said.
Kamala Harris, Biden’s running mate and a former prosecutor, also told reporters she hadn’t fully read the decision.
“But there’s no question that Breonna Taylor and her family deserved justice yesterday, today and tomorrow, so I’ll review it,” she said.
Hankison was fired on June 23. A termination letter sent to him by interim Louisville Police Chief Robert Schroeder said the white officer had violated procedures by showing “extreme indifference to the value of human life” when he “wantonly and blindly” fired his weapon.
Mattingly, Cosgrove and the detective who sought the warrant, Joshua Jaynes, were placed administrative reassignment.
Last week, the city settled a lawsuit against the three officers brought by Taylor’s mother, Tamika Palmer, agreeing to pay her $12 million and enact police reforms.
Key dates, events in Breonna Taylor’s death
— March 13: Officers serving a narcotics warrant fatally shoot Taylor in her home in Louisville, Kentucky.
— March 13, hours later: Police announce the arrest of Kenneth Walker in the wounding of an officer during an exchange of gunfire; Taylor is left unidentified at the news conference, described as “an unresponsive woman who was later pronounced dead.”
— March, April: The shooting stays out of the headlines as the COVID-19 pandemic spreads in the U.S.
— April 27, Taylor’s family files wrongful death lawsuit against police department and city, challenging the police narrative.
— May 13: Top Louisville prosecutor Tom Wine recuses himself from reviewing police investigation, Attorney General Daniel Cameron named as special prosecutor.
— May 22: Prosecutors announce they will drop attempted murder charges against Walker, who shot at officers in his girlfriend’s home.
— May 28: Walker’s anguished 911 call is released, three days after the death of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minnesota, sparking large protests in Louisville.
— May 29: Mayor Greg Fischer suspends use of no-knock warrants by Louisville police.
— June 1: Fischer fires Police Chief Steve Conrad after officers failed to turn on body cameras in shooting of barbecue cook David McAtee during protests in Louisville.
— June 11: Louisville Metro Council unanimously passes “Breonna’s Law” which bans use of no knock warrants.
— June 14: Pop star Beyoncé writes Attorney General Daniel Cameron, urging him to charge police officers.
— June 23: Officer Brett Hankison, one of 3 officers who fired shots the night of Taylor’s death, is fired for “blindly” firing into Taylor’s apartment.
— June 25: Celebrities join hundreds of demonstrators outside state Capitol calling on Cameron to charge officers.
— June 28: Photographer Tyler Gerth is fatally shot at site of ongoing protests in downtown Louisville.
— July 14: Protesters are arrested for demonstrating on Cameron’s front lawn.
— Aug. 12: Taylor’s mother, Tamika Palmer, meets with Cameron.
— Sept. 5: Hundreds peacefully protest outside Kentucky Derby, urging Cameron to criminally charge the officers.
— Sept. 7: Fischer names Yvette Gentry, first Black woman to lead Louisville Police department, as interim chief beginning Oct. 1.
— Sept. 9: Cameron is included on President Donald Trump’s shortlist of Supreme Court candidates.
— Sept. 15: City announces civil settlement providing Taylor’s family with $12 million and promising police reforms.
— Sept. 22: Louisville police set up blockades downtown in anticipation of Cameron’s announcement.