On Wednesday, September 23rd, over six months after three police officers killed Breonna Taylor, a grand jury decided that just one ex-cop involved would face charges in a case that became a focal point of this year’s protests against police brutality and systemic injustice.
A Kentucky grand jury decided to levy just three counts of first-degree wanton endangerment at Brett Hankison, while declining to press charges against the other two officers, Jonathan Mattingly and Myles Cosgrove. The decision was a far cry from the justice Taylor’s family and protesters across the country had been demanding for months, and following the announcement, a new wave of protests in response to the decision quickly took off in Louisville and other cities.
Wanton endangerment is a class D felony, and at a press conference Wednesday, Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron said that, if convicted, Hankinson — who was fired from the Louisville Metro Police Department in June — could face up to five years in prison for each count. A warrant has been issued for his arrest, and his bail was set at $15,000.
Along with being nowhere near the murder charges for all three officers advocates had been seeking, both lawyers for Taylor’s family and other activists were quick to point out a frustrating specific in the already-slim charges against Hankison. The charges of endangerment were tied to the multiple shots Hankison fired that traveled through the walls of Taylor’s apartment into the apartment directly behind hers. The charging documents only listed the initials of those in the other apartment as being endangered; the initials of Breonna Taylor, the only person who was killed, were not included.
“Jefferson County Grand Jury indicts former ofc. Brett Hankison with 3 counts of Wanton Endangerment in 1st Degree for bullets that went into other apartments but NOTHING for the murder of Breonna Taylor,” Ben Crump, an attorney for Taylor’s family, tweeted. “This is outrageous and offensive! If Brett Hankison’s behavior was wanton endangerment to people in neighboring apartments, then it should have been wanton endangerment in Breonna Taylor’s apartment too. In fact, it should have been ruled wanton murder!”
Ultimately, not a single charge was filed directly in relation to Breonna Taylor’s death.
It is unclear when Hankison’s trial will start, but AG Cameron said his office was “prepared to prove these charges” against him. Cameron also addressed those dissatisfied with the scope of the charges, saying, “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.”
Per the Louisville Courier Journal, Cameron also said that the grand jury decided homicide charges were not applicable, and that the majority of the officers’ actions were justified. During the botched raid on Taylor’s home, the police entered her apartment using a no-knock warrant, believing it was allegedly being used as a place for drug suspects to pick up packages. While the police claimed that they announced their arrival, Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, said otherwise; so when the three cops burst through the door, Walker, a registered gun owner, fired a warning shot at the people he believed were intruders, and one officer was struck in the thigh.
Ultimately, Cameron said, Mattingly and Cosgrove were justified in firing off multiple shots because Walker had fired first. Cameron added that there was “nothing conclusive to say” that any bullets Hankison fired hit Taylor.
Aside from Hankison’s eventual trial, the avenues for justice for Taylor have now considerably narrowed. The FBI is conducting its own investigation for possible civil rights violations, and Walker has filed a lawsuit against the LMPD, claiming he was a victim of police misconduct and arguing that he should be given immunity from prosecution. (While it took over 100 days to file even the slimmest of charges in Taylor’s case, Walker was swiftly booked on an attempted murder charge that wasn’t dropped until late May.)
As it stands, the only justice Taylor’s family will likely receive came in the form of a settlement with the City of Louisville over a wrongful death lawsuit. The terms included a $12 million payout and the promise that the city would institute a new set of policing reforms. While that is something, as Taylor’s mother, Tamika Palmer, made abundantly clear at a press conference announcing the settlement, it was never going to be enough.
“We must not lose focus on what the real drive is, and with that being said, it’s being time to move forward with the criminal charges, because she deserves that and much more. Her beautiful spirit and personality is working through all of us on the ground, so please continue to say her name: Breonna Taylor.”
Correction: This story previously stated that Breonna Taylor was asleep when she was killed, which is inaccurate. According to the account from her boyfriend, she had awoken. This story has been updated to reflect that information.