A Kentucky grand jury’s decision not to indict the three Louisville police officers who killed 26-year-old Breonna Taylor on homicide charges has raised questions about what evidence the jurors weighed in the controversial case that sparked nationwide protests.
Now, Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron (R), who announced the grand jury result in a Wednesday news conference, is facing mounting calls to release evidence and grand jury reports in an effort to clarify that decision.
Cameron announced Wednesday afternoon that the grand jury decided not to indict Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly or Officer Myles Cosgrove, two of the Louisville Metro Police Department officers involved in the fatal shooting of Taylor inside her home in March. The grand jury indicted a third officer, Detective Brett Hankison, with three counts of felony wanton endangerment for firing shots from outside Taylor’s apartment into neighboring units.
Hankison, however, also faces no charges related directly to Taylor’s killing or for firing shots into her apartment, a decision that drew confusion and dismay from Taylor’s family and their lawyers.
Cameron spoke approvingly of how the grand jury had parceled out blame. Others did not.
“The attorney general’s logic does not make legal sense,” Lonita Baker, a lawyer for the Taylor family, said during a CNN appearance Wednesday night. “You can’t say that Brett Hankison wantonly endangered three neighbors, but that same reckless behavior does not apply to Breonna.”
As protests broke out in Louisville and across the nation Wednesday afternoon, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear and Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer, both Democrats, called on Cameron to release evidence and grand jury reports about the case. Democratic Senate candidate Amy McGrath, a former Marine fighter pilot who is running against Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R), joined them Thursday afternoon.
“Breonna’s family and Kentucky deserve to know what happened the night she was killed,” McGrath tweeted Thursday afternoon. “The fact that the grand jury did not even consider charges in the events that led to her death created confusion and anger.”
“AG Cameron needs to release the grand jury report now, including what evidence and recommendations he chose to present,” McGrath said in a follow-up message. “We shouldn’t have to take his word for it.”
The officers shot and killed Taylor shortly after midnight on March 13 while executing a warrant at her home as part of a drug investigation. Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, fired what he has called a single warning shot at what he believed to be home intruders after police entered. Walker has said he did not hear the police announce their presence, and eyewitnesses have backed his claim, although police have said they did call out ― even though they were granted a warrant with a “no knock” provision.
Walker’s shot, police have long asserted and Cameron reiterated on Wednesday, hit Mattingly in the leg. The officers responded with at least 32 gunshots, six of which struck Taylor, killing her.
Although many legal experts thought it was unlikely the grand jury would return significant charges ― including homicide or manslaughter ― against the officers who killed Taylor, the decision still raised questions about the evidence the jurors had reviewed or considered. And lawyers for both Taylor’s family and Walker have taken issue with Cameron’s handling of the case, in particular with assertions the attorney general made Wednesday.
During the CNN appearance Wednesday night, Baker, the Taylor family lawyer, and Steve Romines, who represents Walker, questioned whether Cameron had even asked the grand jury to consider charges against Cosgrove and Mattingly, both of whom Cameron said had been “justified” in returning fire into Taylor’s apartment after Walker fired a shot.
The lawyers also questioned why the grand jury did not indict Hankison on further counts of wanton endangerment for firing into Taylor’s apartment. Baker noted that Hankison now faced wanton endangerment charges for firing into three apartments whose residents are white, but not the apartment above Taylor’s unit, which was home to Black residents.
Romines disputed several assertions that Cameron presented as fact in his announcement, including that it was Walker’s shot that struck Mattingly in the leg. Cameron said that the round removed from the officer’s leg came from a 9mm pistol and that only Walker used that caliber of weapon at the scene. Romines, however, said that police records showed Hankison had also been issued a 9mm firearm.
Romines also took issue with Cameron’s view, which the attorney general said the grand jury shared, that Cosgrove and Mattingly were justified in the shooting. The lawyer said that view effectively granted police an “artificial, heightened level of self-defense” that ordinary Kentuckians cannot claim.
Under Kentucky state law, “you are not allowed to rely on justification of self-defense when you recklessly kill a third party,” Romines said on CNN. “You must identify the person who is using imminent deadly force against you, and you are permitted to use deadly force against them.”
“Somehow we have created this artificial, heightened level of self-defense that police get that ordinary citizens do not,” he said. “That’s not the case. Self-defense laws in Kentucky apply to everyone, police and citizens alike. And it does not apply when you recklessly kill a third party that did not imminently put your life in danger.”
Cameron said during his news conference that he would not make the grand jury reports public because the case against Hankison is still pending and a separate FBI investigation into Taylor’s death is ongoing. He also declined to make public the racial and demographic makeup of the grand jury when pressed by reporters.
“I think it would be irresponsible at this juncture for this office to release any sort of file,” the attorney general said.
Beshear later said that releasing any evidence and information that would not “jeopardize” the case against Hankison or the FBI probe would help address the frustration and anger that many Kentuckians feel about the case, as well as the unanswered questions that remain around it.
“Everyone can and should be informed, and those that are currently feeling frustration and feeling hurt, they deserve to know more,” the governor said during a Wednesday press conference about the case. “I trust Kentuckians. They deserve to see the facts for themselves.”
Fischer, the Louisville mayor who has faced opposition from both protesters and his city’s police force since Taylor was killed, made a similar call after Beshear’s address concluded.
“I believe that any information that does not jeopardize either the attorney general’s case or the FBI case should now be open for the public to see to be informed about all the facts in the case,” Fischer said. “So we call on everybody that has that information to release it.”
Romines said on CNN that he planned to subpoena the grand jury file as part of Walker’s ongoing lawsuit against the city of Louisville and the Metro Police Department. A licensed gun owner, Walker is claiming legal immunity for firing his gun under Kentucky’s “stand your ground” law.
Neither Romines nor Baker immediately responded to HuffPost’s requests for an interview on Thursday.
“Everything I’ve said today that contradicts Attorney General Cameron ― release the entire file and we’ll see who’s telling the truth,” Romines said on CNN Wednesday night.