LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron broke his silence Wednesday on the Breonna Taylor case, revealing for the first time the investigation’s key findings about what happened shortly after midnight March 13 when she died — and who should be held accountable.
He also made clear that former LMPD Detective Brett Hankison was indicted on three counts of first-degree wanton endangerment that were not directly related to Taylor’s death.
The grand jury indicted Hankison for recklessly firing his gun the night the no-knock search warrant used by police was executed. Jurors said he threatened three people’s lives by firing bullets that traveled into an apartment adjacent to Taylor’s.
In an hourlong, nationally televised press conference, the commonwealth’s rookie attorney general and political protege of U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said:
- Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly and Detective Myles Cosgrove were “justified in the return of deadly fire” after they were fired upon by Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker.
- That justification prevents him from “pursuing criminal charges” in her death.
- No bullets fired by Hankison appeared to have struck Taylor.
- It’s “unlikely” any additional prosecutions come from the events of March 13.
More coverage: Grand jury indicts 1 of 3 officers in Breonna Taylor shooting
Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron speaks during a press conference in Frankfort on Wednesday on the results of his office’s examination of the Breonna Taylor shooting case. (Photo: Michael Clevenger/Courier Journal)
Cameron declined to get into the specifics of any recommendation his office made to the grand jury, citing that proceedings are “a secret.”
But he said his office presented “all of the information” and walked the grand jury through “every homicide offense” before it came to its conclusion before noon on Wednesday.
The Republican AG, who won in November’s election, also stressed his role as special prosecutor was not to decide if the loss of her life was a tragedy — “The answer to that is unequivocally yes,” he said.
Instead, he said, it was to “put emotions aside and investigate the facts.”
And, Cameron emphasized, the facts his investigation found are the facts to believe.
“If we simply act on emotion or outrage, there is no justice,” he said. “Mob justice is not justice. Justice sought by violence is not justice. It just becomes revenge.
“Justice is not often easy. It does not fit the mold of public opinion, and it does not conform to shifting standards. It answers only to the facts and to the law.”
His office’s investigation, Cameron said, focused on the events at Taylor’s apartment on March 13. Any investigation into “potential civil rights violations” will be addressed through “a federal-led investigation,” a less-than-veiled reference to the ongoing FBI investigation into Taylor’s death.
His office did not, for instance, examine how police obtained the warrant for Taylor’s apartment, which he said is under review by federal law enforcement partners.
See also: Read what Daniel Cameron said about the grand jury’s findings
And, he explained, without body camera footage of the attempted search warrant execution, Cameron’s team relied on ballistics evidence, 911 calls, police radio traffic and interviews, he said.
The final interview in the case did not take place until last Friday.
Here are some of the most noteworthy — and potentially controversial — revelations from Cameron’s announcement:
A determination that officers were justified in returning fire
While there are six possible homicide charges under Kentucky law, Cameron said, “these charges are not applicable to the facts before us.”
In fact, he said, the investigation shows Mattingly and Cosgrove were justified in their use of deadly force, after being fired upon by Walker.
“This justification,” he said, “bars us from pursuing criminal charges in Ms. Breonna Taylor’s death.”
Asked if he thought that self-defense laws in Kentucky ought to be changed, Cameron said his role was to provide information and facts to the grand jury.
Kentucky has “vigorous self-defense laws,” he said, which “existed prior to this case.” He declined to opine on the wisdom of those laws.
He also declined to explain, based on any ballistics analysis, how it was that Taylor was struck six times, while Walker, who fired the shot at officers, according to police and Cameron’s investigation, was not hit.
“I don’t want to get into the specifics, but the fact that she was hit breaks my heart and it breaks the collective heart of all the country,” Cameron said. “But because we have now an open prosecution, I don’t want to get too into details about the trajectories themselves.”
Related: What’s next for the 2 officers who weren’t indicted in the shooting?
Conflicting conclusions on who fired the fatal shot
Two different labs analyzed ballistics evidence and reached different conclusions on the officer who fired the shot that killed Taylor.
Kentucky State Police “did not identify which of the three officers” it was, stating that it was “inconclusive,” Cameron said. He then asked the FBI crime lab to analyze the evidence. It found that the fatal shot was “fired by Detective Cosgrove.”
“Our office looked at both reports to determine if there were major differences in the procedures used by each lab that would have led the FBI to identify who fired the fatal shot,” Cameron said.
Both used similar equipment and analysis, Cameron said, and each is “highly respected.”
“There was nothing our investigators could point to, nor anything provided by the respective agencies, that directly explains why one lab made the call, while another did not,” Cameron said.
No ballistics evidence has been released to the public.
The conflicting conclusions, Cameron said, created “reasonable doubt” in the evidence as to who fired the fatal shot.
“It certainly creates some issue, in terms of providing that information to the grand jury and providing that at any subsequent prosecution,” Cameron said. “From our judgment, it was important to provide both of those to the grand jury and then ultimately let them make a determination about what to do with that information.”
Read this: Former LMPD Detective Brett Hankison booked at Shelby County jail
Did any rounds from Hankison hit Taylor?
Not based on the evidence, Cameron said.
“There’s nothing conclusive to say that Detective Hankison, any of his bullets hit Ms. Taylor,” he said.
LMPD fired Hankison in June for “blindly” firing 10 rounds into Taylor’s apartment. Crime scene photos show bullet holes through a covered patio door and bedroom window.
Asked to elaborate on what led to that conclusion, Cameron largely demurred.
“Again, all the evidence was given to the grand jury, and they made the decision that wanton endangerment was the charge to file, or to indict, against Mr. Hankison,” Cameron said.
A sixth ‘projectile’
Without a publicly released autopsy report, the number of times Taylor was shot has been somewhat unclear.
The lawsuit filed in April by Taylor’s family said she had been “shot at least eight times by the officers’ gunfire and died as a result.”
But her death certificate from the state Registrar of Vital Statistics, obtained by The Courier Journal, lists her cause of death as “multiple (5) gunshot wounds of the body.”
Cameron said Wednesday his investigation had concluded she was shot six times.
The sixth, he said, was an “object” or “projectile” — he said bullet “might be too generous a term” — that was lodged into one of her feet.
Mattingly shot six times from the doorway, while Cosgrove shot 16 times, also from the doorway, Cameron said. The investigation wasn’t able to determine with “specificity” how many from each hit her.
“This all took place in a matter of seconds,” he said. “In total, six bullets struck Ms. Taylor.”
Live updates: Hundreds flock to downtown Louisville to continue Taylor protests
Did officers announce their presence at the door?
Cameron said Wednesday that officers both knocked and announced their presence at Taylor’s apartment, a conclusion he said his team reached based on officers’ statements and a corroborating witness — a civilian.
Whether officers announced themselves has been a key question in the case.
Neighbors have told attorneys that they didn’t hear officers announce their presence, and Walker has said he and Taylor didn’t know who was knocking at the door.
“The only reason I even had the gun out (was) because we didn’t know who it was,” Walker told investigators hours after the shooting in a taped interview since made public. “If we knew who it was, that would have never happened.”
Mattingly, meanwhile, said in his police interview that officers announced on “six or seven occasions” that they were police and had a warrant.
“What separated these two parties was a door,” Jefferson Commonwealth’s Attorney Tom Wine said at a May press conference when he announced he was dismissing criminal charges against Walker and called for further investigation.
“And it’s very possible that there is no criminal activity on either side of that door because people couldn’t hear what the other party was saying,” Wine said.
Read more: FBI investigation into Breonna Taylor case continues
Cameron said Wednesday, however, his investigation had concluded there was an announcement.
“Evidence shows that officers both knocked and announced their presence at the apartment,” he said. “The officers’ statements about their announcement are corroborated by an independent witness who was near, in a proximity to Apartment 4.
“In other words, the warrant was not served as a no-knock warrant,” Cameron said.
He declined to answer whether he thought that one corroborating witness, out of roughly a dozen neighbors, signified that the announcing was “sufficient.”
“The more pertinent question is what was the evidence provided to the grand jury? What was sufficient for their purposes?” Cameron said.
“They got to hear and listen to all the testimony and made the determination that Detective Hankison was the one to be indicted, knowing all the relative points that you made.”
Dive deeper: Kentucky’s self-defense laws negated possible homicide charges
‘Friendly fire’ didn’t lead to Mattingly’s injuries
Walker’s civil suit attorney, Steve Romines, recently raised questions about whether it was truly Walker who fired the shot that struck Mattingly in the thigh.
He said it was clear “police are firing wildly from all angles” at the apartment and that the timeline and evidence at the scene was more indicative of another officer shooting Mattingly than Walker.
Cameron threw cold water on that theory, stating there was no evidence to support Mattingly was “hit by friendly fire from other officers.”
Cameron said the ballistics report showed the round that struck Mattingly was from a 9 mm handgun. The LMPD officers, however, had “40-caliber handguns.”
That ballistics report has not been publicly released.
Darcy Costello: 502-582-4834; [email protected]; Twitter: @dctello. Support strong local journalism by subscribing today: courier-journal.com/darcyc.
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