Two white police officers who fired into the apartment of Breonna Taylor, a black medical worker, will face no charges for her death because their use of force was justified, but a third will be charged with the wanton endangerment of her neighbours, the state attorney general said on Wednesday.
Attorney General Daniel Cameron announced the Louisville grand jury’s decision at a news conference as protesters against racial injustice and police brutality massed on city streets.
Former Detective Brett Hankison’s indictment for wanton endangerment in the first degree represents the lowest level of felony crime in Kentucky and carries a maximum sentence of up to five years in prison.
Benjamin Crump, a civil rights lawyer representing the Taylor family, said it was “outrageous” that none of the officers would be criminally charged for Ms Taylor’s death.
Ms Taylor, 26, was killed in front of her armed boyfriend shortly after midnight on 13 March at her Louisville apartment after Mr Hankison and his two colleagues forced their way in with a so-called “no knock” warrant.
The two other officers, Sergeant Jonathan Mattingly and Detective Myles Cosgrove, were not charged because they were justified under Kentucky law in returning fire after Ms Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, shot at them, wounding Mr Mattingly in the thigh, Mr Cameron said.
“There is no doubt that this is a gut-wrenching, emotional case,” Mr Cameron, a black Republican, said at a news conference.
Mr Hankison fired his weapon 10 times. Some of the bullets travelled through Ms Taylor’s apartment into an adjacent apartment where a man, a pregnant woman and a child were at home.
There was “no conclusive” evidence that any of Mr Hankison’s bullets hit Ms Taylor, Mr Cameron said.
‘Tempers may flare’
Organisers of the protests against police brutality that have become a daily occurrence expressed frustration at the outcome.
“Tonight, tempers may flare,” said community organiser Reece Chenault, 40. “People are going to be sad and I think you are going to see a lot of tears with folks who are marching.”
About 400 protesters wound their way out of downtown Louisville’s Jefferson Square Park and marched through the streets chanting, “Out of the homes, into the streets!”
“If Brett Hankison’s behaviour was wanton endangerment to people in neighbouring apartments, then it should have been wanton endangerment in Breonna Taylor’s apartment too,” Mr Crump said. “In fact, it should have been ruled wanton murder!”
Ahead of the announcement, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer announced a 72-hour curfew for the city beginning at 9 pm. “I urge everybody to choose peaceful and lawful protest,” Mr Fischer, a white Democrat, said shortly before the announcement.
The three officers involved in the raid knocked on Ms Taylor’s apartment door and announced their presence outside, which was corroborated by a neighbour who witnessed the arrival, Mr Cameron said. Getting no answer, they “breached the door,” he said.
Mr Mattingly entered first, and at the end of a corridor saw Ms Taylor and her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, with Mr Walker pointing a gun.
Mr Walker fired, injuring Mr Mattingly in the thigh. Mr Mattingly returned fire, and his colleagues began shooting soon after, Mr Cameron said. Mr Hankison fired 10 bullets, Mr Cameron said.
Six bullets hit Ms Taylor, Mr Cameron said, contradicting reports she had been hit five times. Ballistics investigators found only one shot, fired by Mr Cosgrove, was deadly, Mr Cameron said.
In June, the Louisville Metro Police Department fired Mr Hankison with Interim Police Chief Robert Schroeder writing that Mr Hankison “displayed an extreme indifference to the value of human life” when he “wantonly and blindly fired” into Ms Taylor’s home.
The department reassigned Mr Mattingly and Mr Cosgrove to administrative duties.
Louisville police obtained the warrant to enter Ms Taylor’s apartment from a judge as part of an investigation into a drug ring at another house elsewhere in Louisville. They told the judge that they believed that one of the men suspected of selling drugs had used Taylor’s apartment to receive packages.
Ms Taylor had previously dated a suspected drug seller but had severed ties with him, according to her family.
She and Mr Walker, were in bed when police broke down her door with a battering ram shortly after midnight, the families’ representatives have said.
Mr Walker has been charged with attempted murder. His lawyer has said there is evidence the bullet in Mr Mattingly’s thigh was shot by one of his colleagues, not by Mr Walker, but Mr Cameron disputed this on Wednesday.
Images of Ms Taylor have become a familiar sight at ongoing protests against police violence in cities across the United States. Last month, television mogul Oprah Winfrey featured an image of Taylor on the cover of O, the Oprah Magazine.
Louisville has agreed to pay $16.9 million to Ms Taylor’s family to settle a wrongful-death lawsuit, Mayor Fischer announced earlier this month.