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Family, Activists Say Breonna Taylor Settlement Is Only The First Step

A memorial to Breonna Taylor at Jefferson Square Park in downtown Louisville on Aug. 16, 2020.
A memorial to Breonna Taylor at Jefferson Square Park in downtown Louisville on Aug. 16, 2020.

Moments after Mayor Greg Fischer announced a record $12 million settlement with the family of Breonna Taylor, her mother, lawyers and protesters took the stage to say the money and promised police reforms were a start. 

But they weren’t enough.

They said justice for Taylor, the 26-year-old emergency room technician killed by police in her home in March, requires direct consequences for the officers involved in the raid. Yet they varied in the repercussions they demanded, ranging from laying out specific charges to acknowledging there may be none.

Tamika Palmer, Taylor’s mother, said during Tuesday’s news conference announcing the settlement, that the deal was significant — but it was only the beginning of justice for her daughter.

Palmer asked the public to keep saying Taylor’s name. Already, protesters have done so for more than 100 days, in Louisville and across the country, calling for three sequential outcomes: Fire, arrest and charge the officers who killed Taylor. 

And Palmer, too, had one more request.

“It’s time to move forward with the criminal charges, because she deserves that and much more,” Palmer said.

Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron and FBI officials, who are investigating the incident separately, are expected to announce their decisions regarding criminal charges soon. 

The family, protesters and other supporters are hoping for charges against the three officers who fired into Taylor’s apartment — Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly, Det. Myles Cosgrove and Det. Brett Hankison — as well as Sgt. Joshua Jaynes, who sought the warrant for her home and others as part of the narcotics operation undertaken that night.

Hankison was fired for his role in the shooting, while Mattingly, Cosgrove and Jaynes remain on paid leave.

Ben Crump, a national civil rights attorney representing Taylor’s estate in the civil case wrapped up by the settlement, demanded a specific minimum charge from Cameron’s office: second-degree manslaughter.

“Because we want full justice for Breonna Taylor, not just partial justice,” he said.

In Kentucky, that charge applies when someone is believed to have wantonly caused another person’s death. It is a Class C felony, carrying a sentence of five to 10 years in prison. 

Interim Louisville Metro Police chief Robert Schroeder wrote in a letter regarding Hankison’s firing that the officer “displayed an extreme indifference to the value of human life” when he “wantonly and blindly” fired into Taylor’s apartment, language similar to the state’s definition of second-degree manslaughter.

Crump called Taylor’s killing a murder, as protesters and supporters have for months, but he didn’t call for that charge in his demands Tuesday. Kentucky law says someone is guilty of murder when they kill that person or another “with intent to cause the death of another person.”

Tamika Mallory, a protest organizer with social justice group Until Freedom, also referred to Taylor’s death as a murder. She called for the officers to be arrested, and then she demanded more action from Fischer:

“We want to say that if for any reason these officers are not indicted, that you must instruct your police department to fire every single one of them on the spot,” she said. “That is called getting justice for Breonna Taylor.”

Fischer, asked later by a reporter whether he would commit to firing the remaining officers, did not respond, saying instead that justice means that the truth must come out in the case.

Lonita Baker, one of the Louisville attorneys who is a member of Palmer’s legal team, placed her focus on potential federal charges.

“We know that an indictment is coming from the grand jury. We have faith an indictment is coming from the grand jury,” she said at the news conference. “We're going to be looking for the federal indictment to come from the Department of Justice, as well. But it's important for people to know the city of Louisville are not the ones  who can bring the charges.”

Keturah Herron’s demand was a little different: she said she and her people are fighting for a different vision of Louisville — one that doesn’t just address police violence, but that creates a truly compassionate community.

Herron is a policy strategist with the ACLU of Kentucky who was instrumental in the creation of Breonna’s Law, the Louisville ordinance that implemented police body camera requirements and banned no-knock warrants. Speaking at the news conference, she urged officials and citizens to continue the fight, and rejected the label of “compassionate” for Louisville, a label applied and aspired to by Fischer.

Herron said change is here, and it is by and for the people. She quoted Harriet Tubman.

“If you hear the dogs, keep going. If you see the torches in the woods, keep going. If they're shouting after you, keep going. If you want a taste of freedom, keep going,” Herron said.

Outside the mayor’s office, while the news conference took place, a few dozen people were gathered in Jefferson Square Park. It’s been a home base for protesters, now dubbed alternately Injustice Square or Breonna Taylor Square, and since early summer it’s been turned into a memorial for Taylor. The crowd listened to the announcement over loudspeakers.

Some heard the details of the settlement — the record payout, the reforms — and weren’t impressed.

Donald Gray said protesters have been calling for justice, not money.

“Money is no compensation for Black lives,” said Donald Gray. “Stop killing us, stop kicking in our doors. Arrest these people that do so.”

Carmen Jones said if justice comes down to money, what Taylor’s family was awarded simply is not enough.

She said no amount of money can ensure Black people will be safe from unjust policing and the sometimes deadly consequences it brings. 

Jones suspects the announcement’s timing is an effort to quell the protests that are expected to come following Cameron’s decision to charge, or not charge, the officers involved in Taylor’s death.

As for the policing reforms announced during Tuesday’s announcement, Jones shook her head.

“They’re breadcrumbs,” she said. “They’re not enough.”

Reporters Graham Ambrose and Jacob Ryan contributed to this story.

Amina Elahi is LPM's City Editor. Email Amina at aelahi@lpm.org.