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Here Are Some Of The Big Questions Remaining About The Breonna Taylor Case

Demonstrators gather around a memorial to Breonna Taylor at Jefferson Square Park on Sept. 23, 2020.
Demonstrators gather around a memorial to Breonna Taylor at Jefferson Square Park on Sept. 23, 2020.

Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron’s long-awaited announcement regarding criminal charges in the fatal police shooting of Breonna Taylor offered some new information, but left many questions unanswered.

Cameron said Wednesday he would prosecute former Louisville Metro Police detective Brett Hankison on three counts of wanton endangerment. A Jefferson County grand jury recommended those charges, and none against Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly and Det. Myles Cosgrove, currently on administrative reassignment, who shot Taylor in a late-night raid on March 13.

Much of the new information Cameron provided was based on ballistics reports produced by FBI and Kentucky State Police Labs. He said the FBI’s lab determined Cosgrove fired the fatal shot, but the KSP analysis could not draw a conclusion in the matter. There was no conclusive evidence that any of Hankison’s bullets struck Taylor, he said.

Cameron also said a ballistics report showed Mattingly was shot by a 9-millimeter round, while LMPD officers have 40-millimeter handguns. He said that means Mattingly was shot by Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, as police have said, not by friendly fire, as Walker’s attorney has suggested.

But in the minutes and hours after Cameron’s explanation of the limited charges, reporters, lawyers, activists, protesters and politicians pushed back on some details and laid out their remaining questions. Here are some of the main ones:

Why did the city settle a civil suit with Taylor’s family for $12 million if no one is believed to be responsible for her death?

A week after the city paid $12 million and promised a number of police reforms to Taylor’s mother, Tamika Palmer, and family, a grand jury did not indict any officers for her killing.

After the announcement, Fischer said it was important for the city to “begin the healing process.”

“I believe it was the right decision to make at the right time,” Fischer said. He had previously noted the city didn't admit any wrongdoing, which is common in civil settlements.

He said the police reforms would bring more transparency, accountability and community trust. During a Thursday morning media briefing, Fischer said he would provide updates on the reforms at a later time.

Why were the wanton endangerment charges limited to one neighboring apartment?

Hankison’s three counts of wanton endangerment were based on his bullets passing through the wall into the apartment next door to Taylor’s, where two adults and a child live. An attorney for Chelsey Napper and Cody Etherton told WFPL News they were pleased the grand jury indicted Hankison, but disappointed Cosgrove and Mattingly weren’t indicted, and that no one was charged with Taylor’s killing.

Lawyers for Taylor’s family issued statements after the decision questioning why no one was charged with endangering a family that lived above Taylor. Photo evidence of the scene showed a bullet went through Taylor’s ceiling and through the floor above.

Attorney Lonita Baker, a member of the family’s legal team, also questioned why no one was charged with endangering Taylor, who was unarmed.

“Wanton endangerment to a neighboring apartment constitutes wanton endangerment to Breonna,” she wrote in a Facebook post. “Where also is the wanton endangerment charges for the upstairs apartment where another black family lived. If there were facts sufficient to indict for wanton endangerment to other people, there were facts sufficient to indict for wanton murder of Breonna.”

WFPL News has not confirmed the races of Taylor’s former neighbors. Officials have not addressed the bullet that went into the upstairs apartment; it is not known if it was fired by Hankison or a different officer.

What did Daniel Cameron present to the grand jury?

“My job is to present the facts to the grand jury, and the grand jury that applies those facts to the law,” Cameron said during a press conference. But he did not say which facts he presented.

Cameron said the grand jury received “all of the evidence, presented all of the information.” He declined to be more specific, though he did say his role as special prosecutor was to provide that information.

The attorney general did not answer questions about whether the grand jury was presented evidence or charges specific to Cosgrove and Mattingly. He repeatedly said they received all the evidence, and they decided to charge Hankison.

Law professor Robert Weisberg of the Stanford University Criminal Justice Center told WFPL earlier this week that “almost all the time the grand jury does what the prosecutor wants the grand jury to do.”

Will the public see the evidence the grand jury considered?

Cameron said that since there is a pending indictment and ongoing FBI investigation into the incident, he does not think it would be appropriate to release the grand jury report at this time.

Since then, Gov. Andy Beshear and Mayor Greg Fischer have called on the attorney general to release the evidence.

“I believe that any information that does not jeopardize the Attorney General’s case or the FBI case, should now be open for the public to see,” Beshear said.

Fischer also called for transparency.

“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.”

Will Mattingly and Cosgrove keep their jobs?

While Hankison was terminated in June, Mattingly and Cosgrove have been on administrative reassignment, or paid leave, since the shooting. For months, protesters have called for all three to be fired and arrested over her killing.

Last week, protest organizer Tamika Mallory of Until Freedom, spoke at a press conference announcing the civil settlement, and addressed Fischer, who was standing nearby.

“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.”

In June, Fischer said legal and contractual due process obligations prevented quick disciplinary action.

On Wednesday, he referred to an ongoing Professional Standards Unit investigation, “to determine if any policies and procedures were violated by officers involved in the case.” That would determine whether officers need further training or discipline, he said.

“If at the end of the investigation, if there's a fireable offense, certainly, that would be the right thing to do,” Fischer said.

What’s next?

Cameron said he will “vigorously prosecute” the criminal charges against Hankison.

The FBI’s investigation — which will be reviewed by the Department of Justice for potential violations of federal laws, including civil rights laws — is ongoing.

On Thursday, interim police chief Robert Schroeder said no further action has currently been taken against Det. Joshua Jaynes, who was placed on administrative reassignment in June amid questions about how he obtained the warrant for Taylor’s apartment. Schroeder said the FBI is investigating that issue.

LMPD’s Professional Standards Unit’s investigation into six officers, which will look at whether they violated department policies, is also in progress.

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