Breonna Taylor Grand Jury Recordings: What We Know So Far
Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron’s office has made public more than 15 hours of audio recordings of grand jury proceedings related to the Breonna Taylor case.
The recordings offered little in the way of bombshells or answers to the biggest questions to follow the grand jury's indictment last week: did prosecutors recommended any charges beyond those the grand jury indicted on, and how did they summarize the case in statements to the grand jury?
Fifteen hours of tapes reviewed by WPFL reporters turned up few statements of any kind from prosecutors that would shed light on those questions. Only evidence was recorded, according to a press release from the Attorney General's office announcing compliance with the order Friday. The office did not release a written transcript.
Cameron's office has been saying for several days that they had 20 hours of tape; his office issued a correction Friday afternoon saying it was only 15 hours. They did not explain the discrepancy.
The audio is, at times, inaudible, and the grand jurors were far from the mic when they posed questions. Prosecutors played for the jurors interviews that Louisville Metro Police officers gave to both the Public Integrity Unit and the Attorney General's own investigators, resulting in a recording of a recording.
Knock Or No-Knock?
Several LMPD officers said in statements that they knocked several times and announced before entering Taylor's apartment with a battering ram. The officers said a neighbor came out and told them to knock it off and leave her alone.
The LMPD has contended that officers knocked and announced, even though most witnesses told police they didn't hear an announcement and the warrant was obtained as a "no-knock warrant."
Officer Myles Cosgrove, one of three officers who fired, said the knocking went on for about 90 seconds in a statement he gave Sept. 18 that was played for the grand jury.
“I feel that we are out there knocking on this door way too long due to the other factors that happened while we were knocking on the door,” he said.
But at least three neighbors in Taylor’s complex told investigators that they did not hear the police announce themselves that night. The jurors didn't hear directly from the neighbors; Herman Hall, a detective with the attorney general's office, recounted his interviews with them.
Jack Shuler was watching TV with his screen door open when he heard three quick pops — gunfire. He said that was the first noise he heard.
Another neighbor whose name wasn't immediately clear told investigators that he heard the sound of the door being rammed in but “knows for a fact he did not hear anyone say Louisville Metro Police Department or anything prior to being awakened."
"He would have felt safer if he would have heard Louisville Metro Police Department announced because he was thinking that he was being robbed,” according to an interview he gave to Hall.
One witness at the complex that night had a conflicting story. In an initial interview with LMPD, he said he did not hear any knocking or announcement. In a second interview, he said he did hear police knock and announce themselves. But when interviewed by Hall, he said he heard the police announce themselves, but no knocking.
Hall noted that there was a language barrier during that interview: “It's kind of hard to understand him because I don't know what nationality he is originally, but he resides here now. And it's very hard to understand him.”
The Lack Of Body Cameras
According to testimony before the grand jury, there was no body camera footage until after the incident. Tony James, an officer who was photographed wearing a body camera after Taylor was shot and killed, thought he had activated it but he hadn't, according to a male speaker from the attorney general's office (either the prosecutor or investigator).
Though other officers weren't wearing body cameras, James' failure to activate his would constitute a violation of LMPD's rules.
On September 21, jurors viewed some body camera footage. It came from an officer who arrived shortly after the shooting. The audio recording of the video paints a chaotic scene — police shout orders at Walker as he exits his apartment, sirens blare and police K9 dogs bark incessantly.
“What did I do,” Walker wails as police pepper him with questions.
Hankison steps into the frame, and Jeff Fogg, the Attorney General’s detective, points him out. Walker initially told police that it was Taylor who shot at the officers, though he later admitted he fired the shot.
In another body camera video, captured by a member of the LMPD SWAT team, police can be heard describing the shooting — they kicked the door, the shooting began, then Mattingly was hit, officers said.
“The woman that was shooting, she’s totally dead,” one officer says.
Kenneth Walker's Questioning
According to the evidence presented to the grand jury, Breonna Taylor's boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, fired a shot that struck Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly shortly after LMPD officers breached the door of Taylor's apartment.
The jurors heard the 911 call Walker placed after the shooting, and officers had retreated from his apartment.
"I don't know what's happening," he told the dispatcher. "Someone shot my girlfriend."
A neighbor also called 911, telling dispatchers, “The police are here, our glass door is shattered… I understand that something is going on but I have a 5-year-old here, so something needs to be explained to me.”
Walker told police initially that it was Taylor was the one who fired the shot with a 9mm handgun.
In his first interview with police after the fatal shooting, Kenneth Walker was emotional. He told police investigators that he was scared when he heard someone banging on his door early in the morning.
He said he and his girlfriend asked the knocker to announce themselves, but they didn’t hear anything.
Walker acknowledged, "It's a long hallway...All you can hear is a knock at the door. Even if someone was saying something on the other side, you probably couldn't hear them."
After police shot and killed Taylor, Walker says he called his own mother and Taylor’s mother before he realized it was the police still outside her apartment.
Eventually he left the apartment, where he said he was threatened by an officer who told him it was “unfortunate” Walker wasn’t hit by bullets. Walker also said an officer told him there had been a “misunderstanding,” and Walker wondered what he meant by it.
The evidence showed that police didn't read Walker his rights until nearly eight minutes into the interview. A grand juror asked whether that was normal. Jeff Fogg of the attorney general's office responded, saying, "[the officer] admitted she made a mistake. She should have done it a little earlier."
Hankison Firing Blindly
An attorney general's investigator read the transcript from SWAT Sgt. Brandon Hogan into the record. Hogan was asked, as a SWAT operator and generally speaking, if he would ever fire his weapon into a window with blinds or otherwise obscured.
"No... you're accountable for every round," he said. "If you do not have good target identification, that they are a threat, you cannot shoot. That was just that's basic academy stuff. In regards to shooting through a window and stuff like that... Even on like, patrol or whatever, whatever position you may be in, you still cannot fire into an unknown. You don't know what's behind it. You don't know if there's kids."
Former Officer Hankison fired blindly from outside through the patio, according to the evidence. He told investigators during a March interview that he believed the shooter inside Taylor’s apartment was firing on his fellow officers with a rifle, and that he reacted as he does during training when a target turns around and he has to decide in a split second whether it’s "a bad guy."
"It was literally, I saw that threat... target... and then the muzzle flash from the gun."
He was charged with wanton endangerment for bullets that traveled into a neighbor's apartment. But bullets also went into an apartment upstairs from Taylor, prompting her attorneys to question why no charges were brought on their or Breonna's - behalf.
A grand juror asked during testimony from Greg Wolf, an investigator with the attorney general's office, whether police recovered the bullet that traveled into the upstairs apartment. Wolf said no, they had not.
Myles Cosgrove Testifies To 'Distorted, Shadowy Mass'
LMPD officer Myles Cosgrove describes being disoriented and unable to see clearly as he fired into Breonna Taylor’s apartment from the doorway.
Cameron has said an FBI ballistics analysis determined Cosgrove fired the shot that ultimately killed Taylor, but a separate analysis by the Kentucky State Police did not identify which officer fired the fatal shot. Jurors heard testimony about both analyses.
In a March 25 interview with Sergeant Jason Vance and Sergeant Amanda Seelye of the Public Integrity Unit, Cosgrove describes entering the apartment and seeing a “distorted, shadowy mass.” Cosgrove said that figure was obscured by vivid flashing lights, which Cosgrove says he knew to be gunfire.
He describes his vision becoming like a “periscope or binoculars kind of view.” In response, Vance tells Cosgrove that this kind of disorientation is common.
It’s at this point that Cosgrove says he fired into the apartment. “I’m almost positive that I fired or was firing during those flashes and during those vivid white and black and gray colors I was seeing,” Cosgrove told the PIU investigators. Cosgrove said his vision slowly returned as he backed out of the apartment doorway and into the stairwell.
Cosgrove makes similar statements to the Attorney General’s office on September 18. During this interview, Cosgrove told investigators he did not know officer Hankison was firing at the same time. Cosgrove sad he concluded the gunshots had to be coming from within the apartment. “It would make sense, I’m not shooting and there’s gunfire happening in the apartment. I logically deduced that there’s gunshots happening from the apartment," Cosgrove said.
Judge Ordered Release Of Tapes Often Kept Secret
A Jefferson County judge ordered the release as part of criminal proceedings against former detective Hankison. Lawyers for Taylor’s family as well as politicians and concerned citizens have been calling for the release of the recordings and other evidence presented to the grand jury since last week. That's when the grand jury indicted Hankison on wanton endangerment charges for bullets that entered an apartment of Taylor’s neighbors.
No one was charged for Taylor's killing.
During a news conference last week explaining the wanton endangerment charges, Cameron said his office’s investigation showed — “and the grand jury agreed” — that Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly and Det. Myles Cosgrove were justified in shooting Taylor because her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, fired at them first. Walker has said he shot at the plainclothes officers breaking down Taylor’s door because he thought they were intruders.
At the time, Cameron declined to specify what evidence or charges were brought to the grand jury.
“They got to hear and listen to all the testimony and made the determination that Detective Hankison was the one that needed to be indicted,” he said.
But in a Monday evening statement, Cameron said the only charge prosecutors recommended was wanton endangerment.
Hours after Judge Ann Bailey Smith’s original order to file the recordings publicly, an anonymous grand juror from the case filed a lawsuit that went beyond public release of the recordings. The juror also asked that Cameron’s office publish transcripts of the proceedings, and asked the court for protection from repercussions for speaking publicly about the case.
WFPL's Eleanor Klibanoff, Jacob Ryan, Jared Bennett, Graham Ambrose, Jess Clark, Stephanie Wolf, Amina Elahi and Ryland Barton contributed to this report.