‘Vindicated': Breonna Taylor's family and supporters celebrate charges against police
Community leaders, activists and elected officials had strong and swift reactions to Thursday’s U.S. Department of Justice announcement by Attorney General Merrick Garland that his office charged four former and current Louisville Metro Police officers for their actions connected to the March 2020 raid on Breonna Taylor’s apartment that led to her death.
Former detectives Brett Hankison and Joshua Jaynes, as well as LMPD officer Kelly Goodlett and sergeant Kyle Meany, will face federal charges, for civil and constitutional rights violations and conspiracy.
“I’ve waited 874 days for today,” Taylor’s mother Tamika Palmer said, speaking to press and supporters gathered at Jefferson Square Park after the announcement Thursday morning. Palmer was surrounded by family, community leaders, activists and the legal team that represented the family in their civil case against Louisville Metro Government.
“Y’all learning what we’ve been saying is the truth: That they shouldn’t have been there and that Breonna didn’t deserve that. Y’all learning that today — that we not crazy,” she said.
The overriding emotion among Palmer and her supporters was one of vindication, given the conspiracy charges. Crump said some people often dismiss Black people when they accuse police of cover-ups.
“They call us crazy. Well now, when they call Black people crazy when they kill our loved ones, we say, ‘Remember Breonna Taylor,’” Crump said.
“We have been vindicated. There is justice for us,” Louisville Urban League president and CEO Sadiqa Reynolds said. “The shock here is not that it happened — the shock here is that it is exposed.”
But, like Palmer, Reynolds said this outcome took far too long.
Palmer and her supporters had strong words for Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron, a Republican who led the state prosecution of the case, and brought charges against just one of the officers involved. Those charges were not for shooting at Taylor but for firing into the apartment of a white family living next door.
“Everything sent to break me, I ate that s—,” Palmer said, “that s— being Daniel Cameron.”
“You don’t deserve to be where you are, and you need to go,” she said.
Cameron is running for the Republican nomination for governor for the 2023 election.
“Last time we were here after we met with prosecutors, we were angry. We were upset. We knew we had been denied justice,” Palmer’s other attorney Lonita Baker said. “The Federal government had the guts to do what Daniel Cameron didn’t.”
Throughout the morning, the square drew more and more of Palmer’s supporters, many of whom were returning to the site where they engaged in months of protests and standoffs with police over the course of 2020 and 2021.
“Most of us is still struggling and going through different things since that day,” protest leader Chris Wells told WFPL News. Wells is still facing criminal charges related to his participation in protests, and he said it’s taken an emotional and financial toll.
But, today, it all feels worth it, he said.
“Just to hear this news, it don’t matter if I lost everything,” he said. “This is the reason we came out here: to fight for justice and get those cops arrested.”
Elected officials and candidates respond
Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer said in a statement, “today’s indictments are a critical step forward in the process toward achieving justice for Breonna Taylor.”
“While we cannot reverse her tragic death, we can and must continue to pursue justice for her,” the mayor’s statement said. “I deeply appreciate the hard work of the federal government to tirelessly pursue this case. And, while I know some may feel that this process has taken too long, as I have said from the beginning there can be no shortcuts to due process, no shortcuts to justice.”
The mayor, whose final term ends in early January, ended with a “pledge to my city.”
“That my administration will continue to be unflagging in our work to pursue this justice, and create a more equitable, safe and compassionate city for all Louisvillians.”
Fischer faced intense scrutiny in the wake of Taylor’s killing, in part because he said there was no quick path to firing or disciplining the officers because of due process requirements laid out in state laws and union contracts. He did not fire the then-police chief until weeks after news of Taylor’s death made it to the national stage and days after mass protests erupted in the city. Steve Conrad was eventually fired for missteps during a police operation with National Guard members that resulted in the death of West End resident David McAtee. Some critics also called on Fischer to resign.
In September of 2020, the city, though admitting no fault, paid $12 million to settle a wrongful death lawsuit with Taylor’s family. The agreement was the largest payout for police misconduct in Louisville’s history, and also included the promise of implementing a series of police reforms.
The next January, an independent audit of LMPD ordered by the mayor showed that the department needs to make a number of improvements. Chicago-based firm Hillard Heintze compiled the 105-page report, and found that the department’s relationship with the city’s Black communities is “deeply strained,” among other problems.
“Our principal finding is that the LMPD and communities across the Louisville Metro area are in crisis. The Department needs to make major changes — some immediately,” said a letter accompanying the report.
The DOJ also continues to investigate LMPD over whether the department has “a pattern or practice” when it comes to using excessive force and committing constitutional rights violations.
Late last year, city public safety officials told Metro Council members DOJ-recommended reforms for LMPD could cost the city as much as $10 million a year.
Police accountability and public safety are likely to be key issues in this year’s mayoral race in Louisville.
After the DOJ press conference Thursday, Democratic mayoral candidate Craig Greenberg said, “the indictments are long overdue.”
"I commend the FBI and DOJ for delivering accountability where others, including Kentucky’s Attorney General, fell agonizingly short,” he said in a statement Thursday. “Transparency and honesty are crucial, especially in a tragedy like the killing of Breonna Taylor.”
Greenberg said, if elected, he would make sure the community gets more transparency from its police department, but did not share additional details about how he would achieve that.
His public safety plan says the city “has learned difficult lessons about the need for greater transparency from our past police leadership,” and that Greenberg would “push for reforms” as mayor.
Republican mayoral candidate Bill Dieruf, the current mayor of suburban Jeffersontown, responded in a statement Friday, saying "integrity is essential" at all levels of the justice system.
"Falsity threatens that integrity, leading to injustice," he said.
U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth, the state’s sole Democrat in its congressional delegation, said in a tweet, “Justice delayed is justice denied.”
“But it’s never too late to do the right thing,” he wrote. “Despite [state Attorney General] Daniel Cameron’s best efforts, accountability is finally coming for those responsible for Breonna Taylor’s death. It’s about damn time.”
In a statement late Thursday, Cameron drew a distinction between his office's investigation and that by the DOJ, saying his team's "primary task" was to determine whether any officers were "criminally responsible" under state law for Taylor's death.
"I’m proud of the work of our investigators and prosecutors," Cameron said in the statement. He also criticized those who he said were "[using] this moment to divide Kentuckians, misrepresent the facts of the state investigation, and broadly impugn the character of our law enforcement community. "
Cameron’s office led an investigation into the shooting in 2020. A Kentucky grand jury indicted only one officer tied to it, Hankison, for wanton endangerment of Taylor’s neighbors. He was acquitted by a jury in March.
The state attorney general has previously defended his investigation, saying his office found that two of the three officers who fired their guns at Taylor’s home were justified.
“According to Kentucky law, the use of force by Mattingly and Cosgrove was justified to protect themselves,” Cameron said in September 2020 shortly after the announcement of the grand jury’s indictment. “This justification bars us from pursuing criminal charges in Miss Breonna Taylor’s death.”
Several grand jurors filed a lawsuit in 2020, asking to speak freely about the case, and saying it was an issue of public trust, accountability and transparency about the process.
Pastor and former Democratic mayoral candidate Timothy Findley, Jr. blasted leadership in the commonwealth in a video statement he released on social media Thursday.
“I pray that every elected official and hired official that could have done something, could have done the right thing over the last two years, I pray that you feel the righteous weight of shame today,” he said. “I’m happy, I don’t know if that’s the right word. But I’m happy for Ms. Palmer and the family today. But it’s also an embarrassing day for leadership in Kentucky. That press conference just showed exactly what some of us have been saying the whole time and that this is corruption.”
Former Democratic mayoral candidate and director of advocacy organization VOCAL-KY Shameka Parrish-Wright, who was prominent during the racial justice protests in the summer of 2020, released a statement acknowledging the work of the Louisville demonstrators, as well as the journalists who stayed on the story.
“People sacrificed their jobs, health, housing and more to stand with the family of Breonna Taylor,” she said. “This was not the work of one person, one group or one law firm, but a coalition of people from diverse backgrounds and professions dedicated to seeking Justice for Breonna Taylor and the many more victims of police abuse, violence and police brutality. VOCAL-KY wants to lift up the protestors still fighting their cases, and the pro bono attorneys who continue to show up. We want to commend the amazing local and national journalists who would not let Breonna and her story be buried.”
Federal charging documents cited media reports.
In May 2020, WDRB reported on inconsistencies in the police narrative used to obtain the warrant for Taylor’s home. Most of the indictments revealed Thursday related to officers’ alleged falsehoods regarding the warrant application.
She also quoted local activist Travis Nagdy, who was killed in late 2020 at the age of 21.
“We must #KeepGoing.”
This story was updated on Aug. 5, 2022, to include a details of a statement from Republican mayoral candidate Bill Dieruf.