Breonna Taylor, 26, was an EMT and aspiring nurse shot to death by police in her own home on March 13. In what has been described as a “botched raid,” officers barged into Taylor’s apartment in Louisville, Kentucky, as she was asleep and fired multiple rounds. Months after she was killed, Taylor’s name has been chanted all over the country at mass protests against racist police brutality, which erupted after the George Floyd, also at the hands of police. On September 23 — over six months after Taylor was killed — only one of the officers involved in the shooting was indicted by a grand jury but not for the killing of Breonna. Officer Brett Hankison faces three charges of wanton endangerment, a class D felony that carries a penalty of one to five years in prison.
Breonna was shot eight times by the police. According to a lawsuit filed by her family, her killing was the result of a botched drug-warrant execution. No drugs were found; the warrant in question targeted another person, who lived miles away and had already been detained by the time police entered Taylor’s home.
It took weeks before her case attracting national attention. Her family retained lawyer Benjamin Crump, who is also representing some family members of both Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery. Crump filed the lawsuit on April 27, accusing police of wrongful death, excessive force, and gross negligence. The Taylor family sought compensatory and punitive damages, as well as legal fees, through a jury trial, and the city of Louisville settled the suit in September for $12 million.
“I just think she was destined to be great,” Taylor’s mother, Tamika Palmer, told the Cut. “Breonna just loved life, and people gravitated towards her. She lit up a room and had this aura about herself.”
So what happened to Breonna Taylor?
According to the Taylor family’s lawsuit, plainclothes police officers arrived at Taylor’s apartment at around 12:30 a.m. on March 13. Taylor and her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, who were asleep in a bedroom woke up believing that someone was breaking in. Police officers — later identified as Jonathan Mattingly, Brett Hankison, and Myles Cosgrove — entered “without knocking and without announcing themselves as police officers,” the lawsuit says. LMPD insists they “knocked on the door several times and announced their presence as police who were there with a search warrant.” The lawsuit contends that multiple neighbors gave statements contradicting this claim.
On May 22, county prosecutor Tom Wine held a press conference in which he played audio from Walker’s police interrogation. Walker said that “there was a loud bang at the door,” but no one said they were police. Walker said Taylor asked multiple times “at the top of her lungs,” “Who is it?” “Nobody announced themselves or anything,” Walker says in the audio. “If I would have heard at the door, ‘It’s the police,’ it changes the whole situation. There’s nothing for us to be scared of … We could have opened the door like, ‘What’s the problem, what’s going on?’ … The only reason I had the gun was because we didn’t know who it was, if we knew who it was that would have never happened.”
“While police may claim to have identified themselves, they did not. Mr. Walker and Ms. Taylor again heard a large bang on the door,” Walker’s attorney wrote in a motion. “Again, when they inquired there was no response that there was police outside. At this point, the door suddenly explodes. Counsel believes that police hit the door with a battering ram.” In the interrogation audio, Walker said the door “came off its hinges.”
Taylor’s mother told the Washington Post that she had received a call from Walker, who said someone was trying to break into the apartment before shouting, “I think they shot Breonna.” According to his attorney, Walker fired a shot in self-defense and struck an officer in the leg. Walker is a licensed firearm carrier. In response, police opened fire, shooting more than 20 rounds into Taylor’s home, striking objects in the living room, dining room, kitchen, hallway, bathroom, and both bedrooms. Taylor was shot at least eight times, and was pronounced dead at the scene.
Walker was arrested and charged with assault and attempted murder on a police officer. Later in the month, he was released from jail on home incarceration, and on May 26, the charges against him were dismissed. The three officers involved in the shooting were placed on administrative reassignment pending the outcome of an investigation in May.
The question everyone is asking is why Breonna Taylor’s apartment? The police now say that not only was her death the result of a botched search-warrant execution, but that a special police squad “deliberately misled” narcotics detectives to her home in the first place, as part of “reckless policing” connected to a city-led gentrification campaign in Louisville.
Police records show that Taylor wasn’t the main subject of the police investigation the night she died. It instead focused on Jamarcus Glover, an ex-boyfriend of Taylor’s with whom her family says she maintained a “passive” relationship. In the affidavit seeking a search warrant for Taylor’s house, Detective Joshua Jaynes wrote that he had seen Glover leave Taylor’s apartment in January with a USPS package before driving to a “known drug house” more than ten miles away. A judge then signed off on the warrant, including a “no knock” provision that allowed law-enforcement officers to enter Taylor’s house without identifying themselves.
Lawyers for Taylor’s family say that Glover was already in police custody “prior to the warrant being executed at Breonna’s home.” Still, law enforcement deemed the “no knock” necessary because “these drug traffickers have a history of attempting to destroy evidence, have cameras on the location that compromise detectives once an approach to the dwelling is made, and have a history of fleeing from law enforcement,” according to police records.
In Public Integrity Unit interviews, conducted in March and published July 9, police admitted that Taylor had been a “soft target” from whom officers anticipated “no threat.” Mattingly said they believed her to be alone on the night of the shooting, and insisted that the officers did knock and did identify themselves. Indeed, he said they gave Taylor “more than enough time for the average person or even a disabled person to get to the door” before they forced the door open in the “most passive way” they could: by using a battering ram.
The boyfriend Walker however in his PIU interview, maintained that the police did not identify themselves as they battered down Taylor’s door, despite their repeated shouting, “Who is it?” He said the pair got out of bed to investigate when they heard loud banging, and then the “explosion” that prompted Walker to fire. He also recalled that, as he sat in the squad car, a plainclothes official who arrived on the scene in an unmarked SUV told him: “I just want to let you know right now that all of this was a — they had a misunderstanding.” Walker took this to mean the officers “realized that they were at the wrong place,” although Taylor’s name and address were listed on the warrant.
Walker also described verbal harassment from the officers. He said one told him that he would spend the rest of his life in jail, that police were going to set dogs on him, and that an officer replied “that’s unfortunate” after asking him if he’d been hit by any of the gunfire.
In an amended complaint to their lawsuit, Taylor’s lawyers add the claim that Glover himself was unjustly targeted by a special police squad called Place-Based Investigation, because he was one of the “primary roadblocks” to gentrification in the area — the Russell neighborhood of Louisville in which Glover rented his home is part of a multimillion-dollar city revitalization effort called Vision Russell. According to the complaint, Glover was arrested for a second time on April 23. The city then moved to purchase his house, one of several recent foreclosure acquisitions in the area; in June, the city finally acquired it for $17,000. Taylor’s attorneys argue that Taylor was included in the search warrant targeted at Glover as part of the trumped-up set of accusations against him, fueled by the city’s desire to remove him from the neighborhood.
Joshua Jaynes, the Place-Based Investigations detective who wrote the search-warrant affidavit for Taylor’s apartment, said he verified that Glover had been receiving packages at Taylor’s address “through a US Postal Inspector.” But a U.S. postal inspector in Louisville told the Courier-Journal that a different agency had asked his office in January to look into whether Taylor’s home was receiving suspicious mail, and it concluded it wasn’t. Jaynes has now been placed on administrative leave until questions about “how and why the search warrant was approved” have been answered, according to a police statement.
Taylor’s attorneys say that Glover and another suspect targeted by the Place-Based Investigation team were not violent drug kingpins, as narcotics police who raided Taylor’s home were made to believe, but “at most, low-level drug dealers” and “simply a setback to a large real estate development deal.” “Breonna’s home should never have had police there in the first place,” they argue in the lawsuit. “When the layers are peeled back, the origin of Breonna’s home being raided by police starts with a political need to clear out a street for a large real estate development project and finishes with a newly formed, rogue police unit violating all levels of policy, protocol and policing standards.” A spokesperson for Mayor Greg Fischer called these allegations “outrageous” and “without foundation or supporting facts.”
For months, none of the officers who killed Breonna Taylor were charged.
On May 21, the Federal Bureau of Investigation announced it had opened an inquiry into Taylor’s death, but none of the officers involved in Taylor’s death were arrested or charged with any crime until September 23, when a grand jury announced three wanton endangerment charges against Officer Brett Hankison. The other two officers involved in the shooting — Mattingly and Cosgrove — will face no charges.
Louisville police chief Steve Conrad was fired on June 1, after police killed another Black Louisville resident: David McAtee, a local restaurant owner, who was shot to death when police “returned fire” into a group of people gathered outside his restaurant. None of the officers had their body cams turned on.
On June 23, Officer Hankison was notified in a letter by the Louisville Police Department that he had been terminated. In the PIU interviews, Mattingly said Hankinson pointed his gun at one of Taylor’s upstairs neighbors who had shouted at the officers to “leave that girl alone.” Mattingly described Hankinson as “a little bit worked up.” “I find your conduct a shock to the conscience,” the city’s new police chief Robert Schroeder wrote in the letter. “I am alarmed and stunned you used deadly force in this fashion.” The two other officers remain on the force.
Hankison had also been the subject of an investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct from five women, who recently took to social media to say Hankison had acted inappropriately with them while on duty. He also reportedly was accused of coercing a suspect into giving him oral sex in 2008, and of attempting to coerce a second suspect into sex “in exchange for not taking her to jail” in 2015, though both claims were marked “unfounded” by the LMPD’s Public Integrity Unit. Hankison has also denied accusations in a federal lawsuit filed in 2019 by a man named Kendrick Wilson that Hankison planted drugs on him while working off duty as a security guard at bars.
Mattingly, the officer who was shot by Walker in the thigh, sent a mass email to more than 1,000 colleagues on September 22, defending his actions and showing no remorse. “I know we did the legal, moral and ethical thing that night,” he wrote. “It’s sad how the good guys are demonized, and criminals are canonized.”
The Taylor’s family settlement with the city of Louisville.
On September 15, Louisville mayor Greg Fischer announced a $12 million settlement with the Taylor family in their wrongful-death lawsuit. Lawyer Ben Crump said it was the largest in history paid out for the death of a Black woman by police. The settlement includes policy changes intended to reform police conduct in the city, including a requirement that commanders approve all search warrants before they go to a judge, a provision for offering housing credits to officers who agree to live within city limits, and a commitment to seek the authority to test any officers involved in a shooting for drugs and alcohol.
In the settlement, the city does not admit any wrongdoing, according to Fischer. Taylor’s mother, Tamika Palmer, said during the press conference, “As significant as today is, it’s only the beginning of getting full justice for Breonna. We must not lose focus on what the real job is … It’s time to move forward with the criminal charges because she deserves that and much more.”
On September 23, a grand jury indicted only Officer Hankison on three counts of wanton endangerment. None reportedly directly connected with Breonna Taylor but to Hankison’s shooting his gun ten times into neighboring apartments, referred to in the indictment by the occupants’ initials, “C.D.” “T.M.,” and “Z.F.” Taylor’s initials do not appear in the document.
Hankison had reportedly fired through a sliding glass door into multiple apartments including Taylor’s, and inside one was a pregnant woman.
In early September, Kentucky attorney general Daniel Cameron convened a grand jury to review Taylor’s case. Ahead of the decision, LMPD declared a state of emergency, as did Louisville mayor Greg Fischer, who declared a state of emergency for the city “due to the potential for civil unrest.”
On September 23, it was announced that the grand jury had indicted only one officer, Brett Hankison, on three criminal charges of wanton endangerment. It is a Class D felony in Kentucky, the least serious class of felonies in the state, carrying a possible sentence of one to five years in prison and maximum fines of $10,000. Once arrested, Hankison will be held on a $15,000 bond.
The two other officers, Jonathan Mattingly and Myles Cosgrove, were not indicted; the grand jury found they were justified in their use of force because of “self-defense.” In his press conference announcing the charges, Cameron said the investigation found that Cosgrove, who fired his gun 16 times in total, fired the shots that killed Taylor. Cosgrove remains employed by LMPD.