LOUISVILLE: Hours after a Kentucky grand jury brought no charges against Louisville police for Breonna Taylor’s death and protesters took to the streets, authorities said two officers were shot and wounded Wednesday night during the demonstrations expressing anger over the killings of Black people at the hands of police.
Interim Louisville Police Chief Robert Schroeder said a suspect was in custody but did not offer details about whether that person was participating in the demonstrations. He says both officers are expected to recover, and one is undergoing surgery.
He says the officers were shot after investigating reports of gunfire at an intersection where there was a large crowd.
Several shots rang out as protesters in downtown Louisville tried to avoid police blockades, moving down an alleyway as officers lobbed pepper balls, according to an Associated Press journalist. People covered their ears, ran away and frantically looked for places to hide. Police with long guns swarmed the area, then officers in riot gear and military-style vehicles blocked off roadways.
The violence comes after prosecutors said two officers who fired their weapons at Taylor, a Black woman, were justified in using force to protect themselves after they faced gunfire from her boyfriend. The only charges were three counts of wanton endangerment against fired Officer Brett Hankison for shooting into a home next to Taylor’s with people inside.
The FBI is still investigating potential violations of federal law in connection with the raid at Taylor’s home on March 13.
Ben Crump, a lawyer for Taylor’s family, denounced the decision as “outrageous and offensive,” and protesters shouting, “No justice, no peace!” immediately marched through the streets.
Scuffles broke out between police and protesters, and some were arrested. Officers fired flash bangs and a few small fires burned in a square that’s been at the center of protests, but it had largely cleared out ahead of a nighttime curfew as demonstrators marched through other parts of downtown Louisville. Dozens of patrol cars blocked the city’s major thoroughfare.
Demonstrators also marched in cities like New York, Chicago, Washington, D.C., Atlanta and Philadelphia.
Taylor, an emergency medical worker, was shot multiple times by white officers who entered her home on a no-knock warrant during a narcotics investigation. State Attorney General Daniel Cameron, however, said the investigation showed the officers announced themselves before entering. The warrant used to search her home was connected to a suspect who did not live there, and no drugs were found inside.
Along with the killing of George Floyd in Minnesota, Taylor’s case became a major touchstone for nationwide protests that have drawn attention to entrenched racism and demanded police reform. Taylor’s image has been painted on streets, emblazoned on protest signs and silk-screened on T-shirts worn by celebrities. Several prominent African American celebrities joined those urging that the officers be charged.
The announcement drew sadness, frustration and anger that the grand jury did not go further. The wanton endangerment charges each carry a sentence of up to five years.
Morgan Julianna Lee, a high school student in Charlotte, North Carolina, watched the announcement at home.
“It’s almost like a slap in the face,” the 15-year-old said by phone. “If I, as a Black woman, ever need justice, I will never get it.”
Gov. Andy Beshear, a Democrat, said he authorized a limited deployment of the National Guard. He also urged Cameron, the state attorney general, to post online all the evidence that could be released without affecting the charges filed.
“Those that are currently feeling frustration, feeling hurt, they deserve to know more,” he said.
The case exposed the wide gulf between public opinion on justice for those who kill Black Americans and the laws under which those officers are charged, which regularly favor police and do not often result in steep criminal accusations.
At a news conference, Cameron spoke to that disconnect: “Criminal law is not meant to respond to every sorrow and grief.”
“But my heart breaks for the loss of Miss Taylor. … My mother, if something was to happen to me, would find it very hard,” he added, choking up.
But Cameron, who is the state’s first Black attorney general, said the officers acted in self-defense after Taylor’s boyfriend fired at them. He added that Hankison and the two other officers who entered Taylor’s apartment announced themselves before entering _ and so did not execute the warrant as “no knock,” according to the investigation. The city has since banned such warrants.
“According to Kentucky law, the use of force by (Officers Jonathan) Mattingly and (Myles) Cosgrove was justified to protect themselves,” he said. “This justification bars us from pursuing criminal charges in Miss Breonna Taylor’s death.”
Cameron said an FBI crime lab determined that Cosgrove fired the bullet that killed Taylor.
Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, opened fire when police burst in, hitting Mattingly. Walker told police he heard knocking but didn’t know who was coming in and fired in self-defense.
Cameron, who is a Republican, is a protege of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and has been tagged by some as his heir apparent. His was also one of 20 names on President Donald Trump’s list to fill a future Supreme Court vacancy.
At a news conference, Trump read a statement from Cameron, saying “justice is not often easy.” He later tweeted that he was “praying for the two police officers that were shot.”
Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and his running mate, Kamala Harris, are calling for policing reform.
Biden says that while a federal investigation continues, “we do not need to wait for the final judgment of that investigation to do more to deliver justice for Breonna.” He said the country should start by addressing excessive force, banning chokeholds and overhauling no-knock warrants.
“We must never stop speaking Breonna’s name as we work to reform our justice system, including overhauling no-knock warrants,” Harris said on Twitter.
Hankison was fired on June 23. A termination letter sent by interim Louisville Police Chief Robert Schroeder said he had violated procedures by showing “extreme indifference to the value of human life” when he “wantonly and blindly” fired his weapon.
Mattingly, Cosgrove and the detective who sought the warrant, Joshua Jaynes, were placed administrative reassignment.
Last week, the city settled a lawsuit against the three officers brought by Taylor’s mother, Tamika Palmer, agreeing to pay her $12 million and enact police reforms.
Thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of Louisville following the announcement, and Ben Crump, a lawyer for the Taylor family, condemned the grand jury decision as “outrageous and offensive.”
Police in riot gear were seen making several arrests in the afternoon, and after night fell police used flash bangs to clear hundreds of protesters from Jefferson Square Park, where a memorial to Taylor was placed.
“Say her name — Breonna Taylor,” they chanted. “No lives matter till black lives matter.”
A state of emergency and a 9:00 pm curfew has been declared by the mayor of the city, which has a population of 600,000, with much of downtown closed to traffic.
Some downtown business owners boarded up their shops in anticipation of unrest sparked by the grand jury decision.
Taylor, an emergency room technician, was shot dead after three plainclothes policemen turned up at her door in the middle of the night to execute a search warrant.
Taylor’s boyfriend, who was in bed with her, grabbed a gun and exchanged fire with the officers. He later said he thought they were criminals.
The officers, who had not activated their body cameras as required, shot Taylor multiple times, killing her. A police sergeant was wounded.
“Breonna Taylor deserves justice,” 17-year-old black protester Decorryn Adams told AFP. “Nothing will change if we don’t stick together.”
Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron said Hankison had not fired the fatal shots and the two other officers who opened fire had done so in self-defense.
He said Hankison was charged with three counts of “wanton endangerment” over shots he fired into adjoining apartments. He could face five years in prison for each count if convicted.
“This is a tragedy,” Cameron said. “I know that not everyone will be satisfied with the charges reported today.
“Every person has an idea of what they think justice is.”
Crump expressed disappointment on behalf of the family.
“This is outrageous and offensive to Breonna Taylor’s memory,” he said in a statement. “It’s yet another example of no accountability for the genocide of persons of color by white police officers.
“If Hankison’s behavior constituted wanton endangerment of the people in the apartments next to hers, then it should also be considered wanton endangerment of Breonna,” Crump said.
“In fact, it should have been ruled wanton murder.”
The American Civil Liberties Union condemned the grand jury charges as “not accountability and not close to justice.”
“This is the manifestation of what the millions of people who have taken to the streets to protest police violence already know: Modern policing and our criminal legal system are rotten to the core,” the ACLU said.
Cameron, the attorney general, also addressed reports that the police officers had executed a “no-knock” search warrant on Taylor’s home, bursting in without warning.
“They did knock and announce,” he said. “That information was corroborated by another witness.”
The city of Louisville settled a wrongful death suit with Taylor’s family for $12 million last week.
The civil settlement reflected the public pressure and emotion surrounding her death, which came about two months before that of George Floyd, a black man who was killed by a white police officer in Minneapolis.
Floyd’s death triggered protests across the United States against racial injustice and police brutality.
Cameron appealed for calm and Louisville police chief Robert Schroeder said the authorities would not tolerate any “violence or destruction of property.”
“We are prepared to meet any challenge we may face,” Schroeder said, calling for demonstrators to protest “peacefully and lawfully.”