“A Painful Day”: No Officers Criminally Responsible for Death of Breonna Taylor

The announcement comes after a $12 million settlement for the family of Breonna Taylor and months of Black Lives Matter protests.

This story originally appeared on The 19th.

More than six months after Breonna Taylor was fatally shot in her apartment in Louisville, Kentucky, sparking national outrage and protests, a Jefferson County grand jury has concluded that none of the officers involved are criminally responsible for her death.

Former Louisville Metro Police Officer Brett Hankison is charged with three counts of wanton endangerment, a felony that carries a maximum sentence of five years under Kentucky law. Myles Cosgrove and Jonathan Mattingly, who also fired their weapons, will not face charges. 

In a statement, family attorney Ben Crump called the grand jury’s decision “outrageous and offensive.”

“This amounts to the most egregious disrespect of Black people, especially Black women, killed by police in America,” said Crump, calling the decision “indefensible.”

“If Hankison’s behavior constituted wanton endangerment of the people in the apartment next to hers, then it should also be considered wanton endangerment of Breonna. Today’s news falls far short of what constitutes justice.”

Many on the ground Kentucky echo this sentiment.

“It’s a tragedy. This is an embarrassment, and it’s exactly why there have been protests for the last (119) days,” said pastor Tim Findley, a regular at the protests. “This is a disappointing, hurtful, painful day in our city. What I just heard amounts to a slap on the wrist for him murdering, for them murdering Breonna Taylor.”

During a press conference earlier in the day, Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron called Taylor’s killing “a tragedy,” but added that Cosgrove and Mattingly’s use of force was justified because they were returning fire after Taylor’s boyfriend was the first to shoot, according to an investigation. The charges against Hankison apply not to Taylor’s shooting, but to the shots fired into a neighboring apartment.

Cameron said that investigators found that Taylor was shot six times, and died of a single shot that likely killed her within a few seconds to two minutes. He said that a total of 32 shots were fired by the officers.

Activist Brittany Packnett Cunningham said Wednesday that the grand jury’s decision was disappointing, but not surprising.

“Every bit of data we have matches the Black experience in this country that the courts have never given us justice, let alone accountability,” said Cunningham. “The little bit that we got is the result of a protracted struggle for one case. Every bit of this is a clear and stark reminder of just how under-valued Black life is in America. Even with our best and most concentrated efforts, all we can expect from this current system, at most, is a slap on the wrist. 

Taylor, a  26-year-old EMT, was shot in her apartment on March 13 when Louisville police served a warrant on her apartment that night. According to Cameron, the officers knocked and announced themselves before entering the apartment—contradicting earlier reports that they served a “no-knock” warrant on the home. 

Cameron said a federal investigation into whether Taylor’s civil rights were violated is still in progress. 

Arrests, indictments and convictions in such cases against officers are rare. Efforts at police reform have stalled during President Donald Trump’s administration, as he has sided with law enforcement, pushed a “law and order” message on the 2020 campaign trail, and demonized the largely peaceful protests. 

The city of Louisville awarded Taylor’s family a $12 million settlement earlier this month, and agreed to implement police reforms, including requiring commanding officers to sign off on warrants, hiring social workers to assist Louisville officers with mental health-related calls for help and requiring officers to take an annual drug test.

Taylor’s case has galvanized politicians, protesters, celebrities and athletes across the country in the months since her death as part of the #SayHerName movement. The WNBA dedicated its season to Taylor and wore her name on their jerseys to raise awareness about her case, calling for the officers who shot her to be charged, arrested and convicted in her death.

“Today’s charging decision 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,” said Carl Takei, senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s Criminal Law Reform Project.

“This decision further highlights what was already obvious: To change these systems that routinely perpetuate egregious acts of violence against Black lives, elected officials must listen to the cries of those communities and make sweeping changes—including divestment from these broken institutions and reinvesting in non-police alternatives—so that Black people no longer fear being murdered in their own home,” said Takei.

In the wake of the decision, protesters, organizers and activists across the country said they will continue to push for reforms, and that Taylor’s case could motivate Black Democratic voters in November. 

Louisville Police Chief Robert Schroeder declared a state of emergency on Monday ahead of an anticipated decision in the case. Mayor Greg Fischer announced a 9 p.m. curfew and the National Guard was activated in the city ahead of the grand jury decision.

Below is a statement of Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation:

“We are outraged by the news today about the grand jury decision regarding the murder of Breonna Taylor. The lesser charge of wanton endangerment brought against only one of the three officers responsible for her death shows the abject failure of our policing system and puts a spotlight on a criminal justice system that enables police officers to take a life with little to no consequence. It illustrates the deadly repercussions of a faulty system that disproportionately overpolices Black people in the U.S. and endangers their lives, even when they are asleep in their own homes.

The Louisville Metropolitan Police Department’s investigation and the failure of Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron to seek more severe penalties are egregious, and we are dismayed by their failure to bring sufficient charges against those responsible for what was in effect a state-sanctioned killing. There has been no justice served today, and it is clear that legislators at every level must heed the calls to divest from traditional policing and invest in alternatives that will limit the reach of law enforcement officers, work to support communities, and protect Black lives. Our thoughts are with Breonna Taylor’s family and loved ones as they continue the fight to get the justice she is due. We will continue to say Breonna Taylor’s name and demand action from elected officials for the lives lost to anti-Black violence and police brutality.”

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About

Errin Haines is The 19th's editor-at-large. An award-winning journalist with nearly two decades of experience, Errin was previously national writer on race for the Associated Press. She’s also worked at the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post.