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Ex-Louisville police Officer Brett Hankison charged with wanton endangerment in Breonna Taylor case

Taylor, a 26-year-old Black woman, was shot and killed during a police raid at her home in Louisville, Kentucky, in March.
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One of the police officers involved in the shooting death of Breonna Taylor in her home in Louisville, Kentucky, in March was charged Wednesday with first-degree wanton endangerment, but the officer whose shot killed Taylor was not indicted.

Judge Annie O’Connell announced the charges against the former Louisville detective, Brett Hankison, who was fired in June, during a grand jury proceeding. A warrant will be issued for his arrest, O'Connell said.

The charges accuse Hankison of firing blindly into an apartment and recklessly endangering Taylor’s neighbors, but do not charge him with firing at or killing Taylor. Two other officers involved in the March 13 incident, Detective Myles Cosgrove and Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly, were not charged.

Cosgrove fired the shot that killed Taylor, according to Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron, but the grand jury considered his action justifiable.

At a news conference Wednesday, Cameron acknowledged that there had been calls for all three officers to be charged, including from Taylor's family, who had called for nothing less than manslaughter charges.

But, Cameron said, "our investigation showed, and the grand jury agreed, that Mattingly and Cosgrove were justified in their return of deadly fire after having been fired upon" by Taylor's boyfriend, Kenneth Walker.

Ben Crump, an attorney for Taylor's family, expressed outrage at the Jefferson County grand jury's decision to indict Hankison "for bullets that went into other apartments but NOTHING for the murder of Breonna Taylor."

"This is outrageous and offensive!" he tweeted.

Mattingly's attorney, Kent J. Wicker, said the grand jury's decision not to charge his client or Cosgrove "shows that the system worked and that grand jurors recognized and respected the facts of the case."

"The death of Breonna Taylor is a tragedy. But these officers did not act in a reckless or unprofessional manner," Wicker said in a statement. "They did their duty, performed their roles as law enforcement officers and, above all, did not break the law."

Hankison was booked into the Shelby County Detention Center and released Wednesday afternoon on a $15,000 full-cash bond, his lawyer, Stewart Matthews, said.

Matthews said Hankison will plead not guilty at an upcoming arraignment.

Kentucky attorney general says use of force by 2 officers was 'justified'

Taylor, 26, an emergency medical technician, was shot and killed in her home on March 13, after police officers with a no-knock warrant broke down her door seeking evidence in a narcotics investigation. The target of the probe did not live at the location.

Walker, her boyfriend, fired a shot at the front door, striking Mattingly in the leg, according to police. Walker, who had a license to carry firearms, said he believed it was a home invasion.

It had been previously reported that Taylor was shot five times during the raid, but Cameron said she was struck six times. An FBI analysis determined the fatal shot was fired by Cosgrove.

Cameron said that his investigation shows that officers knocked and announced themselves as police before entering Taylor's apartment. He said this was corroborated by a civilian witness who was near Taylor’s apartment on the night of the shooting.

Other witnesses have said they did not hear police announce their presence.

“In other words, the warrant was not served as a no-knock warrant," the attorney general said.

He also noted that the three officers “had no known involvement in the preceding investigation or obtainment of the search warrant."

"They were called in to duty as extra personnel," Cameron said at his news conference.

According to the attorney general, when officers were unable to get anyone to answer the door at Taylor's apartment, "the decision was made to open the door."

Mattingly then entered the residence and saw Taylor and Walker standing at the end of the hall. Cameron said Walker was holding a gun and fired, striking Mattingly, who returned gunfire.

“This all took place in a matter of seconds,” Cameron said, adding that Mattingly fired six shots and “almost simultaneously” Cosgrove fired 16 times from the doorway. He said there is no evidence that Hankison's bullets hit Taylor.

Speaking at the White House Wednesday, President Donald Trump praised Cameron's investigation, telling reporters that the attorney general is a "star" and saying he had done a "fantastic job."

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden also weighed in, saying in a statement that for many, the grand jury's decision hadn't answered the question of whether justice can be equally applied in the United States. Biden offered a series of police reforms that he said were necessary to "deliver justice for Breonna."

Crump, meanwhile, challenged Cameron’s conclusion that authorities had announced themselves and he accused authorities of trying to cover up the death of a “Black woman who posed no threat and was living her best life. Yet here we are, without justice for Breonna, her family and the Black community.”

“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,” he said, adding that it was “ironic” that the only charges brought in the case were for the shots fired into the apartment of a white neighbor.

“This amounts to the most egregious disrespect of Black people, especially Black women, killed by police in America, and it’s indefensible, regardless of how Attorney General Daniel Cameron seeks to justify it,” he said.

Speaking to reporters after Cameron’s announcement, Gov. Andy Beshear said he wanted the attorney general to release the racial and demographic make-up of the grand jury. Beshear also asked Cameron to post some of the underlying evidence in the case online.

“Everyone can and should be informed,” he said. “Those feeling frustration, those feeling hurt — they deserve to know more. The ability to process those facts helps everybody.”

A spokeswoman for Cameron, Elizabeth Kuhn, said in a statement to NBC News that the office wouldn't post any of the evidence because it would "compromise" a federal investigation into the incident "and violate a prosecutor's ethical duties."

Kuhn didn't immediately say if Cameron would release other grand jury information.

Beshear, who served as Kentucky’s attorney general before he was elected governor in 2018, declined to answer a reporter’s question about whether he believed Cameron’s investigation was flawed.

Taylor's death has sparked months of protests. Ahead of Wednesday's announcement, the city battened down in anticipation of possible unrest.

Federal buildings were closed to the public this week, with first-floor windows of the U.S. District Courthouse boarded up; barricades were placed downtown; and Louisville police declared a state of emergency.

Mayor Greg Fischer said at a news conference Wednesday that he was imposing a 72-hour curfew starting at 9 p.m.

"Our goal is ensuring space and opportunity for people to gather and express first amendment rights while maintaining public safety," he said.

"We’re asking people to do their public protest during light. That’s the purpose of having the curfew. Most of the violence we’ve encountered over the past few months has occurred after dark."

State Rep. Charles Booker, who played a major role in racial justice demonstrations in Louisville over the summer, spoke directly to protesters Wednesday, saying during the governor’s news conference that “this moment is about protecting the movement.”

“Keep demanding change,” he said. “Breonna, thank you for being the light. We’ll keep fighting to honor your name.”

Asked during a news conference with the mayor Wednesday if protesters who took to the streets after Cameron’s announcement had been arrested, Louisville assistant police chief Robert Schroeder said several people had been taken into custody but he didn’t have details.

Hankison fired for shooting 'blindly'

Hankison was fired in June for “wantonly and blindly” firing into Taylor's apartment, according to his termination letter. Cosgrove and Mattingly, who, like Hankison, fired their weapons during the raid, were placed on administrative leave.

Also placed on leave was Detective Joshua Jaynes, who applied for the warrant used in the raid.

Cosgrove, Mattingly and Jaynes along with three other officers — Detectives Tony James, Michael Campbell and Michael Nobles — are all under internal investigation by the police department's Professional Standards Unit, police said.

Mayor Fischer said Wednesday that the grand jury’s conclusion confirmed the decision to fire Hankison. Asked if he would terminate Cosgrove and Mattingly, Fischer said if the internal investigation showed they committed “fireable” offenses "that would be the right thing to do.”

That police probe is separate from the state attorney general's investigation, which began in May. The FBI also announced in May that it was investigating the shooting.

In audio of investigators’ interviews that was released in July, Mattingly, who led the late-night raid, insisted that officers knocked and announced themselves.

In Walker's interview with investigators, however, he said that there was banging on the door but that he and Taylor never heard anyone say "police," according to the audio. Walker told the investigator that he and Taylor asked who it was and when they got no response, he reached for his firearm.

During the interviews by the Louisville Metro Police Department’s Public Integrity Unit, the investigator questioning Mattingly said officers' use of a battering ram to break open the apartment door was "the most passive way in" to the apartment and said that Mattingly “rightfully” returned fire after Walker fired a shot.

Taylor's mother filed a lawsuit against Hankison, Cosgrove and Mattingly, alleging that they did not announce themselves when they raided the home after midnight and engaged in "blindly firing" more than 20 shots into the apartment.

Taylor's address had been listed on the police search warrant based on officers' belief that a suspect, her ex-boyfriend, had used her home to keep drugs or stash money.

The wrongful-death complaint ended last week with Taylor's family reaching a $12 million settlement with the city, the largest in Louisville's history.

Ryan Nichols, president of the local police union, the River City Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 614, told local station WLKY that the settlement was premature as it came before the completion of the attorney general's probe.

"Especially if the investigation shows the actions the police took were within the boundaries of the law and they didn't violate anything, maybe that settlement doesn't look the same," he said.

Although the city admitted to no wrongdoing under terms of the settlement, the mayor said the agreement was "an acknowledgment of the need for reform."

The Louisville police union has not responded to repeated requests for comment on the case from NBC News.

While Taylor's fatal shooting happened in mid-March, it didn't gain much national attention until the family's lawsuit was filed two months later.

Taylor's death came 2-1/2 weeks after the fatal shooting of Ahmaud Arbery by civilians in Brunswick, Georgia, and 2-1/2 months before the death of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis.

The deaths sparked national protests that shined a harsh light on the nation's long history of systemic racism, police brutality and the extrajudicial killings of Black Americans.