How Officers Killed Breonna Taylor: New Details Reveal Fatal Mistakes


“Do not walk by yourself. This is our city. This is our town.” For months in Kentucky, residents outraged by the killing of Breonna Taylor campaigned for the police officers who shot her to face charges. [bell tolls] “Commonwealth of Kentucky v. Brett Hankison.” In September, a grand jury investigation indicted one officer for shooting into a neighboring apartment and no one for killing Taylor. “Is that the decision of the grand jury? I will grant the motion and assign bond in the amount of $15,000 full cash and issue a warrant.” “Is that it?” “Is that the only charge?” “What about the other two?” “It can’t be it. This can’t be it.” “No one has been held accountable. This is injustice, and this is a start clock for the next level of our protest.” “Say her name.” “Breonna Taylor.” What happened in the final minutes of Breonna Taylor’s life? A full telling of that story has been impeded because none of the seven police officers who raided her apartment used body cameras, a violation of police policy. But, with the recent release of thousands of documents and images collected during three investigations, The Times initiated a fresh examination of the case. We used crime scene photos to create a precise model of Taylor’s apartment. We forensically mapped out and retraced the first bullet, fired by Taylor’s boyfriend, and the 32 bullets that police shot in return — through windows, walls and ceilings. Using interviews officers gave to investigators, we charted their movements as they carried out the raid. And we analyzed hours of 911 calls, grand jury proceedings and footage by the SWAT team that arrived after the shooting. “Ma’am, can you hear us?” Members of the grand jury have accused Kentucky’s attorney general, Daniel Cameron, of shielding the officers involved from homicide charges. “Our investigation found that Mattingly and Cosgrove were justified in their use of force.” “Boom. Boom, boom, boom, boom.” Sergeant Mattingly may have been justified in returning fire when he’s fired upon, but our new analysis paints a more complicated picture about how this raid was compromised from beginning to end. We’ll outline the flawed intelligence and tactical mistakes of a hodgepodge team of officers, their failure to properly announce their presence at Taylor’s, the chaos and excessive use of force that ensued. “There’s another hole right below the clock.” And we’ll explore the damning analysis of an experienced SWAT commander who was called to the scene after the shooting. “We just got the feeling that night that something really bad happened.” The focus of the police investigation on March 13 is not Taylor’s apartment, but properties 10 miles away in West Louisville — — where dozens of SWAT and police officers arrest an ex-boyfriend of Taylor’s and his associates, and seize evidence, including drugs. These officers are wearing their body cameras, and they carry out the raid safely and without incident. What the SWAT team doesn’t know is that at this time a hastily assembled team of narcotics officers is about to raid Taylor’s home across town. They suspect her ex-boyfriend keeps cash or drugs there, but their intel is poor. They don’t know she has a new boyfriend, and they think she lives alone. When seven officers begin the raid at 12:40 a.m., they notice the lights are off except for the flicker of a TV in a bedroom — — suggesting they know where Taylor is. In less than three minutes, she would be fatally shot. Inside, Taylor had dozed off while watching a movie with her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker. Adjacent is the bedroom of Taylor’s sister, but she’s not home. A hallway from the bedrooms leads to a living area, and the apartment’s entrance is in this breezeway. The only light is this lamp opposite her door, where now the police begin to stack. In this reconstruction, we hear the official testimonies given by the two officers nearest the door, Mattingly and Nobles; Cosgrove, who’s providing cover; and Hoover and Hankison beside them. And we’ll hear from neighbors and Kenneth Walker, who was interviewed by police right after the shooting. Just as Mattingly begins to knock, a man emerges from the apartment directly above. He doesn’t live there but is picking up his child after finishing work. A squabble with Detective Brett Hankison ensues, and already the team seems on edge. The man retreats inside. The police are supposed to be conducting a knock-and-announce raid, but that’s not what Mattingly says happens at first. Inside, Taylor wakes up. Whether the police announce themselves clearly enough is a critical issue in this story that we’ll return to later on. Not knowing who’s at the door this late, Walker grabs his licensed handgun. They rush to get dressed and walk toward the door. Outside, some of the police do hear Taylor. But after knocking and waiting for around 45 seconds, they decided they’ve given her enough time to respond and ram the door open. We’ll show here what the police and Walker describe seeing next. The officers now make a tactical mistake. Mattingly steps into the doorway and puts himself in what police describe as the fatal funnel, a position vulnerable to gunfire and hard to move from. The apartment is lit only by the breezeway light that’s coming from behind Mattingly, and the faint glare of the TV in Taylor’s bedroom. Thinking it’s an intruder, Walker aims low, shoots once and hits Mattingly in the thigh. Mattingly immediately returns fire. Mattingly fires two more rounds when he falls, and takes cover. Almost at the same time, Cosgrove moves in and fires, stepping on Mattingly in the process. He has now also put himself in the fatal funnel, and although he’s shooting, he appears to have no idea what’s happening. He continues shooting blindly until he runs out of ammunition, a total of 16 rounds. In response to Walker’s shot, Mattingly and Cosgrove together fire four shots into a chair, cupboards, and the stove in the kitchen. Two bullets go into the ceiling and pass through the living room in the apartment above, where the man, his 2-year-old daughter and babysitter waited. Three more shots go into the living room wall to the right, and the officers fired 13 rounds down the hallway where Taylor and Walker stood. Taylor is shot six times on both sides of her body, in the abdomen and chest, her arm and leg, and twice in her foot. In all, these two officers fire 22 rounds in less than a minute. An F.B.I. ballistics report found that both of them shot Taylor, and that one of the 16 rounds Cosgrove fired was the lethal bullet. Thinking they’re under attack, some of the officers flee when they hear a pause in shooting. We don’t know the precise sequence of events, but Detective Hankison runs to the front. But the only ones shooting are police. Even though all the curtains are drawn, Hankison blindly fires five bullets through the patio windows. He moves and fires five more rounds through the bedroom window of Taylor’s sister, who isn’t home. Two bullets fly over Walker and Taylor, but none hits them. The bullets that go into the living area pass over Taylor’s sofa and kitchen table and smash her clock. Three penetrate the wall and enter her neighbor’s apartment. Those bullets also smash the kitchen table, hit a wall and shatter the patio doors at the rear. A pregnant woman, her son and partner were home. Hankison has been charged with wantonly endangering their lives. In total, the police fire 32 bullets, penetrating almost every room in Taylor’s apartment. They hit saucepans, cereal boxes and smash into her shower. They puncture shoes, shatter cleaning equipment and land in her sister’s clothing. And, three minutes after police came to search her home, a fatally wounded Taylor is lying on the ground. Months later, when Attorney General Daniel Cameron presented the charges against Hankison and said that Mattingly and Cosgrove’s actions were justified, he emphasized that police did properly announce themselves. “Evidence shows that officers both knocked and announced their presence at the apartment.” But, actually, the evidence is far from clear. In 911 calls immediately after the shooting, Taylor’s neighbors don’t know police are carrying out a raid. And in statements police took afterwards, none of Taylor’s neighbors heard the officers announce. This apartment’s patio door was open. Two teenagers in this apartment heard a commotion, but didn’t hear police announce through their open window, their mom said. And the family who lived directly above Taylor also heard nothing. In their statements and in interviews with The Times, over a dozen neighbors say they did not hear the police. Attorney General Cameron’s assertion rests on the accounts of police officers and a single witness, Aaron Sarpee, the man collecting his daughter that night and who saw the police when he came outside. In his first interview with investigators, Sarpee was asked what he heard when he went back inside. Months later, he told police his memory was foggy, but that he thought officers did announce. And beyond what the police said, this critical grand jury conclusion rested on his entirely inconsistent account. After the raid, the scene outside is chaos. Officers tend to Mattingly, but an ambulance that had been staging nearby is nowhere to be found. They radio the SWAT officers across town — — who are surprised by the call. They head for Taylor’s address. As SWAT arrives, close to 40 police vehicles are already at the scene. Around this time, Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, is being arrested. Walker had called 911 and neighbors had heard his pleas for help. But at 1 a.m., almost 20 minutes after the shooting, the police still don’t know Taylor is critically injured inside. As Walker is being led out, SWAT gets ready to secure the apartment. Only now, half an hour after the raid began, does an E.M.T. finally check Taylor. And later, as two officers stand guard, they take in the scene. They see Taylor’s uniform. She worked as an emergency room technician in city hospitals. They note the bullet holes. Outside, the SWAT officers debrief on what they’ve seen. The SWAT commander who was called to Taylor’s home after the raid was later interviewed by investigators. “We just got the feeling that night that something really bad happened.” Dale Massey, a 20-year police veteran, was highly critical of what unfolded. He said there was no coordination with SWAT. “We had no idea they were going to be at that apartment that night. I would’ve advised them 100 percent not to do it.” And that executing another warrant at the same time may have compromised Taylor’s safety. “We treat safety, very important, right. So, like, simultaneous wars — bad business.” Narcotics officers testified that they didn’t know Taylor had a new boyfriend, that her sister lived there or that her 2-year-old niece regularly stayed. Massey said the department had a history of poor intelligence gathering. “Back in the day, we would take a lot of detective information and take it as golden. Not anymore. Because so often, there’s no kids, there’s no dog, we’re told. There’s kids and dogs. So we have an exhaustive recon process that we go through.” He said standing in the doorway, the fatal funnel, as Mattingly and Cosgrove had, was a tactical mistake. “Is it practical or is it even common for three people to be in what we consider the fatal funnel?” “Absolutely not. No. You never put, you know, yourself in that situation.” And that there’s a right way and a wrong way to conduct a raid. You knock, announce and give people ample time to leave. “We’re not going to rush in to get dope. We’re not going to treat — human life’s more important than any amount of dope, right?” And, just to be clear, no drugs were ever found at Taylor’s. His harshest criticism was of Hankison’s blind shots into the apartment. “You have to know A, what you’re shooting at, B, what’s in front of it, and B, what’s behind it. There’s no other way you can operate. It was just an egregious act.” Under Kentucky law, Kenneth Walker had a right to stand his ground against what he believed was an aggressor. And the police, in turn, have a right to self-defense. But in this analysis, the killing of Breonna Taylor resulted from poor planning compounded by reckless execution. Louisville has instituted police reforms, and Taylor’s family received a substantial settlement, but the case isn’t closed. Investigations and lawsuits are ongoing. And nine months after Taylor was killed, her family is seeking a fresh inquiry into the officers involved.


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