Breonna Taylor grand jury audio reveals conflicting accounts of fatal raid

The New York Times
Louisville, KentuckyWritten By: John Eligon ©️ 2020 The New York TimesUpdated: Oct 03, 2020, 12:41 PM IST

FILE - Volunteers work on a makeshift memorial to Breonna Taylor, who was killed by police serving a warrant at her apartment, after a rainy morning, in Louisville, Ky., Sept. 24, 2020. An audio recording of more than 20 hours of grand jury proceedings from the Taylor inquiry is expected to be made public by noon on Friday, Oct. 2, 2020, an extraordinarily unusual move that could shed light on what evidence the jurors considered. (Whitney Curtis © 2020 The New York Times) Photograph:(The New York Times)

Story highlights

In newly-released audio from closed-door grand jury proceedings, there was conflicting testimony over what happened in the seconds before the police shot and killed Taylor

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Two very different accounts emerged Friday from either side of an apartment door in Louisville, the one that police officers knocked off its hinges in March as they delivered a search warrant at the home of Breonna Taylor.

In newly-released audio from closed-door grand jury proceedings, there was conflicting testimony over what happened in the seconds before the police shot and killed Taylor, a Black emergency room technician whose death pulled people to the streets in protests across the country.

Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, said in the new recordings that he was “scared to death” when he and Taylor heard pounding on the door in the middle of the night and got no response to their yelled queries of who was knocking.

The officers involved in the raid, though, insisted in interviews with investigators that they had loudly identified themselves as police before they burst through the door. It was only after one officer was shot, they said, that they opened fired at the couple, killing Taylor.

The dueling accounts of a chaotic and tragic night are captured in 15 hours of recordings from the grand jury’s examination of the fatal raid. For the first time, some of those directly involved in the police shooting — including neighbors, officers and Taylor’s boyfriend — are heard describing the fateful night.

“Next thing I know, she’s on the ground and the door’s busted open and I hear a bunch of yelling and just panicking,” Walker said in an interview with investigators in March that was played for the grand jury last week. “And she’s right here bleeding,” he adds of Taylor. “And nobody’s coming, and I’m just confused and scared.”

The grand jury concluded its work last week by bringing an indictment against one former officer for endangering Taylor’s neighbors; they brought no charges against the two officers who shot her.

Daniel Cameron, the Kentucky attorney general, released the recordings Friday after a judge ordered him to do so, but the recordings did not include the instructions that prosecutors gave to the 12 jurors. One juror said Cameron was deflecting blame by saying it was jurors who had opted not to indict the two officers who shot Taylor.

One of those officers, Detective Myles Cosgrove, who the FBI said fired the shot that killed Taylor, described in the audio being uncertain about exactly what occurred during the chaos after police used a battering ram to burst into Taylor’s apartment and were shot at by Walker.

“I just sensed that I’ve fired,” Cosgrove said in an interview last month that was played for the jurors. But, he added: “It’s like a surreal thing. If you told me I didn’t do something at that time, I’d believe you. If you told me I did do something, I’d probably believe you, too.”

The grand jurors met in person over three days last week and reviewed police interviews of officers and witnesses at the scene, 911 calls and body camera videos from after Taylor was shot. They also met directly with detectives who had investigated the killing, and the jurors sound at times inquisitive or skeptical on the recordings, peppering detectives with questions and pointing out inconsistencies in some of the officers’ accounts.

Below are highlights of the evidence presented in the new recordings.

An officer who shot Taylor described a chaotic scene.

Cosgrove, who the FBI said fired the shot that killed Taylor, described a disorienting scene of flashing lights as officers breached the door and seemed to suggest uncertainty about exactly what happened.

“I know that I have fired,” he said during an interview he gave police investigators last month that was played for the grand jury. “I just sensed that I’ve fired.”

But, he added, “It’s like a surreal thing. If you told me I didn’t do something at that time, I’d believe you. If you told me I did do something, I’d probably believe you, too.”

As soon as he got to the doorway, Cosgrove said, he was “overwhelmed with bright flashes and darkness. And what I describe as a movie reel that’s doing that ticking where you see white and black, white and black.”

Cosgrove said that Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly, who was shot in the leg during the raid, fell to the ground and that he had to step over his wounded colleague.

“I know John, my friend that I’ve known for 15 years, has been shot in this confined space,” Cosgrove said. “And I know this person is down and I sense that there’s still these gunshots happening due to those bright lights. I can’t even explain what it is.”

Cosgrove said he also saw a shadow of a person, a “larger than normal human shadow,” when they raided the apartment.

After jurors heard a recording of the interview that Cosgrove gave to investigators, one juror asked, “Does he have a history of panic attacks?”

Detective Jeff Fogg, an investigator with the attorney general’s office who interviewed Cosgrove, said he did not know.

“In these types of situations, whatever happened that night, everybody responds to it differently,” Fogg responded.

Taylor’s boyfriend says he was ‘scared to death.'

Walker, Taylor’s boyfriend, told investigators he was “scared to death” when he heard loud banging on the apartment door and did not get a response when he and Taylor asked who was there.

Walker, who investigators have said shot the first officer who walked through the door in the leg, said he grabbed his gun after he and Taylor repeatedly yelled, “Who is it?”

The police said in interviews that were also released Friday that they had loudly announced themselves several times before breaking down Taylor’s door, but Walker said they had not heard anything but the knocking.

Walker said that he and Taylor were watching a movie with the lights off when they heard the knocking, and that they both got up and began to put their clothes on, with Taylor asking “at the top of her lungs” who was at the door. He took deep breaths as he gave his account of what happened to investigators on the same day that Taylor was shot; the interview was later played for the grand jurors.

As he and Taylor began to walk out of the bedroom and toward the door, he said, he saw the door go off its hinges. Walker said he fired one shot from his gun before he could even see who was at the door.

“All of a sudden, there’s a whole lot of shots,” Walker said. Cameron, the attorney general, has said that the police fired a total of 32 rounds, at least six of which struck Taylor.

“They’re just shooting, like, we’re both on the ground,” Walker said. Then the shots stopped, Walker said, and he saw that Taylor was bleeding.

“Next thing I know, she’s on the ground and the door’s busted open and I hear a bunch of yelling and just panicking,” Walker said, adding of Taylor: “And she’s right here bleeding. And nobody’s coming, and I’m just confused and scared.”

Walker said that just after the shooting, an officer told him that he was going to jail for the rest of his life and asked him, “Were you hit by any bullets?”

Walker said that when he replied, “No,” the officer responded by saying, “That’s unfortunate.”

Walker added that those were the officer’s “exact words.” He said that he did not know which officer had told him that, but it was definitely an officer in uniform. In the courtroom, someone responded: “That’s not appropriate.”

Jurors raised questions about some of the evidence.

The dozen grand jurors appeared inquisitive throughout the proceedings, asking witnesses about the evidence and sometimes sounding skeptical about what was provided to them.

The first witness before the grand jury was an investigator for the attorney general’s office who presented photos and videos of the scene, including the body camera videos of three officers who arrived after the shots were fired. The questioning was led by Barbara Maines Whaley, an assistant attorney general.

Grand jurors asked whether Walker, Taylor’s boyfriend, had been named in the search warrant (he had not), what exactly the officers saw when the apartment door opened, and whether the officers executing the warrant were aware that the police had already found Jamarcus Glover, an ex-boyfriend of Taylor’s who was the target of the drug investigation.

Glover was in custody by the time the police raided Taylor’s apartment. At one point, a juror asked about the time stamps on a video. Another asked why they had not seen the room where the gun was found; the investigator said that the room would be shown in a different video.

The grand jurors peppered a detective from the attorney general’s office with several questions on the third and final day that they met, just hours before indicting Hankison. They asked if the police had recovered drugs or money from the apartment; the detective said no, and that the police had not searched the apartment for drugs or paraphernalia after shooting Taylor. They asked whether he had diagrams of the scene (no) and why the officers’ body cameras were not activated (the detective said he did not know).

Officers said the police knocked and announced themselves before the raid.

Grand jurors heard at least two Louisville police officers who were at the raid on Taylor’s apartment say the group knocked and announced their presence several times before breaking down the door, according to a recording of the proceedings released Friday.

Those accounts, which have been questioned by several of Taylor’s neighbors and her boyfriend, were included among roughly 15 hours of audio filed by the attorney general Friday, which includes interviews heard by the grand jury over several days last week.

Another officer at the raid, Detective Michael Nobles, told police investigators he heard movement and voices, including a female voice, inside the apartment before the police entered.

Nobles, who held the battering ram that broke through Taylor’s door, said he stood at the door, knocking and announcing himself as police for one or two minutes before he used the battering ram to force his way into Taylor’s apartment. His interview was also played for grand jurors. He said it took three knocks with the battering ram to break down the door completely.

The first blow hit the handle, he said. The second broke the door, but left it still on the hinges. The third broke down the door completely.

When he entered, Nobles said it was “pitch black,” and that Sgt. John Mattingly, one of the officers who shot Taylor, was quickly shot in the leg after the team entered the building.

In previous interviews with The Times, 11 of 12 of Taylor’s neighbors said they never heard the police identify themselves. One neighbor said he heard the group say “Police,” just once.

The detective who was indicted said he thought someone in the apartment had a semi-automatic weapon.

Grand jurors were played recordings of radio calls from Hankison, the detective who fired blindly from outside the apartment and has been charged with three counts of wanton endangerment.

“Officer down on Springfield!” Hankison shouted into the radio at 12:43 a.m.

The calls suggest that Hankison, who was fired several months after the shooting, believed that Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly had been wounded by someone with an “AR” — short for AR-15, a type of a military-style semi-automatic rifle — who was “barricaded” inside the apartment.

In fact, investigators later said, Mattingly was struck by a 9-mm round fired by Walker, Taylor’s boyfriend, who has said he mistook the officers for intruders.

During a March 25 interview with investigators that was also played for the grand jury, Hankison said he saw a figure inside Taylor’s apartment holding what he believed to be an AR-15.

Hankison told investigators he did not remember if he returned fire after the team broke down the door, or if he immediately spun around and exited the hallway.

Once he retreated, Hankison said, he went around the side of the apartment to get a better vantage point. He said he could see muzzle flashes through the sliding glass door and heard that an officer had been shot. The gunfire intensified as he peered through the window, Hankison said. “I could see it lighting up the room.”

Hankison said he then shot through the window toward where he believed the shooter to be, then changed locations and fired through another window. Shortly after that, the muzzle flashes ceased, Hankison said.

The Louisville Metro Police Department fired Hankison in June. The police chief at the time accused him of violating the department’s policy on the use of deadly force, saying he had “wantonly and blindly” fired 10 shots into Taylor’s apartment.

Hankison told investigators in the March interview that he had not anticipated a firefight. He expected one unarmed woman, who had no criminal record, to be home alone, he said.

After hearing Hankison’s recorded interview, one juror questioned his account of where he perceived the shooter to be, and why he had fired through multiple windows. Other jurors questioned Hankison’s account of events as compared to other testimonies they had heard.

“You are hearing several accounts of what happened,” said Fogg, an investigator with the attorney general’s office. “So that’s the challenge here, to try and keep everything as part of the entire picture.”

Here’s what the charge of ‘wanton endangerment’ means.

The only charges brought by the grand jury were three counts of “wanton endangerment in the first degree” against Hankison for his actions during the raid.

Under Kentucky law, a person commits that crime when he or she “wantonly engages in conduct which creates a substantial danger of death or serious physical injury to another person,” and does so “under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life.” Other states may use terms like “reckless endangerment” for an equivalent offense.

But the charges against Hankison are not for killing Taylor. None of the 10 shots he fired are known to have struck her. Instead, the Kentucky attorney general said the former detective was charged by the grand jury because the shots he fired had passed through Taylor’s apartment walls into a neighboring apartment, endangering three people there.

Hankison is charged with one count for each of the neighboring apartment’s occupants: a pregnant woman, her husband and their 5-year-old child, who were asleep. They were not hit by the shots.

The crime is a Class D felony in Kentucky, which means it can carry a sentence of up to five years in prison and a fine on conviction for each count.

A person can be guilty of wanton endangerment even if they did not intend to harm anyone or to commit a crime; it is sufficient to recklessly disregard the peril that one’s actions create.

Hankison was fired from the force. During the raid, he fired into her apartment from outside, through a sliding glass patio door and a window that were covered with blinds, in violation of a department policy that requires officers to have a line of sight.

Protesters have demanded justice in the Breonna Taylor case for months.

The name Breonna Taylor has echoed across the nation for months as demonstrators demanded the police be held accountable for her death.

Outrage over the killing of Taylor, 26, has spread far from Louisville, with protests drawing crowds in cities across the United States, beginning in the spring and continuing throughout the summer. Rallying cries of “Say Her Name” have been ubiquitous at the rallies.

The police killing of George Floyd, a Black man who died in May after being handcuffed and pinned to the ground by a white police officer’s knee, brought renewed attention to deadly episodes involving the police, including Taylor’s death, and fueled Black Lives Matter protests that persisted throughout the summer.

In September, when the grand jury announced no charges against the officers who killed Taylor, protesters poured into the streets of Louisville with renewed strength and anger, demanding stronger charges. The protesters called for all three officers, who are white, to be held to account for Taylor’s death.

Taylor’s family, too, has pleaded for justice, pushing for criminal charges against the officers. Taylor’s case has also been the center of campaigns from several celebrities and athletes, some of whom have dedicated their seasons to keeping a spotlight on her case.