Grand jury recordings publicly released in Breonna Taylor case
About 15 hours of audio recordings of grand jury proceedings in the Breonna Taylor case on Friday, following demands for transparency by activists and Taylor’s family. Grand jury proceedings are typically kept secret. The decision last week has led to outrage and renewed protests over police brutality and racial injustice.
The grand jury did indict now-fired Louisville officer Brett Hankison on wanton endangerment charges for firing shots into a neighbor’s apartment in the March police raid that killed the 26-year-old Black emergency medical worker.
The grand jury issued their ruling after a two-and-a-half-day presentation of investigative findings by Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron. Cameron has described Taylor’s death as a tragedy, but not a crime. He had initially declined to release the recordings, but then did so in the public court file on Friday following a judge’s order.
“While it is unusual for a court to require the release of the recordings from grand jury proceedings, we complied with the order, rather than challenging it, so that the full truth can be heard,” Cameron said in a statement.
CBS News is reviewing the recordings. Here is what they reveal aboutremaining in the case.
What evidence did the grand jury hear about whether officers announced themselves before the raid?
In an interview recorded the day of the March 13 raid and later played for the grand jury, Louisville police Lieutenant Shawn Hoover said officers announced themselves as law enforcement before breaching Taylor’s door.
“We knocked on the door, said police, waited I don’t know 10 or 15 seconds. Knocked again, said police, waited even longer,” Hoover said. “So it was the third time that we were approaching, it had been like 45 seconds if not a minute,” Hoover said. “And then I said, `Let’s go, let’s breach it.'”
The question of whether anyone heard officers identify themselves is key, lawyers for Taylor’s family say, because Taylor’s boyfriend Kenneth Walker said he didn’t know the people raiding the home were police and he opened fire to defend himself and Taylor from unknown intruders.
Cameron said his investigation concluded the two officers who fired the barrage of bullets that killed Taylor, Detective Myles Cosgrove and Sergeant Jon Mattingly, were justified in opening fire because they were returning a shot fired by Walker.
Mattingly also said in an interview played for the grand jury that officers announced themselves and said they had a warrant. Cosgrove, in his interview, said Taylor’s home was considered a “soft target.”
“We were asked to please knock and announce and to use our maturity as investigators to get into this house,” Cosgrove said.
Detective Michael Nobles said officers made so much noise that an upstairs neighbor came outside and was told to go back inside. Hoover said he believed officers were being “ambushed” when Walker fired the shot that Cameron has said struck Mattingly in the thigh.
“They knew we were there. I mean, hell, the neighbors knew we were there,” Hoover said.
But Walker told police in an interview heard by the grand jury, “If we knew who it was, that would have never happened.”
A neighbor who described dropping to the ground as bullets flew through his wall backed up Walker’s account. The neighbor said he never heard police announce themselves and assumed he was being robbed, according to a detective’s testimony.
Walker appeared baffled as to why police would raid the home unless there was some kind of mistake. Taylor “never talked about anything that might have brought police to the door,” Walker said.
Grand jurors also heard 911 calls from panicked neighbors and a distraught Walker, who told dispatchers, “Somebody kicked in the door and shot my girlfriend.”
“She’s dying,” grand jurors heard Walker say.
Cameron has said he presented grand jurors with a witness who supported officers’ statements that they announced themselves. But Ben Crump, a lawyer for the Taylor family, and Steven Romines, Walker’s lawyer, say there are 12 other neighbors who did not hear any announcement.
Crump and Romines also say the witness referenced by Cameron changed his story. Cameron said he presented grand jurors with the discrepancies in the witness’ testimony.
Speaking on “CBS This Morning” last week, attorney Ben Crump said: “If Daniel Cameron only presented his perspective and didn’t present the other 12 neighbors, he has unilaterally made a decision on whether or not Breonna Taylor would ever get due process, whether she would ever get justice, and that is not right.”
But speaking to local television station WDRB Tuesday, Cameron said whether or not police announced themselves would have no bearing on the outcome, because regardless, the officers were justified in returning the shot fired by Walker. Cameron said the neighbor the grand jury heard from was closest in proximity to Taylor’s home and was in the best position to hear police announce themselves.
Testimony of one law enforcement officer heard by the grand jury showed police never ultimately executed the warrant to search Taylor’s apartment. The warrant was linked to a drug investigation into her ex-boyfriend, who did not live there.
“Were drugs money or paraphernalia recovered from apartment 4? … The answer to that is no,” the officer said on the recording. “They didn’t go forward with executing the initial search warrant that they had for Breonna Taylor’s apartment.”
What charges did the Kentucky attorney general’s office recommend to the grand jury?
Cameron has said no murder charges were recommended against Cosgrove and Mattingly. Cameron had previously said in public statements and interviews that his grand jury presentation included evidence about the actions of the two officers, but that he did not recommend charges against them because he ruled their actions justified.
Cameron has said he felt the only charges that could be proven in court were three counts of wanton endangerment against former officer Brett Hankison for firing shots blindly from outside Taylor’s apartment, endangering her neighbors when bullets flew into their unit.
In a statement Friday, Cameron’s office said the 15 hours of recordings do not include charging recommendations offered to the grand jury, because they are not considered evidence.
Questions have been raised about Cameron’s public depiction of what happened during the grand jury proceedings, most notably by a grand juror who in a rare move petitioned a judge to speak publicly about evidence Cameron left out. The anonymous grand juror accused Cameron in a legal filing of “using the grand jurors as a shield to deflect accountability and responsibility for these decisions.”
Following the indictment against Hankison last week, Cameron said that while there are six possible homicide charges under Kentucky law, “these charges are not applicable to the facts before us because our investigation showed — and the grand jury agreed — that Mattingly and Cosgrove were justified in the return of deadly fire after being fired upon.”
Cameron initially refused to say whether he had recommended any charges against Mattingly and Cosgrove. But in the interview days later with WDRB, Cameron said he did not recommend murder charges and appeared to walk back his assertion that the grand jury agreed that Cosgrove and Mattingly were justified in their actions. He implied the grand jury could have taken issue with his interpretation of the evidence if they disagreed.
“I suppose… you know, again, the grand jury had two and a half days to ask questions, you know I suppose if they wanted to push… they’re an independent body,” Cameron told the station. “If they wanted to make an assessment about different charges they could have done that. But our recommendation was that Mattingly and Cosgrove were justified in their acts, in their conduct, and that officer Hankison at least it was appropriate at this stage to charge him with wanton endangerment.”
But for a grand jury to issue an indictment outside the scope of the options they are given by a prosecutor would be rare, said Cortney Lollar, a University of Kentucky College of Law professor. In Kentucky, like elsewhere, prosecutors have sole purview over what evidence and witnesses a grand jury hears, and the panel need only determine probable cause that the case against the defendant should move forward. It’s a “pretty low standard,” Lollar said, which is one reason for the saying that a grand jury would “indict a ham sandwich.” In a jury trial, a judge would determine what evidence could and couldn’t be introduced, the defense would have a chance to put on a case and the standard of conviction is guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Grand jurors do have the opportunity to ask questions, and may decide not enough probable cause exists to return an indictment recommended by a prosecutor. But they typically wouldn’t have knowledge of the law to the extent that they would question the indictment options a prosecutor presents and recommend more serious charges, Lollar said.
“Most grand jurors are not lawyers, they aren’t experts with the legal process,” Lollar said. “They’re going to take a look at the evidence and the law presented to them and decide whether there’s enough to charge based on what’s presented to them.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.