Protests over the lack of homicide charges in the death of Breonna Taylor erupted last week after the grand jury only return an indictment of “wanton endangerment” against one of the police officers involved. At the time, Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron announced that he had “walked them through every homicide offense and also presented all of the information that was available to the grand jury.” That left the impression that the grand jury had discerned on all possible options before restricting its actions to just wanton endangerment.
However, Cameron revealed in an interview with WDRB that he actually never allowed the grand jury to consider homicide charges. Critics are now accusing Cameron of misrepresenting the handling of the case, but Cameron says he only asked the grand jury to indict what the evidence would prove in court:
Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron said his office did not give the grand jury in the Breonna Taylor case the option to consider murder or even lesser charges charges in her death.
In an exclusive interview with WDRB News on Tuesday, Cameron said it was “not appropriate” to recommend charges for two Louisville Metro Police officers — Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly and Det. Myles Cosgrove —who fired shots into her apartment early on March 13, six of which hit Taylor.
“They’re an independent body. If they wanted to make an assessment about different charges, they could have done that,” said Cameron. “But our recommendation was that Mattingly and Cosgrove were justified in their acts and their conduct.”
Cameron’s office did recommend wanton endangerment charges for former Det. Brett Hankison, he acknowledged for the first time Monday night; a Jefferson County grand jury indicted Hankison on those charges last week.
“The charge that we could prove at trial, beyond reasonable doubt, was for wanton endangerment against Mr. Hankison,” Cameron said Tuesday. “Myles Cosgrove and Jonathan Mattingly were fired upon by Mr. Walker. They were justified in returning fire.”
That’s fine and largely supported by the evidence we’ve seen so far, or at least heard described from the grand-jury testimony. However, this goes to credibility on that point, too. If Cameron was sloppy about how he described his presentation to the grand jury, how much can we rely on his description of other evidence in the case? For instance, Cameron said last week that the warrant was not a “no knock” version despite popular discussion to the contrary, but Radley Balko linked to the actual warrant to rebut Cameron’s announcement:
— Radley Balko (@radleybalko) September 24, 2020
“This was not a no-knock warrant.”
It absolutely was. It says so right on the warrant. Moreover, the portion of the warrant authorizing a no-knock entry cited only cut-and-pasted information from the four other warrants that were part of the same investigation. This is a violation of a requirement set by the Supreme Court that no-knock warrants should be granted when police can present evidence that a particular suspect is a risk to shoot at police or destroy evidence if they knock and announce. They didn’t do that.
The police claim they were told after the fact to disregard the no-knock portion and instead knock and announce themselves, because, by that point, someone had determined that Taylor was a “soft target” — not a threat, and not a major player in the drug investigation. But there are problems with this account. If Taylor was a “soft target,” why not surround the house, get on a megaphone, and ask her to come out with her hands up? Why still take down her door with a battering ram? Why still serve the warrant in the middle of the night?
It’s this kind of confusion that had critics and even grand jury members demanding the release of the transcripts from the proceedings. Cameron’s new version of the presentation adds even more doubt, or at least uncertainty, to his previous emphatic public case that a grand jury independently reached their indicting decisions based on the best evidence and the widest latitude possible.
A court has ordered Cameron to produce the grand jury proceedings after one of the panel members filed a motion to allow her to speak publicly about the deliberations. Cameron initially pledged to comply today, but this morning asked for a one-week delay:
Kentucky State Attorney General Daniel Cameron has asked for a delay in releasing the grand jury’s recordings in the Breonna Taylor case. …
Cameron was ordered by a judge to enter into the court record by noon Wednesday, the recording of the grand jury hearing that produced a single charge of wanton endangerment against one of the officers involved in the Taylor shooting, but not for Taylor’s death. On Wednesday morning, Cameron filed a motion asking the the release of the recording be delayed for a week.
“For its grounds, the Commonwealth states that in the interest of protection of witnesses, and in particular private citizens named in the record, the Commonwealth seeks to redact personal identifiers of any named person, and to redact both names and personal identifiers of any private citizen,” Cameron’s motion reads.
This might all amount to a tempest in a teapot. If the evidence presented to the grand jury — and already in evidence publicly — matches up with what Cameron has already stated, the transcripts will corroborate that. However, Cameron’s lack of consistency doesn’t build confidence in that outcome, and neither does the demand from the grand juror who apparently feels Cameron has misrepresented his presentation. Stay tuned, both for conclusions about the case as well as the inevitable reactions on the streets of Louisville.