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Decision Not to Charge Officers for Killing Breonna Taylor Sparks Outcry

Charges for Brett Hankison were for “wanton endangerment,” over bullets he shot that hit Taylor’s neighbors’ dwellings.

Community members gathered for a "Stand 4 Breonna" event to demand justice for Breonna Taylor on September 19, 2020, in Austin, Texas.

A grand jury has decided not to charge any police officers specifically for the killing of Breonna Taylor, the emergency medical technician whom police shot in her Louisville, Kentucky, apartment in the early morning hours of March 13.

The grand jury announced that criminal proceedings for three counts of “wanton endangerment” may move forward against one officer specifically in relation to some bullets striking the apartments of Taylor’s neighbors. The officer, Brett Hankison, was fired earlier this year by the Louisville Metro Police Department (LMPD) because he had shot at least 10 rounds into Taylor’s apartment.

However, none of the charges recommended for that officer are related in any way to Taylor’s death. Two other officers whom the grand jury was considering recommending charges against for the police-perpetrated killing received none.

Within the indictment documents, the occupants of the apartments for which Hankison is charged over shooting are only identified by their occupants’ initials. None of the initials listed appear to be “BT,” which implies that shots fired inside Taylor’s home, including those that killed her, were deemed by the grand jury as not worth indicting any of the three officers over, including Hankison.

The grand jury’s decision, officially released from the office of Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron, is not a pronouncement of guilt, but rather means that formal prosecutorial charges can be issued against the officers who shot and killed Taylor. According to Kentucky statutes, wanton endangerment is a Class D Felony, which makes it a crime that is punishable by up to five years in prison. Judge Annie O’Connell set a $15,000 bond for Hankison.

Criticism of the announcement from the grand jury was swift, with much of it focusing on the lack of charges related directly to the killing of Taylor. Ben Crump, an attorney for Taylor’s family, condemned the decision to charge Hankison with crimes unrelated to Taylor’s death as “outrageous and offensive.”

“If Brett Hankison’s behavior was wanton endangerment to people in neighboring apartments, then it should have been wanton endangerment in Breonna Taylor’s apartment too,” Crump added. “In fact, it should have been ruled wanton murder!”

Wednesday night, protests erupted in cities around the country in response to the grand jury announcement. Louisville, Atlanta, New York City, Chicago, Detroit, Milwaukee, Los Angeles, Memphis and more joined in rising up against the judicial system’s injustice. Capturing the sentiment of many who took to the streets, Milwaukee protester Pilar Olvera told The New York Times, “This is not going to end until we challenge the systems.”

Ibram X. Kendi, antiracist author and director of the Center for Antiracist Research at Boston University, tweeted similar sentiments regarding the lack of charges for Taylor’s death.

“To not indict the officers for murder is to claim #BreonnaTaylor killed herself,” Kendi wrote. “Racist America constantly kills Black people and then tells Black people we killed ourselves.”

The African American Policy Forum (AAPF), an organization that seeks to “address a vision of racial justice that embraces the intersections of race, gender, class, and the array of barriers that disempower those who are marginalized in society,” released a statement regarding the indictment, noting that “the most insulting dimension of today’s decision is that after 194 days of demands to Say Her Name, the two-page indictment against Brett Hankison for wanton endangerment does not mention Breonna’s name at all.”

Meanwhile, many abolitionist organizations pointed to the lack of a murder indictment as yet more evidence that the criminal legal system is incapable of delivering justice for Black people. BYP100, a Black youth-led racial justice organization, tweeted, “We will continue to mold sadness into strength to fight for a freedom for a world where Black girls can sleep. A world where Black womxn and GNC folx can be. A world without police. A world without prisons. A world where all Black lives Matter.”

In an email to supporters, Women’s March also blasted the announcement over the decision not to charge any of the officers directly for Taylor’s death.

“The only charge given was for shooting a gun at an apartment building — not for murdering Breonna. Accountability was not and cannot be achieved in a broken system, that’s why we must push forward in our fight to defund the police,” the organization said.

Taylor’s sister, Juniyah Palmer, expressed immense sadness over the decision not to recommend any charges related to her sibling’s death.

“Sister, you was failed by a system you worked hard for and I am sorry,” Palmer wrote in an Instagram story. “I love you so so so so so much.”

The grand jury was initially tasked with reviewing the details of Taylor’s death to determine whether the three officers from the LMPD involved in the incident — Hankison, Jonathan Mattingly and Myles Cosgrove — will be charged criminally.

Hankison was terminated from the department earlier this year. The grand jury chose not to recommend charges for Mattingly and Cosgrove who had been placed on administrative leave after the shooting.

On the morning of March 13, the LMPD executed a no-knock search warrant on the apartment where Taylor lived with her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, on the premise that Taylor had once been involved in a previous relationship with a suspected drug dealer. After the officers used a battering ram on the door to the dwelling, Walker, a legal gun owner, grabbed his weapon, believing it to be a home invasion. According to Walker’s account, the police never identified themselves.

After the door was broken down, Walker fired his gun, believing his life was in danger, hitting one of the officers in the thigh. The officers responded by firing several shots into the apartment. Taylor was shot five times by police and died from her wounds. No drugs were found in the home.

In June, Louisville passed an ordinance banning the use of no-knock warrants by LMPD. Other changes to police practices were agreed to following a civil lawsuit settlement between the city and Taylor’s family.

Note: Updates to this article were made to include more commentary and opinions following the announcement of the indictment, as well as to explain in greater detail that the charges against Hankison were not related to the officers’ shooting and killing Taylor.

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