The DOJ Cracks Down on Breonna Taylor's Case, Officers Facing the Possibility of Life-Imprisonment
On August 4, 2022, two years after the death of Breonna Taylor, an African American woman fatally shot in her bedroom in Louisville, Kentucky, four police officers were charged for their roles in the tragedy. Former Officer Joshua Jaynes and Current Officer Kyle Meany were charged with knowingly using false information to obtain a search warrant. Current Detective Kelly Goodlett was charged with conspiring with Jaynes to cover up the falsification. Finally, Former Detective Brett Hankinson was charged with civil rights violations for using excessive force.
On March 13, 2020, Louisville police received a “knock and announce” warrant to search Taylor’s apartment in the face of an investigation of her ex-boyfriend, Jamarcus Glover, over allegations of drug trafficking. While police claim they complied with the order, Taylor’s boyfriend Kenneth Walker, who was in the apartment with her, claims an announcement was never made. Walker, who feared an intruder had broken in, used a legally-obtained firearm to fire a single shot at Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly, who was wounded in the leg. Officers Mattingly, Cosgrove, and Hankison, all caucasian and wearing plainclothes, blindly shot 32 times in the dark. Breonna Taylor was shot six times while lying in bed. She later succumbed to her injuries. No drugs were found in the apartment.
In March of 2022, Hankinson was acquitted of three felony counts of Wanton Endangerment, which is comparable to reckless endangerment charges in other states. None of these charges were for the killing of Ms. Taylor. They pertained to the bullets that passed through the walls of Taylor’s apartment, which nearly struck a family in a neighboring apartment. The jury found no basis for conviction of the other officers involved, with Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron stating that officers “were justified in their use of force.”
Now two years later in the face of investigations conducted by the FBI and the DOJ, this narrative has turned on its head. Just before the raid of Taylor’s apartment in March of 2020, Jaynes wrote in an affidavit, which he swore to before a judge, that U.S. Postal Inspectors verified that Glover delivered packages to Taylor’s apartment. Investigators determined that Jaynes never spoke to a postal inspector; Rather, he spoke to Sgt. Mattingly, who had gotten information from Shively Police. According to Shively officers, postal inspectors said there were never packages. On August 4, 2022, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland stated that Jaynes, Meany, and Goodlett “lacked probable cause for the search," with full knowledge that Jaynes’ affidavit "contained false and misleading information and that it omitted material information." Garland also stated that Jaynes and Goodlett allegedly met two months after Taylor’s death and “conspired to mislead federal, state and local authorities" who were investigating the incident.
On August 4, 2022, The DOJ issued two indictments. The first indictment is against Jaynes, Meany, and Goodlett, including charges on the falsification of an affidavit, conspiracy to cover up the falsification, and intent to impede a criminal investigation. The second indictment is against Hankinson, charged with depriving constitutional rights to Breonna Taylor and her neighbors in using “excessive force” when firing into the apartment, using a “dangerous weapon” with “the intent to kill.” Jaynes, Meany, and Hankinson face a maximum sentence of life imprisonment for violating civil rights. The obstruction-related charges against Jaynes and Meany carry a maximum sentence of 20 years imprisonment. Meany also faces an additional 5 years in prison for false statements made to federal officers, as do Jaynes and Goodlett for conspiracy allegations. In its news release, the DOJ notes that “Actual sentences, in case of conviction, are determined by a judge.” Court dates have been set for September and October of 2022.
While Jaynes and Hankinson have already been terminated, the Louisville Metro Police Department is moving to remove Meany and Goodlett from their posts. No federal charges were filed against the officers whose rounds struck Taylor since, according to Garland, “[they] were not involved in the drafting of the warrant, and were unaware of the false and misleading statements they contained.” Former Detective Myles Cosgrove, who fired the shot that killed Taylor, was terminated last year.
Following the release of these indictments, Taylor’s family, friends, and supporters have celebrated the charges. The DOJ is continuing its “pattern-or-practice” investigation of the Louisville Metro Police Department. Garland stated that the investigation focuses on four main areas, including the presence of unreasonable force; unconstitutional searches and seizures; discrimination, especially against race; and failures to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer stated that these indictments "are a critical step forward in the process toward achieving justice for Breonna Taylor."