Politics & Policy

A Just Decision Not to File Homicide Charges in the Tragic Breonna Taylor Case

People hold placards during a march in Brooklyn, N.Y., following the announcement of an indictment in the Breonna Taylor case, September 23, 2020. (Jeenah Moon/Reuters)
One former cop charged with endangerment, as the mob touts brutality narrative in lieu of looking at the evidence.

The criminal law is not designed to address every human tragedy. That is the lesson of the tragic death of Breonna Taylor. It was also the theme repeatedly struck by Kentucky attorney general Daniel Cameron on Wednesday, in announcing the indictment of one of the three officers involved in the raid that lead to her death.

The charge will not satisfy the mob. Neither the peaceful protesters nor the radical rioters, who have taken to the streets since shortly after Ms. Taylor was killed on March 13, are interested in the facts of the case. They could not care less how the law applies to the evidence a Lexington grand jury pored over this week. Their interest is only to set in stone a distorted narrative: Police officers on the hunt for a young black man, callously gunned down an innocent young black woman after supposedly crashing into an apartment without warning.

In light of that, the indictment will just fuel the mob’s outrage. The two officers who actually shot Ms. Taylor a total of six times were not charged. The indictment, instead, lodges three counts of wanton endangerment — not homicide — against Brett Hankison, then a detective (since fired), whose wild firing put neighbors in harm’s way but did not kill the young woman.

Police will be relieved that no charges were brought against Sergeant Jon Mattingly and Detective Myles Cosgrove, whose shots in the dark chaos struck Ms. Taylor only after the officers were fired upon by her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker — who himself may have been justified, in the confusion, in shooting at what he says he believed was an intruder. The cops were doing their job in executing a lawful search warrant at a location that was quite justifiably tied to a notorious criminal — Ms. Taylor’s former boyfriend, Jamarcus Glover.

In similar cases around the country over the last several years, prosecutors have prioritized the mob over the evidence. To his great credit, Attorney General Cameron did not. As an African-American law enforcement official who has dealt extensively with the Taylor family, the strain of the case on him and his office was obvious at his press conference, and he spoke eloquently about that. No one can quarrel with the grand jury’s conclusion that Hankison deserved to be charged because of his life-threatening recklessness. In another case, since he did not actually injure anyone, the state might have been content with firing Hankison. But the enormity of Ms. Taylor’s death made such leniency impossible to rationalize.

So the attorney general filed charges . . . but there is rioting anyway.

Much of what we’ve been told about the case turns out not to be true — another “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” urban legend of police brutality. Most prominently, Attorney General Cameron explained that the police did not execute a “no knock” warrant before entering Ms. Taylor’s apartment. They knocked and announced themselves as police before forcing entry shortly after midnight.

How they came to be at Ms. Taylor’s home, with a search warrant based on probable cause that evidence of narcotics crimes would be found, is the part of the story the social-justice warriors would have us omit. It needs telling.

When she was killed, Breonna Taylor was 26, a hospital emergency-room technician who hoped to become a nurse. But over the years, she had gotten involved with Glover, a 30-year-old twice-convicted drug dealer. Though she was never a targeted suspect, the New York Times reports that Ms. Taylor was entangled in the frequent police investigations of Glover. Taylor remained romantically involved with him though he had spent years in prison.

In fact, after they first became a couple in 2016, Taylor agreed to rent a car for Glover and, for her trouble, ended up interviewed in a murder investigation. A man was found shot to death behind the steering wheel of that car, and drugs were found in it. Glover was connected to the decedent through an associate but was not charged in the case.

In the years that followed, Glover was repeatedly arrested on drug charges, and Taylor arranged bail for him and one of his confederates on at least two occasions. Weeks before the fateful March 2020 raid, when Glover was in custody after yet another arrest, they were recorded exchanging intimacies on the phone. After that, police surveillance established that Glover continued to make regular trips to Taylor’s apartment, and Taylor herself was seen outside a house investigators say was part of the drug trafficking operations.

Glover and his coconspirators were said to be operating a series of “trap houses” for stashing illegal drugs — crack, marijuana, and prescription pills they were unauthorized to peddle. At the time of Glover’s arrest in late 2019, police observed narcotics pick-ups, had informant information describing crack sales, and executed search warrants that yielded crack, eight guns, and a surveillance system — commonly used by drug distribution organizations to defeat police detection.

After Glover was released on bail, surveillance placed his car at Ms. Taylor’s home, ten miles away, on six occasions over the next couple of months. Taylor’s car was seen in the vicinity of a trap house associated with Glover several times, and the Times reports she was photographed in front of that location in mid-February. Police also had evidence that Glover used Taylor’s address to receive parcels sent by mail. He was seen leaving her apartment carrying a package in mid-January. As of late February — just two weeks before the warrant was executed — Glover was listing her apartment as his home address according to various databases.

On the night police executed the warrant at Ms. Taylor’s apartment, they searched other locations associated with Glover’s drug operation. The Times recounts that police “found a table covered in drugs packaged for sale, including a plastic sachet containing cocaine and fentanyl.” Moreover, the paper adds:

In a series of calls hours after her death, as Mr. Glover tried to make bail, he told another woman that he had left about $14,000 with Ms. Taylor. “Bre been having all my money,” he claimed. The same afternoon, he also told an associate he had left money at Ms. Taylor’s home.

The lawyer for the Taylor family says no drugs or cash were found in Taylor’s apartment that night. A county prosecutor counters that the shootings curtailed the search. If that is true, it is irregular: The fact that a civilian was killed and a police officer wounded would argue for doing an even more thorough search than usual, not calling it off.

In any event, the Taylor family maintains that Breonna’s romantic relationship with Glover was then over, and she was deeply involved with her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker. They had met years earlier, when they were college students. He used to work at a Coca-Cola warehouse, and she had seen him on and off over the years, including while she was involved with Glover.

On March 13, after working, she met Walker for dinner, and they returned to her apartment, where they watched television and she went to sleep after midnight.

At about 12:40 a.m., the police, led by Mattingly and Cosgrove, knocked on the door and announced themselves as police. Taylor and Walker were startled out of their sleep. Walker, a licensed owner of a nine-millimeter Glock, says he did not know it was the police at the door and speculated that it might be Glover breaking in. For their part, the police expected that Ms. Taylor would be alone — they had not seen Walker enter the dwelling with her.

It was dark and there was a long hallway between the bedroom and the front door. There was screaming. Walker fired as Mattingly came through the door, striking him in the leg and severely wounding him. Mattingly and Cosgrove returned fire into the hallway in the general direction of where they believed the shooter was. When the smoke cleared, Walker was unharmed but Taylor had been struck six times. FBI ballistics experts eventually determined that Cosgrove fired the fatal shot.

Meantime, Hankison, who was in the parking lot outside the apartment, began firing when the commotion he could not have seen began. He sprayed the patio and a window with ten bullets — irresponsibly, to be sure, but fortunately without harming anyone. Hankison, who had a spotty disciplinary record in almost 20 years as a cop, was terminated when police officials judged that his conduct during the raid shocked the conscience.

And now he has been charged, which seems appropriate. What the mob wants, though, is murder charges against the two cops who shot Ms. Taylor. There is no conceivable legal justification for that. The police were properly executing a lawful warrant. There appears to have been more than adequate probable cause for the search in light of Glover’s ties to the apartment. Even if there were any doubt about that, the warrant had been duly authorized and therefore police were entitled to rely on it. And they were fired upon before reasonably responding with lethal force.

What happened to Breonna Taylor was a calamity. That is why the city of Louisville just paid $12 million dollars to settle the wrongful death lawsuit her family filed, rather than trying to fight it. Obviously, the money cannot bring her back to life, and will never be adequate compensation for her loved ones’ loss. But that could also have been said for the politicized filing of unprovable homicide charges. The legal system can only do the best it can; it cannot fully compensate for tragic loss, and its criminal processes are not equipped to address catastrophes that are not crimes.

The state of Kentucky was right not to opt for mob justice. Unfortunately, the mob has a different conception of “justice,” and it is ripping the country apart.

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