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Louisville Officer Who Shot Breonna Taylor Will Be Fired


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Detective Myles Cosgrove will be terminated along with Detective Joshua Jaynes, who was involved in planning the deadly raid.

Demonstrators in Louisville, Ky., have called for more officers to be fired and charged following the death of Breonna Taylor, who was killed by the police. Demonstrators in Louisville, Ky., have called for more officers to be fired and charged following the death of Breonna Taylor, who was killed by the police.Credit…Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

  • Dec. 29, 2020

The Louisville police officer who fired the shot that killed Breonna Taylor, a Black emergency room technician whose death set off a wave of protests on American streets, was told on Tuesday that the department was moving to oust him from the force, as was a second officer who obtained a judge’s approval for the poorly planned nighttime raid on her home.

The move is the most significant acknowledgment by the department that its officers had committed serious violations when they burst through Ms. Taylor’s door late one night in March, encountered gunfire, and then fired a volley of shots at her and her boyfriend. The terminations mark an effort by the city’s interim police chief, Yvette Gentry, to achieve the reckoning she promised when she came out of retirement to lead the troubled department into the beginning of the new year.

Lawyers for Detective Myles Cosgrove, one of the officers who shot Ms. Taylor, and Detective Joshua Jaynes, who prepared the search warrant for the raid, said each had received notices of termination. Both have been on administrative reassignment as the investigations have been underway.

Until now, the only officer held accountable in the case had been Brett Hankison, a detective, who was fired in June for violating the department’s deadly force policy by shooting off 10 rounds from outside the apartment through two of Ms. Taylor’s windows. He was indicted by a grand jury in September on three counts of wanton endangerment because shots he fired entered a neighboring apartment.







None of the police officers who raided Breonna Taylor’s home wore body cameras, impeding the public from a full understanding of what happened. The Times’s visual investigation team built a 3-D model of the scene and pieced together critical sequences of events to show how poor planning and shoddy police work led to a fatal outcome.

“Do not walk by yourself. This is our city. This is our town.” For months in Kentucky, residents outraged by the killing of Breonna Taylor campaigned for the police officers who shot her to face charges. [bell tolls] “Commonwealth of Kentucky v. Brett Hankison.” In September, a grand jury investigation indicted one officer for shooting into a neighboring apartment and no one for killing Taylor. “Is that the decision of the grand jury? I will grant the motion and assign bond in the amount of $15,000 full cash and issue a warrant.” “Is that it?” “Is that the only charge?” “What about the other two?” “It can’t be it. This can’t be it.” “No one has been held accountable. This is injustice, and this is a start clock for the next level of our protest.” “Say her name.” “Breonna Taylor.” What happened in the final minutes of Breonna Taylor’s life? A full telling of that story has been impeded because none of the seven police officers who raided her apartment used body cameras, a violation of police policy. But, with the recent release of thousands of documents and images collected during three investigations, The Times initiated a fresh examination of the case. We used crime scene photos to create a precise model of Taylor’s apartment. We forensically mapped out and retraced the first bullet, fired by Taylor’s boyfriend, and the 32 bullets that police shot in return — through windows, walls and ceilings. Using interviews officers gave to investigators, we charted their movements as they carried out the raid. And we analyzed hours of 911 calls, grand jury proceedings and footage by the SWAT team that arrived after the shooting. “Ma’am, can you hear us?” Members of the grand jury have accused Kentucky’s attorney general, Daniel Cameron, of shielding the officers involved from homicide charges. “Our investigation found that Mattingly and Cosgrove were justified in their use of force.” “Boom. Boom, boom, boom, boom.” Sergeant Mattingly may have been justified in returning fire when he’s fired upon, but our new analysis paints a more complicated picture about how this raid was compromised from beginning to end. We’ll outline the flawed intelligence and tactical mistakes of a hodgepodge team of officers, their failure to properly announce their presence at Taylor’s, the chaos and excessive use of force that ensued. “There’s another hole right below the clock.” And we’ll explore the damning analysis of an experienced SWAT commander who was called to the scene after the shooting. “We just got the feeling that night that something really bad happened.” The focus of the police investigation on March 13 is not Taylor’s apartment, but properties 10 miles away in West Louisville — — where dozens of SWAT and police officers arrest an ex-boyfriend of Taylor’s and his associates, and seize evidence, including drugs. These officers are wearing their body cameras, and they carry out the raid safely and without incident. What the SWAT team doesn’t know is that at this time a hastily assembled team of narcotics officers is about to raid Taylor’s home across town. They suspect her ex-boyfriend keeps cash or drugs there, but their intel is poor. They don’t know she has a new boyfriend, and they think she lives alone. When seven officers begin the raid at 12:40 a.m., they notice the lights are off except for the flicker of a TV in a bedroom — — suggesting they know where Taylor is. In less than three minutes, she would be fatally shot. Inside, Taylor had dozed off while watching a movie with her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker. Adjacent is the bedroom of Taylor’s sister, but she’s not home. A hallway from the bedrooms leads to a living area, and the apartment’s entrance is in this breezeway. The only light is this lamp opposite her door, where now the police begin to stack. In this reconstruction, we hear the official testimonies given by the two officers nearest the door, Mattingly and Nobles; Cosgrove, who’s providing cover; and Hoover and Hankison beside them. And we’ll hear from neighbors and Kenneth Walker, who was interviewed by police right after the shooting. Just as Mattingly begins to knock, a man emerges from the apartment directly above. He doesn’t live there but is picking up his child after finishing work. A squabble with Detective Brett Hankison ensues, and already the team seems on edge. The man retreats inside. The police are supposed to be conducting a knock-and-announce raid, but that’s not what Mattingly says happens at first. Inside, Taylor wakes up. Whether the police announce themselves clearly enough is a critical issue in this story that we’ll return to later on. Not knowing who’s at the door this late, Walker grabs his licensed handgun. They rush to get dressed and walk toward the door. Outside, some of the police do hear Taylor. But after knocking and waiting for around 45 seconds, they decided they’ve given her enough time to respond and ram the door open. We’ll show here what the police and Walker describe seeing next. The officers now make a tactical mistake. Mattingly steps into the doorway and puts himself in what police describe as the fatal funnel, a position vulnerable to gunfire and hard to move from. The apartment is lit only by the breezeway light that’s coming from behind Mattingly, and the faint glare of the TV in Taylor’s bedroom. Thinking it’s an intruder, Walker aims low, shoots once and hits Mattingly in the thigh. Mattingly immediately returns fire. Mattingly fires two more rounds when he falls, and takes cover. Almost at the same time, Cosgrove moves in and fires, stepping on Mattingly in the process. He has now also put himself in the fatal funnel, and although he’s shooting, he appears to have no idea what’s happening. He continues shooting blindly until he runs out of ammunition, a total of 16 rounds. In response to Walker’s shot, Mattingly and Cosgrove together fire four shots into a chair, cupboards, and the stove in the kitchen. Two bullets go into the ceiling and pass through the living room in the apartment above, where the man, his 2-year-old daughter and babysitter waited. Three more shots go into the living room wall to the right, and the officers fired 13 rounds down the hallway where Taylor and Walker stood. Taylor is shot six times on both sides of her body, in the abdomen and chest, her arm and leg, and twice in her foot. In all, these two officers fire 22 rounds in less than a minute. An F.B.I. ballistics report found that both of them shot Taylor, and that one of the 16 rounds Cosgrove fired was the lethal bullet. Thinking they’re under attack, some of the officers flee when they hear a pause in shooting. We don’t know the precise sequence of events, but Detective Hankison runs to the front. But the only ones shooting are police. Even though all the curtains are drawn, Hankison blindly fires five bullets through the patio windows. He moves and fires five more rounds through the bedroom window of Taylor’s sister, who isn’t home. Two bullets fly over Walker and Taylor, but none hits them. The bullets that go into the living area pass over Taylor’s sofa and kitchen table and smash her clock. Three penetrate the wall and enter her neighbor’s apartment. Those bullets also smash the kitchen table, hit a wall and shatter the patio doors at the rear. A pregnant woman, her son and partner were home. Hankison has been charged with wantonly endangering their lives. In total, the police fire 32 bullets, penetrating almost every room in Taylor’s apartment. They hit saucepans, cereal boxes and smash into her shower. They puncture shoes, shatter cleaning equipment and land in her sister’s clothing. And, three minutes after police came to search her home, a fatally wounded Taylor is lying on the ground. Months later, when Attorney General Daniel Cameron presented the charges against Hankison and said that Mattingly and Cosgrove’s actions were justified, he emphasized that police did properly announce themselves. “Evidence shows that officers both knocked and announced their presence at the apartment.” But, actually, the evidence is far from clear. In 911 calls immediately after the shooting, Taylor’s neighbors don’t know police are carrying out a raid. And in statements police took afterwards, none of Taylor’s neighbors heard the officers announce. This apartment’s patio door was open. Two teenagers in this apartment heard a commotion, but didn’t hear police announce through their open window, their mom said. And the family who lived directly above Taylor also heard nothing. In their statements and in interviews with The Times, over a dozen neighbors say they did not hear the police. Attorney General Cameron’s assertion rests on the accounts of police officers and a single witness, Aaron Sarpee, the man collecting his daughter that night and who saw the police when he came outside. In his first interview with investigators, Sarpee was asked what he heard when he went back inside. Months later, he told police his memory was foggy, but that he thought officers did announce. And beyond what the police said, this critical grand jury conclusion rested on his entirely inconsistent account. After the raid, the scene outside is chaos. Officers tend to Mattingly, but an ambulance that had been staging nearby is nowhere to be found. They radio the SWAT officers across town — — who are surprised by the call. They head for Taylor’s address. As SWAT arrives, close to 40 police vehicles are already at the scene. Around this time, Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, is being arrested. Walker had called 911 and neighbors had heard his pleas for help. But at 1 a.m., almost 20 minutes after the shooting, the police still don’t know Taylor is critically injured inside. As Walker is being led out, SWAT gets ready to secure the apartment. Only now, half an hour after the raid began, does an E.M.T. finally check Taylor. And later, as two officers stand guard, they take in the scene. They see Taylor’s uniform. She worked as an emergency room technician in city hospitals. They note the bullet holes. Outside, the SWAT officers debrief on what they’ve seen. The SWAT commander who was called to Taylor’s home after the raid was later interviewed by investigators. “We just got the feeling that night that something really bad happened.” Dale Massey, a 20-year police veteran, was highly critical of what unfolded. He said there was no coordination with SWAT. “We had no idea they were going to be at that apartment that night. I would’ve advised them 100 percent not to do it.” And that executing another warrant at the same time may have compromised Taylor’s safety. “We treat safety, very important, right. So, like, simultaneous warrants — bad business.” Narcotics officers testified that they didn’t know Taylor had a new boyfriend, that her sister lived there or that her 2-year-old goddaughter regularly stayed. Massey said the department had a history of poor intelligence gathering. “Back in the day, we would take a lot of detective information and take it as golden. Not anymore. Because so often, there’s no kids, there’s no dog, we’re told. There’s kids and dogs. So we have an exhaustive recon process that we go through.” He said standing in the doorway, the fatal funnel, as Mattingly and Cosgrove had, was a tactical mistake. “Is it practical or is it even common for three people to be in what we consider the fatal funnel?” “Absolutely not. No. You never put, you know, yourself in that situation.” And that there’s a right way and a wrong way to conduct a raid. You knock, announce and give people ample time to leave. “We’re not going to rush in to get dope. We’re not going to treat — human life’s more important than any amount of dope, right?” And, just to be clear, no drugs were ever found at Taylor’s. His harshest criticism was of Hankison’s blind shots into the apartment. “You have to know A, what you’re shooting at, B, what’s in front of it, and B, what’s behind it. There’s no other way you can operate. It was just an egregious act.” Under Kentucky law, Kenneth Walker had a right to stand his ground against what he believed was an aggressor. And the police, in turn, have a right to self-defense. But in this analysis, the killing of Breonna Taylor resulted from poor planning compounded by reckless execution. Louisville has instituted police reforms, and Taylor’s family received a substantial settlement, but the case isn’t closed. Investigations and lawsuits are ongoing. And nine months after Taylor was killed, her family is seeking a fresh inquiry into the officers involved.

Video player loading None of the police officers who raided Breonna Taylor’s home wore body cameras, impeding the public from a full understanding of what happened. The Times’s visual investigation team built a 3-D model of the scene and pieced together critical sequences of events to show how poor planning and shoddy police work led to a fatal outcome.

The killing of Ms. Taylor, which rose to national attention around the time of the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May, helped fuel protests from Portland, Ore., to New York that called on cities to divert money from their police departments.

Each development in the case seemed to bring more outrage, from the fact that none of the officers had been wearing body cameras to the announcement in September that only Mr. Hankison — and neither of the two officers who shot her — would be charged. The anger persisted even after the protests over Mr. Floyd’s death subsided, as protesters asked who was safe from the police if officers could kill a promising young woman in her own home and remain on the payroll.

As the months dragged on, the city’s inaction came to be seen by many in Louisville as representative of a culture of impunity, and a message that there were few consequences for police officers who killed Black residents.

Mayor Greg Fischer, a Democrat, resisted calls to fire the previous police chief until June, when a popular restaurant owner was shot and killed as police officers and National Guardsmen attempted to disperse public demonstrations over Ms. Taylor’s death.

But when Chief Gentry, who retired in 2015, took over as interim chief, she promised a different approach.

“She did the heavy lifting that many men before her — many chiefs — have been unable to do,” said Jessica Green, the chairwoman of the City Council’s public safety committee. She said she expected that more officers would be disciplined.

Chief Gentry, who is Black, has been clear that she is not interested in a permanent appointment, and her time as interim chief is soon coming to a close. Mr. Fischer is expected to announce a permanent chief early in 2021, but he has kept the search under wraps. Whoever takes the job will face a mountainous challenge. When the city asked residents what qualities they wanted from a police chief, nearly a quarter of respondents urged the city to “defund the police.”

Ms. Taylor’s family and activists have demanded criminal charges, a decision that now rests with the F.B.I., whose agents are reviewing the case for possible federal crimes, such as civil rights violations.

The Justice Department, which oversees the F.B.I., has scaled back its oversight of local police forces under President Trump, and on Tuesday, the department announced it was not bringing any charges after a yearslong investigation into the police killing of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old Black boy in Cleveland who was shot while holding a pellet gun. President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. has condemned Ms. Taylor’s killing but said little about the decision not to file charges against any other officers.

ImageDetective Myles Cosgrove, left, who the F.B.I. said fired the shot that killed Ms. Taylor, and Detective Joshua Jaynes, who prepared the search warrant. Detective Myles Cosgrove, left, who the F.B.I. said fired the shot that killed Ms. Taylor, and Detective Joshua Jaynes, who prepared the search warrant.Credit…Louisville Metropolitan Police Department

The March 13 raid, in which Louisville officers were searching for evidence in a drug case, was compromised by poor planning and reckless execution, a New York Times review of witness accounts, video footage and officer statements showed. For nearly 30 minutes after Ms. Taylor was shot, she received no medical care.

Police officers said they knocked loudly on her door and repeatedly announced themselves, though most of the neighbors said they did not hear them do so. Ms. Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, said he and Ms. Taylor had been in her bedroom and were terrified by the noise; after the officers knocked the door off its hinges and entered the apartment, Mr. Walker fired a shot toward the door, striking one of the officers in the leg.

Detective Cosgrove, a 15-year veteran of the department, shot Ms. Taylor at least three times, killing her, according to an F.B.I. ballistics analysis. He was the second person to enter Ms. Taylor’s apartment and fired 16 rounds down the hallway, according to the analysis.

Detective Jaynes, who did not take part in the raid, had been assigned to a unit formed shortly before the operation that was designed to focus on micro-locations plagued by violent crime. After analyzing crime statistics, the unit focused its attention on a street of derelict and abandoned houses in West Louisville, where Ms. Taylor’s former boyfriend was suspected of operating a series of trap houses.

At issue in the accusations against Detective Jaynes is the search warrant affidavit for Ms. Taylor’s apartment that asserted that the police had spoken with the U.S. Postal Service and verified that parcels intended for Ms. Taylor’s ex-boyfriend had been delivered to her apartment. Chief Gentry said Detective Jaynes had been misleading because he had actually gotten the information not from the Postal Service, but from another police officer.

“Having an independent, third party verify information is powerful and compelling information,” Chief Gentry wrote in the letter to Detective Jaynes, a copy of which was reviewed by The Times. “The inclusion of this in the affidavit as a direct verification was deceptive.”

Thomas Clay, the detective’s lawyer, said his client had never lied in getting the search warrant to search Ms. Taylor’s apartment.

“They have basically tried to throw him under the bus and he’s not going to fit under the bus because he did nothing wrong,” Mr. Clay said. Detective Jaynes will have an opportunity to respond to the chief’s claims at a department hearing on Thursday, according to the letter. A lawyer for Detective Cosgrove, Jarrod Beck, declined to comment beyond confirming that his client had also received a termination letter.

Ms. Taylor’s family claimed that no drugs or proceeds of drug trafficking were found at her apartment. The police department counters that it never conducted a full search, calling it off once the shooting occurred. In a series of recorded jailhouse calls in the hours after her death, Ms. Taylor’s ex-boyfriend told another woman that he had left thousands of dollars with Ms. Taylor.

Grand jurors declined to pursue charges against Detective Cosgrove or Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly, the officer shot in the leg who also shot Ms. Taylor. Their decision led to raucous protests in which two Louisville police officers were shot.

Several grand jurors have since said that prosecutors did not ask them to consider homicide charges, and protesters have expressed anger at Daniel Cameron, the Republican attorney general who oversaw the proceedings. But legal analysts have said that the officers could be seen to have been acting in self-defense because Mr. Walker fired the first shot.

About 15 hours of audio recordings of the grand jury proceedings were released in October, which included conflicting accounts over whether the police outside Ms. Taylor’s door had identified themselves.

Beyond the assertions of the officers, the only support for the grand jury’s conclusion that they had done so was the account of one witness who had given inconsistent statements.

When the grand jury asked a detective who worked in the attorney general’s office if there had been any formal plan for the raid, he responded that he was not aware of one, except for a whiteboard that had a list of raid targets and the officers assigned to each.

Following the raid, Louisville officials banned the use of no-knock warrants, which allow the police to forcibly enter people’s homes to search them without warning. In the raid of Ms. Taylor’s apartment, officers had received court approval for a no-knock entry, but the orders were changed before the operation to require them to identify themselves.

Ms. Taylor’s family and supporters have called for punishment and criminal charges against all the officers who had a hand in her death. In September, Louisville officials agreed to pay $12 million and institute reforms in order to settle a wrongful-death lawsuit filed by Ms. Taylor’s mother, Tamika Palmer.

Chief Gentry’s move to terminate the officers was celebrated by many activists on Tuesday, even as they said that more reforms must follow.

“There was really no way for our community to begin to heal without something being done with the officers involved,” said Sadiqa Reynolds, who leads the Louisville Urban League, adding, “It takes courage to come in behind these white men who said they couldn’t do anything and to do something.”

Reporting was contributed by Rukmini Callimachi, Malachy Browne, Will Wright and Austyn Gaffney.

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