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22 Oct 2020 20:15
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  •   Home > News > Law and Order

    Breonna Taylor shooting sees former police officer Brett Hankison charged with wanton endangerment of her neighbours

    The former Louisville police officer indicted in relation to the Breonna Taylor shooting has been charged with wantonly endangering the lives of Breonna Taylor's neighbours, but not Breonna Taylor herself.

    More than six months after Breonna Taylor was shot dead, one of the police involved has been charged, but not for killing the 26-year-old.

    Of the three officers who opened fire in the incident back in March, Sergeant Jonathan Mattingly and Detective Myles Cosgrove were suspended by the Louisville Metro Police Department (LMPD), while Detective Brett Hankison was fired in June.

    Mr Hankison has now been charged with wanton endangerment after a grand jury investigation, while the two other officers weren't indicted.

    The death of Ms Taylor, an ambulance technician in Louisville, became a flashpoint for protests against racial injustice around the United States and the world.

    Here's what we know about her death and the case.

    What do we know about the night Breonna Taylor died?

    At 12:40am on March 13 in Louisville, Kentucky, police executed a search warrant at Ms Taylor's apartment related to a drug investigation.

    According a report by the Louisville Metro Police Department (LMPD), her former relationship with convicted drug dealer Jamarcus Glover led police to suspect her home was used in the drug trade, a claim which Glover denies.

    On the night of the shooting, Ms Taylor was in the apartment with boyfriend Kenneth Walker, who said the pair were asleep when police arrived.

    Kentucky Attorney-General Daniel Cameron said police knocked and announced themselves at the apartment, which he said was backed up by an independent witness.

    This is at odds with the ongoing claim by Mr Walker, a licensed gun owner, who said they did not make clear they were police before coming into the apartment (aka a 'no-knock' warrant).

    Mr Cameron said when no-one answered, police decided to breach the door with a battering ram.

    According to the findings of the grand jury, Sergeant Mattingly was the only officer who entered the apartment.

    He said he saw Mr Walker and Ms Taylor standing together at the end of a hallway, and that Mr Walker fired a shot that hit Sergeant Mattingly in the thigh, prompting police to return fire.

    Despite claims Sergeant Mattingly could have been hit by a stray bullet from his colleagues' 40-calibre guns, Mr Cameron said he was actually hit by a 9mm bullet.

    Sergeant Mattingly fired six shots, Mr Hankison fired 10 from outside the apartment and Detective Cosgrove fired 16 from the doorway.

    One of Detective Cosgrove's shots was fatal for Ms Taylor, according to the FBI crime lab.

    She died within minutes. No drugs were found in the apartment.

    Why was only one of the three officers charged?

    While the FBI said Detective Cosgrove fired the fatal shot, ballistics analysis by the Kentucky State Police couldn't identify whose bullet killed Ms Taylor.

    The Attorney-General said because both agencies used similar techniques, but only one made a call as to who fired the fatal shot, there was reasonable doubt about who was responsible for her death.

    The grand jury found the officers were justified in their use of force to protect themselves from Mr Walker.

    "Our investigation showed, and the grand jury agreed, that Mattingly and Cosgrove were justified in their return of deadly fire after having been fired upon by Kenneth Walker," Mr Cameron said.

    "This justification bars us from pursuing criminal charges in Ms Breonna Taylor's death."

    The Attorney-General said there was "no conclusive evidence" that any of Mr Hankison's bullets hit Ms Taylor.

    So what is wanton endangerment?

    Wanton endangerment is a class D felony with a maximum jail term of five years.

    In Kentucky, where Ms Taylor was killed, it is defined as:

    "A person is guilty of wanton endangerment in the first degree when, under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life, he wantonly engages in conduct which creates a substantial danger of death or serious physical injury to another person."

    What is Brett Hankison accused of doing?

    Mr Hankison is not accused of wantonly endangering Ms Taylor's life, but the lives of her neighbours.

    An LMPD investigation in June said he "wantonly and blindly fired" into Ms Taylor's apartment, with some of his bullets going into the apartment next door.

    Mr Hankison fired his bullets through a door and window, which the LMPD statement said was covered by a material "that completely prevented [him] from verifying any person as an immediate threat and more importantly any innocent persons present".

    Because there were three people in the neighbouring apartment — a man, a pregnant woman and a child — Mr Hankison was charged with three counts of wanton endangerment, meaning he faces a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison.

    What was the reaction to the charges?

    Civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who is also involved in Jacob Blake's case in Milwaukee, said "the grand jury's decision is outrageous and offensive".

    "It's yet another example of no accountability for the genocide of persons of colour by white police officers," he wrote on Twitter.

    "With all we know about Breonna Taylor's killing, how could a fair and just system result in today's decision?

    "If Hankison's behaviour constituted wanton endangerment of the people in the apartments next to hers, then it should also be considered wanton endangerment of Breonna."

    On the streets of Louisville, supporters of Black Lives Matter cried as news of the charges came through and protesters started marching and chanting: "No justice, no peace."

    Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear authorised a "limited" deployment of the National Guard to handle the protests.

    © 2020 ABC Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved

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