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Officers shouldn't have fired a 'single shot' at Breonna Taylor's home, Louisville police investigator said in report

Officers shouldn't have fired a 'single shot' at Breonna
Taylor's home, Louisville police investigator said in
report 1

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Louisville Metro Police officers at Breonna Taylor’s apartment shouldn’t have returned any gunfire because it wasn’t safe to do so, a department investigator determined in a review of the fatal shooting.

The officers had an “obligation” to only use deadly force against the person who was presenting a deadly threat, Sgt. Andrew Meyer of the department’s Professional Standards Unit found in a preliminary report dated Dec. 4.

They could not safely do that, given the layout of the hallway at Taylor’s apartment, the poor lighting, the rapid gunfire and the lack of “target isolation,” Meyer said.

Because of that, none of the seven officers who went to Taylor’s apartment to serve a search warrant shortly before 1 a.m. on March 13, 2020, should have fired their weapons, he said.

But three did. And Taylor, a 26-year-old ER technician who was unarmed, died.

“They took a total of thirty-two shots, when the provided circumstances made it unsafe to take a single shot,” Meyer wrote. “This is how the wrong person was shot and killed.” 

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Even Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly violated department policy when he returned fire, Meyer concluded. Mattingly was wounded when Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, fired one shot from his legally owned handgun, later saying he thought an intruder was breaking in.

Mattingly “should not have taken the shot” because his target, Walker, wasn’t isolated and there was a significant risk of hitting someone who didn’t pose a threat, Meyer wrote. Taylor died in her hallway after police shot her six times, with at least one round fired by Mattingly.

Meyer recommended Mattingly be found in violation of LMPD’s polices on using deadly force. His immediate superior, Lt. Jeff Artman, agreed.

“Ms. Taylor’s safety should have been considered before he (Mattingly) returned fire,” Meyer wrote.

Using open-records requests, The Louisville Courier Journal, part of the USA TODAY Network, recently obtained Meyer’s report and the entire Professional Standards Unit investigation into the narcotics case that led police to Taylor’s apartment and subsequent shooting.

The police department had previously turned over the investigative file in April but withheld large portions because they were “preliminary.”

The department reversed course and released the file in full after Mayor Greg Fischer announced the city would comply with a Kentucky Supreme Court ruling that completed investigations into employee discipline are public record.

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Higher-ups reverse recommendation

The newly released records show that despite Meyer’s recommendation, Mattingly was cleared of wrongdoing by higher-ranking police officials in the department probe into potential policy violations during the Taylor shooting.

Three officers fired their guns. Mattingly was the only officer of the three to keep his job in the aftermath of Taylor’s death. Detectives Myles Cosgrove and Brett Hankison were fired for their actions during the shooting.

Hankison also has been charged with three counts of wanton endangerment for firing into an occupied apartment next to Taylor’s unit.

Mattingly recently submitted his retirement papers, effective June 1. With more than 20 years with the department, he is eligible for his full pension.Kent Wicker, an attorney for Mattingly, declined to comment.

But Sam Aguiar, an attorney for Taylor’s family who has reviewed the investigation, questioned why Mattingly was exonerated.

“It’s problematic when you’ve got the assigned investigators that take the lead and do all the legwork on the case (and) conclude that there’s a violation of policies — and (then) the chief comes in and doesn’t accept the recommendations,” Aguiar said.

Yvette Gentry, who briefly returned to the police department last year to serve as interim chief after retiring in 2014, declined to comment because of the fired officers’ upcoming Police Merit Board appeal hearing.

Joshua Jaynes, a third officer fired in the case for false information in the search warrant obtained to search Taylor’s apartment, is appealing his termination, as are Hankison and Cosgrove, who fired the fatal shot.

Brett Hankison, Jonathan Mattingly, Myles Cosgrove and Joshua Jaynes

In a December letter to officers in the investigation outlining her findings, Gentry wrote Mattingly’s actions needed to be “examined through the lens at the time he discharged his weapon at an identified threat, at the end of a dimly lit hallway, after being shot himself.” 

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‘The threat was not shot’

By firing his handgun, Walker posed a threat to the officers in the doorway, Meyer said, and his action provided justification for the use of deadly force.

The problem was: “The person who presented the threat was not shot,” he wrote.

Taylor, who stood next to Walker in her apartment hallway, “was not once identified as being perceived to have posed a threat to anyone throughout the interviews or in examining all the evidence,” Meyer said.

He noted Mattingly told investigators he clearly saw a man holding the gun.

Attorney General Daniel Cameron, whose office acted as a special prosecutor for the case, said Sept. 23 that Cosgrove and Mattingly “were justified in their use of force after having been fired upon,” and therefore couldn’t be charged.

But in his findings, Meyer noted an omission from Cameron’s remarks.

“This statement does not address the fact that the recipient of the deadline fire was Ms. Taylor, not Mr. Walker,” he wrote.

Two anonymous members of the grand jury that ultimately charged Hankison with wanton endangerment have said they thought additional officers should have faced charges in Taylor’s death.

One described an “uproar” when the special prosecutor said Hankison’s wanton endangerment charges for endangering Taylor’s neighbors were the only ones for consideration. Cameron has said the grand jurors had the “right and power to ask for more evidence, and ultimately to bring any charge it deemed appropriate.”

Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron speaks during a press conference in Frankfort on Wednesday, September 23, 2020, on the results of his office's examination of the Breonna Taylor shooting case.

A disagreement over policy

LMPD policy allows deadly use of force when the “person against whom the force is used poses an immediate threat of death or serious injury,” Meyer noted.

Meyer’s interpretation of the policy made him determine: “The force must be used on the specific person described as posing an immediate threat of death or serious injury to the officer or another person.”

“The words of this policy do not allow deviation or excuse regardless of reasoning or circumstance,” he added.

Artman, Meyer’s superior, also recommended Mattingly be found in violation of LMPD’s policy on using deadly force, records show. 

Artman wrote in a memo to his boss, Maj. Jamey Schwab, the commander of the special investigations division, that Mattingly violated policy because he shot Taylor and had no “reasonable belief” she posed an immediate threat of death or serious injury.

But Schwab, the special investigations commander, disagreed with Meyer and Artman, finding LMPD’s policy did allow for the consideration of who Mattingly intended to shoot.

“The conscious effort to use force against Walker (who was the intended target) makes him the person ‘against whom force is used’ for the purposes of” standard operating procedure, Schwab wrote, contradicting Meyer’s interpretation.

He wrote in a memo there was not enough evidence to find Mattingly in violation of use of deadly force policies, adding “micro-seconds can significantly change outcomes between when a trigger is squeezed at a target and a bullet reaches its final position.”

Interim chief Gentry agreed with Schwab, writing in her Dec. 27 letter to officers Mattingly’s actions should be viewed based on his understanding at the time, “after being shot himself.” 

In the letter, she noted Mattingly identified an armed man and a woman at the end of the hall, and the sergeant fired “at the aggressor he identified.”

Interim chief Yvette Gentry listens as former Atlanta police chief, Erika Shields, is named new Louisville Police Chief on Wednesday, January 6, 2021.

Therefore, Mattingly’s actions included identification of a threat and use of force against that target, she wrote. 

And she noted police policies are “precarious” because the “intentionality of police use of force is neither included nor discounted” — meaning, LMPD’s policy doesn’t dictate that the officer’s intention must be considered, but it doesn’t prevent it.

If Mattingly’s intended target was Walker, who was armed, then the policy ought to be applied to that, Gentry concluded.

Gentry’s letter to officers, laying out her “preliminary findings,” was not initially included in the investigative file the department released. It was turned over to The Courier Journal after reporters asked why it was not included. A spokeswoman said the omission was “due to an oversight.”

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Second recommendation also overruled

Lt. Hoover, the ranking officer on-scene at Taylor’s apartment, also was exonerated of wrongdoing by Gentry.

But, like with Mattingly, Meyer made a different recommendation. 

Meyer found that after Taylor was shot, Hoover had a responsibility to maintain the crime scene, gather information from the officers, start a preliminary investigation and assign the detectives involved “escort” or “peer support” officers.

That largely didn’t happen.

Instead, Hankison and Cosgrove stayed at the scene performing law enforcement activities, with Hankison entering the apartment crime scene to ask questions about evidence and later leaving the scene to visit the hospital where Mattingly was being treated. 

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Hoover told investigators he didn’t realize until later Hankison and Cosgrove had returned fire because he was so involved in getting Mattingly to safety and getting him medical attention after the sergeant had been shot. 

Meyer found, however, Hoover could have known that information “if he fulfilled the responsibility of gathering basic information from the officers involved and started a preliminary investigation.”

Failing to gather that information and assigning escort officers to Hankison and Cosgrove “created a circumstance which could have compromised the integrity of the crime scene and the processing of evidence from the involved officers,” Meyer wrote.

Artman, Schwab and Gentry, however, disagreed and recommended clearing Hoover because he was focused on caring for Mattingly, who was bleeding from his femoral artery and was rushed into emergency surgery.

Schwab and Gentry reasoned, “it was likely not practical for him to switch from life-saving measures to immediately taking charge of the scene.”

Follow Darcy Costello on Twitter: @dctello. Follow Tessa Duvall on Twitter: @tessaduvall.

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