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Former officer involved in Breonna Taylor killing pleads not guilty to wanton endangerment

Breonna Taylor's family and supporters delivered emotional pleas for justice two days after no officer was directly charged for her fatal shooting in March. (Video: The Washington Post)

A former Louisville police officer involved in the death of Breonna Taylor pleaded not guilty on Monday to charges that he recklessly fired into a neighboring apartment during the fatal drug raid.

At an arraignment via audio conference call, an attorney for Brett Hankison entered not guilty pleas on his behalf to three charges of wanton endangerment stemming from the fatal shooting of Taylor in her apartment on March 13.

Jefferson County Circuit Judge Ann Bailey Smith set Hankison’s bail at $15,000, with the conditions that he attend his court appearances and not possess any firearms. Hankison was already booked into a Kentucky jail last week and released after posting bail, according to the Shelby County Detention Center.

Hankison’s attorney, Stew Mathews, asked Smith to let Hankison keep any guns that he possesses because he has received “a number of threats.” Smith denied the request, saying she does not allow defendants facing firearms charges to possess weapons.

Hankison spoke only once during the proceedings, to identify himself.

The judge ordered that a recording of the grand jury proceedings in the case be added to the court file by noon on Wednesday, and she scheduled Hankison’s next court date for Oct. 28.

Hankison, who was fired in June, was charged last week with allegedly shooting recklessly into a neighboring apartment, endangering a man, pregnant woman and child. Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron (R) said there was no conclusive indication that any of Hankison’s bullets had hit Taylor, who was struck six times.

Kentucky law defines wanton endangerment, a felony punishable by up to five years in prison, as occurring when someone “wantonly engages in conduct which creates a substantial danger of death or serious physical injury to another person.”

Officer Brett Hankison charged with wanton endangerment; two officers shot during protests

Cameron’s announcement ended the state’s formal probe into Taylor’s killing, which has inflamed racial tensions nationwide and been a driving force behind the Black Lives Matter movement. Neither of the two officers whose bullets struck Taylor was charged in her death; racial justice protesters are demanding more information about the information presented to the grand jury.

Cameron said Louisville police officers Myles Cosgrove and Jonathan Mattingly were justified in firing the shots that struck Taylor, 26, after her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, fired one shot first. Walker has said he thought the officers were intruders.

Although police obtained a “no-knock” search warrant, Cameron said a witness told investigators that officers announced themselves before breaking in the door to Taylor’s apartment with a battering ram. Walker maintains that he did not hear police identify themselves, and nearly a dozen neighbors told the New York Times they also did not hear officers announce their presence.

Mattingly was the only officer who entered Taylor’s home on the night she died, Cameron said. He said Walker, 27, was standing at the end of a hallway and shot Mattingly in the thigh with a gun he possessed legally.

The three officers returned a total of 32 shots, one of which was fatal to Taylor, Cameron said. While an analysis by the FBI found that Cosgrove fired that round, Cameron said there was “reasonable doubt” about that conclusion because the Kentucky State Police could not determine whose shot was fatal.

From outside the apartment, Hankison fired 10 shots through a window and a sliding-glass door. Some of the bullets entered the neighbors’ apartment.

Police said they found no drugs in Taylor’s home. Walker was charged with attempted murder of a law enforcement officer, but the charges were dropped. Louisville later banned no-knock warrants.

Cosgrove and Mattingly remain on administrative leave while the FBI conducts its own investigation into Taylor’s death. The Department of Justice will review the FBI’s findings to determine whether any federal laws, including civil rights laws, were violated, according to Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer (D). City police are also investigating whether the officers defied any of the department’s policies or procedures.

Cameron’s announcement of the charging decision set off several days of protests in Louisville, with parallel protests in cities across the country. Two Louisville police officers were shot on Wednesday night while police responded to shots fired in a crowd. They were expected to survive, and a suspect was taken into custody.

Fischer allowed the city’s curfew to lapse on Monday and said local officials were grateful that most of the protests had been peaceful. The National Guard and Kentucky State Police left Louisville on Monday, Gov. Andy Beshear (D) said.