“Once the public listens to the recording, they will see that over the course of two-and-a-half days, our team presented a thorough and complete case to the Grand Jury,” Cameron said in a statement.
Here are some of the main questions activists and lawyers have raised in the wake of the charging decision, which sparked new protests and calls for accountability in police killings of Black Americans.
How did Cameron conclude that police identified themselves when they raided Taylor’s apartment?
Cameron said police identified themselves before breaking into Taylor’s home in March with a battering ram, despite obtaining a “no knock” warrant for the raid. Last week, he cited an “independent witness” who backed that up.
Critics point out that more than a dozen neighbors told reporters they did not hear officers identifying themselves, fueling concerns that the raid was risky and poorly executed. And they wonder whether Cameron’s statements rest on a man who, according to his lawyer and a recording, initially told police he never heard any announcement.
“No, nobody identified themselves,” the man says in what Vice News describes as a police interview from the week after Taylor’s death. The Washington Post spoke with a lawyer who identified the man as his client, Aaron Sarpee. The lawyer, Paul Mullins, said Sarpee was the lone witness in a New York Times article and documentary who recalled hearing, “Police!”
Cameron did not name the witness he mentioned, and his spokeswoman, Elizabeth Kuhn, did not answer questions about Sarpee. But the attorney general told local news station WDRB in an interview Tuesday that his team provided the grand jury with “all of the discrepancies in his testimony.”
Mullins said Sarpee was interviewed by members of the attorney general’s office but was not called before the grand jury.
By May, police said Sarpee supported the officers’ story, according to Vice News and the Louisville Courier-Journal. A summary of a follow-up call said Sarpee recalled hearing, “This is the cops,” the news organizations reported.
But Sarpee is adamant now that officers identified themselves only in passing as he tried to leave the apartment directly above Taylor’s, Mullins said. Sarpee, 49, had arrived late that night to pick up his toddler from a babysitter, Mullins said, and stepped outside only to be told by an officer downstairs: “Police, get back inside.”
Mullins acknowledged that various clashing stories may make his client appear unreliable and suggested that Sarpee was quoted out of context or that video was misleadingly spliced. He said Sarpee never indicated that police announced themselves effectively.
“If people want to construe [Sarpee’s comments] to mean that … the police did it loud enough that the people inside can hear, so be it,” Mullins said. “But that’s not his statement.”
Times spokeswoman Danielle Rhoades Ha said reporters confirmed Sarpee’s story on multiple occasions, including on camera.
“We are confident in the accuracy of our reporting,” Ha said.
Louisville police said it would be inappropriate for them to comment on the case because their internal review is ongoing.
Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, has said he did not hear officers announce themselves and fired a shot at them because he feared an intruder.
“I don’t know what is happening,” Walker said in a 911 call after the raid. “Somebody kicked in the door and shot my girlfriend.”
How did Cameron frame the case to the grand jury?
Cameron answered one major question about his case Monday, saying wanton endangerment was “the only charge recommended” to the grand jury. Former officer Brett Hankison was charged with three counts of wanton endangerment. He pleaded not guilty Monday.
The attorney general maintained that his team presented “all of the evidence” and a “thorough and complete case” to jurors, even though their findings suggested two officers were justified in shooting after Taylor’s boyfriend fired at them.
He has said that jurors were “walked through” possible homicide offenses but that his office did not recommend those charges, echoing other lawyers who said the officers had a strong claim to self-defense. Homicide charges could include reckless homicide, in which someone does not mean to kill but disregards the safety of others.
“They’re an independent body,” Cameron said of the grand jury in his Tuesday interview with WDRB. “If they wanted to make an assessment about different charges, they could have done that.”
Lawyers for Taylor’s family have been skeptical of Cameron’s assurances.
“Did he present any evidence on Breonna Taylor’s behalf?” family attorney Ben Crump asked last week. “Or did he make a unilateral decision to put his thumb on the scales of justice to help try to exonerate and justify the killing of Breonna Taylor by these police officers?”
An anonymous member of the jury on Monday took issue with Cameron’s portrayal of the panel’s decision-making, filing a motion for the release of recordings and transcripts. The motion suggested the attorney general used jurors “as a shield to deflect accountability and responsibility” — and asked for specific assurances that jurors could discuss what Cameron did not present.
Kevin Glogower, a lawyer for the unidentified juror, said Cameron may have misrepresented the process last week when he said jurors “agreed” with prosecutors that charges beyond wanton endangerment were not warranted.
While Cameron framed jurors as the deciders, legal experts emphasize that prosecutors set the agenda and control what evidence jurors see and hear.
“Frequently the grand jurors don’t ask any questions,” said Les Abramson, a law professor at the University of Louisville.
Why was a fired police officer charged with endangering three of Taylor’s neighbors?
Hankison faces 15 years in prison — five for each person he is accused of endangering the night Taylor died. He does not face any charges in Taylor’s death.
The Louisville Police Department fired Hankison this summer for firing “blindly” into Taylor’s apartment from outside. The two other officers fired down a hallway from the area of the door, while Hankison shot through Taylor’s home and into another apartment with three people inside, Cameron said. Others in the apartment complex say they believe they were also in danger the night of the raid.
Shots also tore into the apartment above Taylor’s, according to the family who lives there. Stanley David told the Courier-Journal he recalled a bullet piercing the floor in front of his bedroom door, feet away from him and his 7-year-old daughter.
“If that bullet went through my bed, maybe I would have been dead too,” David told the newspaper after Hankison was charged with endangering people in the other unit. “I’m a human being too.”
Hankison’s attorney, Stewart Mathews, declined to comment.
Sarpee, who was in that apartment picking up his child, remembers grabbing the toddler close as shots rang out, Mullins said. Sarpee felt as if he were blacking out, Mullins said, and his PTSD was kicking in.
“Everybody in the house was panicked, just shaking,” the attorney said.
Kuhn, the spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office, told The Post that the bullets that entered the upstairs apartment “couldn’t be recovered to test.”
“Therefore, there was insufficient evidence to draw a conclusion as to who fired the bullets,” she said.
The attorney general has also said there is no conclusive evidence that Hankison’s bullets struck Taylor.
Asked Tuesday why Hankison was not charged with endangering people in Taylor’s apartment, Cameron said he did not want to give many specifics as the case is pending but said that Taylor appears to have “passed pretty quickly,” according to WDRB.
Marisa Iati contributed to this report.