In a court motion this week, an unidentified grand juror requested release of the audio and permission to speak publicly about the proceedings, accusing Cameron (R) of “using grand jurors as a shield to deflect accountability and responsibility” for the charging decision in the case.
The release of the grand jury recordings came more than a week after Cameron announced that no Louisville officers would be charged for fatally shooting Taylor while serving a warrant at her apartment. Brett Hankison, an ex-Louisville police officer who opened fire that night, was indicted by the grand jury for allegedly endangering her neighbors.
This outcome further inflamed anger over Taylor's death, which has spurred months of protests since the 26-year-old emergency room technician was shot and killed, setting off a new wave of demonstrations in Louisville and calls for more information about the grand jury deliberations.
Much of the public criticism of Cameron’s handling of the case has centered on what evidence his office presented to the grand jury and what charges it recommended. At a news conference announcing the grand jury’s decision, Cameron said that he walked jurors through Kentucky’s six homicide charges, but he later said his office only suggested they indict on wanton endangerment charges.
Cameron, a rising Republican star elected last year, has defended his treatment of the case. He resisted releasing the recordings, expressing concerns about how it would impact an ongoing federal probe and the criminal case against Hankison, but agreed to it in response to an order from Jefferson County Circuit Judge Ann Bailey Smith in Hankison’s case.
This week, Cameron confirmed to a Louisville television station that he did not recommend homicide charges against Myles Cosgrove and Jonathan Mattingly, the officers who shot Taylor. He told the station, WDRB, that the grand jury was an independent body and could have indicted on any charges its members wanted, regardless of what prosecutors recommended.
But experts said grand juries, while theoretically independent, are largely driven by prosecutors, who steer the process and function as legal advisers for the jurors.
Grand juries are different from trial juries, which hear evidence from two sides before voting on verdicts. In grand juries, the process is managed by prosecutors who can bring evidence, suggest charges and also offer guidance to jurors, according to legal experts.
Cameron said in a statement Friday after the recordings were released that he was confident they would show “that our team presented a thorough case to the Jefferson County Grand Jury.”
“Our presentation followed the facts and the evidence, and the Grand Jury was given a complete picture of the events surrounding Ms. Taylor’s death on March 13th,” he said.
But his office also acknowledged that the recordings were not complete.
“The audio recordings contain the entire presentation of evidence,” his office said. “As is customary in the recording of Grand Jury proceedings, juror deliberations and prosecutor recommendations and statements were not recorded, as they are not evidence.”
Legal experts criticized the absence of this information Friday, saying that learning what prosecutors recommended and the legal guidance they gave would be key to evaluating how Cameron’s office handled the grand jury process.
Samuel A. Marcosson, a law professor at the University of Louisville, called the decision not to reveal the recommendations “completely unacceptable.”
“It leaves unanswered the single most fundamental questions that have been raised: whether the grand jury had a genuine opportunity to consider more serious charges, and whether the Attorney General was being candid when he said multiple times that the grand jury agreed with him that Officers Mattingly and Cosgrove acted reasonably,” Marcosson wrote in an email.
“If we don’t know what the prosecutors recommended, and we don’t know what the grand jury deliberated about, we [k]now very little more now than we did yesterday,” he said.
A spokeswoman for Cameron declined to comment beyond the news release and statement issued Friday. Attorneys for Taylor’s family, who had called for the grand jury proceedings to be made public and have questioned Cameron’s handling of the case, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday.
But in a Facebook post Friday, Sam Aguiar, an attorney for the Taylor family, criticized the prosecutors’ responses to the jurors questions.
“Grand jurors keep asking great questions. Asking about clarification of facts. Evidence. Details. Instead of getting them the answers, the evidence or the people with answers, prosecutors and witnesses simply say they don’t know and imply it’s not important,” Aguiar wrote. “Not how this is supposed to go down.”
Jurors can be heard throughout the recording asking questions, inquiring how no body camera footage captured the shooting and seeking the specific time the warrant was issued. At one point, when Jeff Fogg, an investigator with the attorney general’s office, remarks that there is not enough time to examine all of the available video, someone else in the room pushes back, replying: “We got time.”
The recordings did reveal more details about the dispute over whether officers announced their presence before breaking down Taylor’s door when serving the warrant shortly after midnight on March 13.
Several officers testified that they repeatedly knocked on Taylor’s door and announced their presence before breaking the door with a battering ram. Cosgrove told the attorney general’s office in an interview that Mattingly started out knocking “like a pizza guy.” But eventually, Cosgrove said, police pounded forcefully.
Cosgrove estimated that officers were knocking for at least 90 seconds and identifying themselves, saying he felt “like we are out there and knocking on this door way too long.”
Hankison told the grand jury that he identified the police five to seven times and that they waited “maybe 30 to 45 seconds” before breaching the door. Two other Louisville police officers — Officer Michael Nobles and Detective Anthony James — testified that they let about two minutes pass. In a statement recorded the night of the raid and played for the jury, Detective Mike Campbell said the officers “were really loud” in announcing themselves.
But six of Taylor’s neighbors said the first noise they heard was gunshots, rather than police announcing themselves, Detective Herman Hall, an investigator within Cameron’s office, told the grand jury.
When Cameron explained the grand jury’s decision last week, he cited one civilian witness who told Hall he heard the police identify themselves while he was at the complex picking up his daughter from a babysitter. That witness, identified by prosecutors as Aaron Sarpee, has come under scrutiny after leaked audio cast doubt on officials’ conclusions. In two earlier interviews with police, in March and again in May, Sarpee recounted not hearing police announce themselves, Hall said
A lawyer for Sarpee earlier this week told The Washington Post that his client is now adamant that police only identified themselves in passing, while telling Sarpee to go back inside.
“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,” the lawyer, Paul Mullins said. “But that’s not his statement.”
The disagreement is significant because Cameron has said the two police officers who shot Taylor — Cosgrove and Mattingly — were justified because her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, fired at them first. But Walker has said he did not hear police announce themselves and fired a shot because he thought an intruder was breaking into the home.
When Fogg was interviewed in front of the grand jurors, he said that officers were serving a warrant for “illegal drugs, drug paraphernalia and money” and chose to announce themselves. The target of their investigation, Jamarcus Glover, was Taylor’s ex-boyfriend. Fogg described the warrant as valid and said the officers executing it “were acting in good faith.”
Hankison, the lone officer charged, said he believed that older officers were assigned to Taylor’s apartment, rather than other homes searched that night, “because this was going to be the easy location.”
When officers broke the door open, Hankison testified, he saw someone “in a military-style shooting stance” holding what he thought was an AR-15 or similar weapon. As Hankison ran back toward the parking lot, the former officer testified, he heard gunfire and then heard someone say Mattingly had been struck.
“I thought they were just being executed,” Hankison testified.
Another officer, Lt. Shawn Hoover, said in an interview the day of the shooting that he had thought their team was being “ambushed,” saying “the neighbors knew we were there.”
Cosgrove told the attorney general’s office he became “immediately overwhelmed” by bright flashes when the door was broken down and said he saw what appeared to be a “larger than normal” human shadow inside the apartment and fired at it.
Hankison said he fired in the direction he thought the person inside the apartment was firing from. Authorities said some of his shots traveled into an apartment near Taylor’s, and he was charged with three counts of wanton endangerment because three people were inside. He has pleaded not guilty.
Greer reported from Louisville. Derek Hawkins contributed to this report