Two Louisville police officers whose shots struck and killed Breonna Taylor never should have fired their weapons, a department investigator found — a conclusion that the force’s upper brass partly rejected.

Although the officers had a right to protect themselves when Taylor’s boyfriend fired at them, the “circumstances made it unsafe to take a single shot” in response, Sgt. Andrew Meyer wrote in a Dec. 4 memo summarizing his investigation.

Taylor and her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, were in darkness at the far end of her apartment’s hallway when the officers broke down the door. Both were wearing all black. Walker moved quickly to hide from the bullets, while Taylor froze in place.

All of that happened within seconds, Meyer wrote, while the officers “experienced fear, tunnel vision, and adrenaline.”

“This,” Meyer concluded, “is how the wrong person was shot and killed.”

The Kentucky attorney general said the shooting was a "tragedy," but not a crime. He explained why only one officer was indicted in the Breonna Taylor case. (Joshua Carroll, Jayne Orenstein/The Washington Post)

The newly released records, first reported by the Courier-Journal, show that then-Chief Yvette Gentry partly rejected the investigator’s finding that both officers violated the department’s use of deadly force policy during the incident on March 13, 2020. Although Gentry agreed that now-fired Detective Myles Cosgrove breached the rule, she absolved Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly.

Gentry terminated Cosgrove, who the FBI found fired the fatal shot, and another officer in January. Mattingly has announced his intent to retire June 1 after two decades with the department.

Now a civilian, Gentry defended her decision to exonerate Mattingly after considering Meyer’s recommendation and those of two of his supervisors. Meyer’s lieutenant, Jeff Artman, agreed with his findings, while Special Investigations Commander Jamey Schwab disagreed in part.

“I fired people that some believe should have been suspended, I reprimanded people some people [thought] should have been exonerated and I overturned what was believed was not appropriate for the situation,” Gentry told WTVQ in a statement Friday. “I did what I knew to be right, appropriate and sound.”

An attorney for Cosgrove did not respond to a message seeking comment on the internal investigation, while a lawyer for Mattingly declined to comment.

The killing of Taylor, a 26-year-old emergency-room technician, during a drug raid became a rallying cry last year against what many saw as unjustified use of force by police, especially against Black Americans. In April, the Justice Department announced a wide-ranging civil probe into whether Louisville police had committed systemic abuses with little oversight.

No one faces state-level charges in Taylor’s death, although a federal investigation is ongoing. Former officer Brett Hankison, the third officer to shoot at Taylor’s apartment, has pleaded not guilty to wanton endangerment charges related to bullets that he allegedly fired into a neighboring unit. The internal police investigation did not examine his actions because he was fired in June.

In concluding that Mattingly was wrong to shoot on the night of the raid, Meyer wrote that the sergeant clearly knew someone else was standing next to Walker, who had struck Mattingly with a shot fired from his legally owned gun. Walker has said he did not know when he fired that the people who had burst in were officers, while Mattingly has said he believes Walker was probably aware.

It was not safe for Mattingly to return fire, Meyer wrote, because there was “a true significant risk” of hitting someone who did not pose a threat. Mattingly should have considered Taylor’s safety, the investigator added.

Cosgrove, meanwhile, fired 16 shots without identifying where the threat was coming from, Meyer wrote. In interviews with investigators, Cosgrove said he saw a “shadowy figure” and a flashing white light. He was unsure immediately after the shooting whether Walker was the one who had shot at them.

He never should have fired back without knowing that his specific target was a threat, Meyer said.

Meyer wrote that Cosgrove and Mattingly should have taken cover, instead of engaging with Walker. They and Hankison fired a total of 32 shots. In reality, Meyer said, none of the shots were safe.

“The officers could not safely take the shots given these circumstances,” Meyer concluded. “The officers did not safely take the shots and Ms. Taylor was struck and killed.”

Artman, Meyer’s supervisor, agreed with his findings. Cosgrove and Mattingly broke the department’s deadly force policy when they shot Taylor, who posed no threat, Artman wrote in a memo. Cosgrove also failed to continually assess whether a threat still existed, Artman added.

Deploying a stricter interpretation of the policy, Artman’s boss disagreed that Mattingly had acted wrongly. The officer’s actions should be considered through the lens of what he reasonably believed, “after being shot himself,” Schwab wrote. Considering the situation that way, Schwab said Mattingly identified a threat and used force against it.

Gentry took Schwab’s side. In her Dec. 27 summary of the investigation, she expressed agreement with his finding that Mattingly acted reasonably by aiming at the person with the gun, even if his shots hit the wrong person.

“Although Mr. Walker was not struck and Ms. Taylor was mortally wounded,” Gentry wrote, echoing Schwab, “it can be reasoned that micro-seconds can significantly change outcomes between when a trigger is squeezed at a target and the bullet reaches its final position.”