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Four officers involved in Breonna Taylor’s killing face federal charges

They are the first federal charges in connection with Taylor’s killing, which sparked racial justice protests across the country

Attorney General Merrick Garland announced on Aug. 4 that four Louisville police officers would face new federal charges in the 2020 killing of Breonna Taylor. (Video: The Washington Post)
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The Justice Department on Thursday filed federal civil rights charges against four current and former Louisville police officers in the fatal shooting of Breonna Taylor, amid mounting anger from civil rights activists and Taylor’s family that no one has been convicted of a crime in the 28 months since her death.

Former detective Joshua Jaynes and two current police officers, detective Kelly Goodlett and Sgt. Kyle Meany, are accused of falsifying information on a search warrant before and after Taylor was fatally shot in a March 2020 raid on her apartment, sparking a wave of racial justice protests across the country that intensified with the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis that May.

Former detective Brett Hankison, who fired 10 shots through Taylor’s patio door even though he could not see who he was shooting at, is charged with two counts of deprivation of rights under color of law. Hankison, the only officer to face state charges in connection with the case, was acquitted in March on three counts of wanton endangerment of Taylor’s neighbors.

The charges announced Thursday are the first federal counts stemming from Taylor’s death. The Justice Department also has pursued criminal cases in other high-profile killings of Black people that sparked the 2020 demonstrations, convicting four former Minneapolis officers of violating Floyd’s civil rights and successfully prosecuting three White men on hate crimes charges related to the fatal shooting of Ahmaud Arbery earlier that year.

At Justice Department headquarters in downtown Washington on Thursday, Attorney General Merrick Garland said the accused Louisville officers not only violated Taylor’s Fourth Amendment rights but also knew the allegations listed in the indictments would lead to a dangerous situation — one that “resulted in Ms. Taylor’s death.”

“Breonna Taylor should still be alive,” Garland said.

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Hankison and Jaynes were fired from the Louisville Metropolitan Police Department in the year after the shooting, though Jaynes is suing to get his job back. A Louisville police spokesperson said in a statement that Chief Erika Shields “began termination procedures” for Meany and Goodlett on Thursday.

Taylor, 26, an emergency-room technician, was killed early on March 13, 2020, when plainclothes police officers burst into her apartment to carry out a search warrant in a drug probe. While the officers knocked, there is disagreement about whether they identified themselves as police.

Kenneth Walker, Taylor’s boyfriend, fired a shot with his legally owned gun, striking an officer in the leg. He later said he did not realize the people who had entered the apartment were law enforcement officers. Several officers shot back, killing Taylor.

Louisville police later fired detective Myles Cosgrove, whom the FBI determined fired the fatal shot, and Hankison, who fired 10 shots that did not hit Taylor. State officials did not charge anyone directly in Taylor’s death.

Ben Crump, one of the lawyers for Taylor’s family, called the federal charges “a huge step toward justice.”

“It’s about Breonna and all the other Breonnas across America,” he said at a news conference.

A lawyer for Walker, Steve Romines, pledged to “continue to seek justice in the civil courts and call for changes to policies and procedures that protect all our citizens. No other person should ever live through what Mr. Walker has lived through.”

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Maurice Mitchell, a leader of the Movement for Black Lives, said the federal case against the Louisville officers “proves that Breonna Taylor’s family, the community and our movement were right from the very beginning, despite being gaslit from local authorities and others.”

He expressed hope that the Justice Department’s pursuit of cases involving Taylor, Floyd and Arbery “sends a message that you can’t kill Black people with impunity. There will be a cost.”

As in Minneapolis, Justice Department investigators have separately launched a sprawling civil investigation into the policies and practices of the Louisville Police Department. Both probes are likely to result in court-approved plans to implement broad reform measures.

But local activists and Taylor’s family continue to demand accountability for the officers involved in the raid on her apartment.

The federal indictments described officers from the Louisville police department’s Place-Based Investigations unit as pursuing a reckless narcotics trafficking case in the city’s West End, allegedly conspiring to falsify information on a search warrant affidavit even though they knew it could place occupants of Taylor’s apartment in danger.

In the first indictment unsealed Thursday, prosecutors allege that Jaynes, 40, and Meany, 35, relied on “false, misleading and outdated information” in seeking the warrant. Although Jaynes did not participate in the actual raid, he sought to pressure colleagues afterward to make misleading statements to investigators, the indictment alleges.

Meany is accused of falsely telling FBI agents that a provision in the affidavit seeking a no-knock warrant was included at the request of the Louisville police SWAT unit.

A separate Justice Department charging document accuses Goodlett of conspiring with Jaynes to falsify the search warrant and cover up their actions afterward. Garland alleged that Goodlett and Jaynes met in a garage after Taylor’s killing and conspired to lie to investigators about the circumstances that led to it.

Hankison, 46, is accused of willfully using unconstitutional force for firing shots through Taylor’s patio door, covered with blinds and a blackout curtain, during the raid, according to a second indictment. He is also accused of depriving several residents of nearby apartments of their rights after bullets punctured the walls of their units.

If convicted, Hankison faces a maximum sentence of life in prison since the violation he is charged with resulted “in death or involves an attempt to kill,” according to the Justice Department. The obstruction counts carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, and the conspiracy counts and false-statement charge carry a maximum sentence of five years in prison.

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Jaynes was previously fired by Louisville police for allegedly violating department policies in preparing the warrant for Taylor’s home. Yvette Gentry, then the interim chief, wrote in a pre-termination letter that Jaynes had “lied” when he wrote in the warrant application that he had verified through a U.S. postal inspector that Taylor was getting packages related to alleged drug activity of her ex-boyfriend.

Stew Mathews, who was Hankison’s defense attorney in the state trial, declined to comment Thursday, saying he does not yet know whether he will represent the former officer in the federal case. An attorney for Jaynes did not immediately respond to a request for comment. It was not immediately clear whether Goodlett and Meany have attorneys.

Jim Pasco, executive director of the National Fraternal Order of Police, said his organization is working to ensure that the defendants receive due process in the federal case, noting that Hankison was acquitted in his state trial.

“The local community, which presumably has more knowledge and far broader access to the facts, has found charges not warranted,” Pasco said. “Until anyone says differently, these men are not guilty of any crime.”

At a news conference, Tamika Palmer, Taylor’s mother, told reporters that while the Justice Department’s action is satisfying, the circumstances of her daughter’s death at the hands of police remain painful.

“I’ve waited 874 days for today,” Palmer said, “and it’s here now.”