(C) Reuters. FILE PHOTO: People react after a decision in the criminal case against police officers involved in the death of Breonna Taylor, in Louisville
By Daniel Trotta and Jonathan Allen
(Reuters) – Police serving a search warrant on Breonna Taylor’s home told investigators they banged on her door and announced themselves from 30 to 90 seconds before breaking in during a botched raid that ended with the officers fatally shooting her, audio recordings released on Friday show.
The new details from the police officers who raided Taylor’s Louisville apartment contrast with earlier witness reports and has been a point of contention in the case that has captured national attention and prompted street protests over racism and police use of force.
Kentucky’s attorney general on Friday released audio recordings of the grand jury proceedings that cleared three policemen of homicide charges in Taylor’s death, offering a rare peek at the inner workings of a grand jury, which is normally kept secret.
The grand jury last week cleared the two white officers who shot Taylor and charged a third with wanton endangerment for stray bullets that hit a neighboring apartment in the March 13 raid.
Street protesters have called for the arrest of the officers and demanded justice for Taylor, a 26-year-old Black emergency medical technician whose family won a $12 million wrongful death settlement from the city of Louisville.
Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, who was with her, has said he believed the plainclothes officers who burst in were criminal intruders and Walker fired once, wounding one officer. Three officers then shot 32 rounds, six of which hit Taylor.
The recordings also show grand jurors were engaged with the investigators presenting the case, peppering them with questions about why police did not wear body cameras, and whether police in the raid were aware that other officers had already located the central suspect in the investigation, Taylor’s ex-boyfriend.
Strikingly absent were any recordings of prosecutor recommendations.
“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,” Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron, the special prosecutor in the case, said in a statement.
In a police interview on March 25 that was played to the grand jury last week, the officer who was wounded, Sergeant Jonathan Mattingly, said police banged on Taylor’s door six or seven different times, repeatedly announcing they were police there to serve a search warrant.
“It probably lasted between 45 seconds and a minute, banging on the door,” Mattingly said. He went on to describe how a colleague broke in the door and he was first to enter the apartment, soon to encounter Walker with a gun about 20 feet away.
Walker fired first, and Mattingly then fired with six rounds.
Mattingly and Detective Myles Cosgrove, who fired 16 rounds, hit Taylor a combined six times.
Cameron found that Mattingly and Cosgrove acted in self-defense, and the grand jury agreed.
Multiple witnesses told reporters they did not hear any police announcement, which was not required as police had a “no-knock” warrant, but police said they chose to do so anyway.
Cosgrove, in his interview with police investigators, said the officers knocked on the door for about 90 seconds.
Detective Brett Hankison, the officer charged with wanton endangerment, estimated there were 30 to 45 seconds of “banging and announcing, knocking and announcing.”
Cameron, the special prosecutor, has said only one witness verified the police account of their announcement, and he changed his story.
The witness first told investigators in March he did not hear police identify themselves but two month later, in a follow-up interview, the witness said he heard officers knock and announce, according to an investigator who testified before the grand jury. That investigator said there may have been “a language barrier” with the foreign-born witness.
Cosgrove described the experience disorienting, with bright muzzle flashes interrupting the darkness, and then learning that Mattingly had been shot.
He said he only realized after the fact that he had started firing his gun. “It’s like a surreal thing,” Cosgrove said.
When the shooting started, Hankison said he fired from outside through sliding glass doors and continued to move to his left. He then fired through what he believed to be a bedroom window where he saw more flashes light up the room, which he mistook as if either Walker or Taylor was holding an AR-15 or other long gun.
Walker’s single round came from a 9 mm handgun. Taylor was unarmed.
“I had a super helpless feeling, knowing that I had a handgun … and this guy had an AR-15,” Hanikson said.
Attorneys for Taylor’s family and Walker did not immediately respond to a request for comment.