The U.S. Department of Justice today announced federal charges against four current or former police officers who were involved in the drug raid that killed Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old EMT and aspiring nurse, at her apartment in Louisville, Kentucky, on March 13, 2020. With one exception, this is the first time that any officers have been charged in connection with the deadly operation, which was based on a flimsy and falsified search warrant affidavit that relied almost entirely on Taylor's connection to a former boyfriend, Jamarcus Glover, a suspected drug dealer.
Former detective Joshua Jaynes, who wrote that affidavit, is charged with willfully violating Taylor's Fourth Amendment rights under color of law by seeking a warrant without probable cause. The Justice Department says his affidavit "contained false and misleading statements, omitted material facts, relied on stale information, and was not supported by probable cause." Because the resulting search warrant led to Taylor's death, Jaynes could face up to life in prison if convicted.
Sgt. Kyle Meany, who approved the affidavit and is still employed by the Louisville Metro Police Department (LMPD), faces the same charge. He is also charged with making a false statement to federal investigators by claiming that police sought a no-knock search warrant for Taylor's apartment because the LMPD's SWAT unit had requested it. That offense is punishable by up to five years in prison.
Jaynes also is charged with falsifying records in a federal investigation and with conspiracy for "agreeing with another detective to cover up the false warrant affidavit after Taylor's death by drafting a false investigative letter and making false statements to criminal investigators." The other detective, Kelly Goodlett, likewise faces a conspiracy charge, for "conspiring with Jaynes to falsify the search warrant for Taylor's home and to cover up their actions afterward." The obstruction charge carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison, and the conspiracy charges are punishable by up to five years.
The one defendant who was previously charged, former detective Brett Hankison, is accused of violating constitutional rights under color of law by blindly firing 10 rounds through "a covered window and covered glass door," thereby endangering Taylor, her boyfriend Kenneth Walker, and three neighbors. Last March, a state jury acquitted Hankison of "wanton endangerment" based on the same reckless conduct, which had resulted in his dismissal. The federal charge is somewhat different, since it is based on willful civil rights violations and names Taylor and Walker as victims along with their neighbors.
"Breonna Taylor should be alive today," Attorney General Merrick Garland said. But for Jaynes' fraudulent search warrant affidavit, she would be.
The indictment laying out the charges against Jaynes and Meany says they "knew that the affidavit used to obtain the warrant to search Taylor's home contained information that was false, misleading, and out-of-date; that the affidavit omitted material information; and that the officers lacked probable cause for the search." They also "knew that the execution of the search warrant would be carried out by armed LMPD officers, and could create a dangerous situation both for those officers and for anyone who happened to be in Taylor's home."
The Justice Department notes that Jaynes falsely claimed he had "verified through a U.S. Postal Inspector" that Glover was receiving packages, which Jaynes suggested might contain drugs or drug money, at Taylor's address. Acting Police Chief Yvette Gentry likewise emphasized that misrepresentation when she fired Jaynes. "Detective Jaynes lied when he swore 'verified through a US Postal Inspector,'" she wrote. "Detective Jaynes did not have contact with a US Postal Inspector….Having an independent, third party verify information is powerful and compelling [evidence]. The inclusion of this in the affidavit as a direct verification was deceptive."
Jaynes later told local, state, and federal investigators the information about the packages actually had come from Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly, who supposedly told Jaynes "nonchalantly" that Glover "just gets Amazon or mail packages there." According to the indictment, that was not true either. After the raid, it says, Jaynes called Mattingly to "try to get [him] to say that he had previously told [Jaynes] that [Glover] had received packages at Taylor's apartment." But in reality, Mattingly had told Jaynes "in or around January 2020" that "he had no information showing that [Glover] received packages at Taylor's apartment," a point he reiterated during the conversation after the raid.
Jaynes included the claim about packages in a letter to investigators that Goodlett reviewed. "Knowing that the statement was false, [Goodlett] failed to change the statement or object to it," the indictment says. "[Goodlett] later signed the letter, which included this false statement."
Jaynes also told investigators he "was able to verify through CLEAR, a law enforcement database, that as of February 20, 2020, [Glover] used [Taylor's address] as his residence." The indictment says Jaynes and Goodlett "both knew at the time that this statement was misleading because, as they knew, [Glover] did not live at [Taylor's apartment] in February 2020." They "knew that the letter contained false and misleading information that purported to link Breonna Taylor to [Glover], and that the letter omitted information that would have undermined the claim of an ongoing connection between Taylor and [Glover]."
Although the indictment does not mention it, Jaynes' justification for a no-knock warrant was even thinner. "Affiant is requesting a No-Knock entry to the premises due to the nature of how these drug traffickers operate," he wrote. "These drug traffickers have a history of attempting to destroy evidence, have cameras on the location that compromise Detectives once an approach to the dwelling is made, and a have history of fleeing from law enforcement."
Aside from Taylor's association with Glover, Jaynes had presented zero evidence that she was one of "these drug traffickers," let alone that she posed a threat to the police. Jaynes noted that both Glover and his alleged partner in drug dealing were facing gun charges, which suggested they might be armed. But he offered no evidence specific to Taylor that would justify a no-knock warrant for her apartment.
During the raid, Hankison's indictment notes, he fired 10 rounds "through a window
and a sliding glass door, both of which were covered with blinds and curtains." Even "after there was no longer a lawful objective justifying the use of deadly force," Hankison "fired five shots through a bedroom window that was covered with blinds and a blackout curtain," thereby endangering Taylor and Walker. He also "fired five bullets into the living room…through a sliding glass door that was covered with blinds and a curtain." Several of those bullets penetrated a neighboring apartment, endangering the three people who lived there.
Hankison therefore faces two counts of violating people's Fourth Amendment rights under color of law. Since both "involved the use of a dangerous weapon and an attempt to kill," Hankison, if convicted, could be sentenced to "any term of years or for life."
The federal defendants do not include former detective Myles Cosgrove, who fired the bullet that killed Taylor. After the cops serving the warrant that Jaynes obtained broke into Taylor's apartment around 12:45 a.m., Walker responded to the terrifying tumult by grabbing a handgun and firing a single round at the intruders, striking Mattingly in the leg. Cosgrove and Mattingly then fired 22 rounds down a dark hallway, where Taylor was standing near Walker.
Walker, who reported a break-in that night during phone calls to police, his mother, and Taylor's mother, has always maintained that he did not know the intruders were police officers. Although the cops claimed they identified themselves, Walker said he and Taylor heard no such announcement. Neither did the neighbors, except for one man who initially concurred but later changed his story to fit the official account. Walker was charged with attempted murder of a police officer after the raid, but prosecutors dropped that charge two months later, implicitly conceding that he had a strong self-defense claim.
Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron concluded that Cosgrove and Mattingly likewise had acted in self-defense, meaning that criminal charges were not warranted. But in a December 2020 termination letter to Cosgrove, acting Police Chief Yvette Gentry said he failed to "properly identify a target" when he fired his 16 rounds.
"The shots you fired went in three distinctly different directions, demonstrating that you did not identify a specific target," Gentry wrote. "Rather, you fired in a manner consistent with suppressive fire, which is in direct contradiction to our training, values and policy." Cosgrove—who, like Hankison, mistook police gunfire (Mattingly's) for shots fired by Walker—later said he was not even consciously aware that he had used his gun.