Breonna Taylor would be alive today if police had given her and her boyfriend less time to respond before breaking down their door in a drug raid, said a Louisville, Ky., police officer in his first public interview since his participation in the fatal encounter.
Officers knocked six times and announced themselves before breaking in Taylor’s door while serving a search warrant in March, Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly told ABC News and the Louisville Courier-Journal in the interview published Wednesday. He said that amount of time enabled Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, to fire a shot at officers — to which they responded with a volley of bullets. One of Walker’s shots struck Mattingly’s thigh, prosecutors say.
“We would have either served the ‘no-knock’ warrant or we would have done the normal thing we do, which is 5 to 10 seconds, to not give people time to formulate a plan, not give people time to get their senses, so they have an idea of what they’re doing,” Mattingly said. “If that had happened, Breonna Taylor would be alive.”
Whether police announced their presence before entering Taylor’s home has been a point of contention in the closely watched case. Although the officers had a no-knock warrant, they maintain that they identified themselves several times before using a battering ram.
Walker and about a dozen neighbors say they did not hear an announcement from officers. Another neighbor has changed his recollection at various points, saying that he heard officers yell “Police!” or that he heard them identify themselves only in passing, or that he did not hear them identify themselves at all.
Mattingly’s wide-ranging interview comes a day after a grand juror said prosecutors did not walk the jury through Kentucky’s homicide laws or explain why they decided that Mattingly and another officer who shot at Taylor were justified.
No one was directly charged in the killing of Taylor, a 26-year-old Black woman, during the execution of a warrant as part of a drug investigation. Grand jurors indicted fired officer Brett Hankison on three counts of first-degree wanton endangerment, accusing him of risking the safety of three people in a neighboring apartment when his bullets entered their home. He has pleaded not guilty.
Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron’s office only presented the jurors with the first-degree wanton endangerment charges, the unidentified grand juror said in a statement. The panel asked about additional charges, and prosecutors told it that there would not be any because they “didn’t feel they could make them stick,” said the juror, who was not identified.
“The grand jury didn’t agree that certain actions were justified, nor did it decide the [wanton endangerment] indictment should be the only charges in the Breonna Taylor case,” the unidentified juror said. “The grand jury was not given the opportunity to deliberate on those charges and deliberated only on what was presented to them.”
Cameron, a Republican, said at a news conference in September that the two officers whose bullets struck Taylor — Mattingly and Detective Myles Cosgrove — were justified in returning fire after Walker fired one shot. Walker has said he did not know that the people at the door were police.
In the interview Wednesday, Mattingly denied accusations that Taylor’s death was an example of police officers’ disregard for Black lives. Her killing prompted seven months of protests in Louisville and became a flashpoint in the Black Lives Matter movement that gained momentum across the country this summer.
“This is not relatable to a George Floyd. This is nothing like it. It’s not an Ahmaud Arbery. It’s nothing like it,” Mattingly said, referencing two recent high-profile killings of Black men. “These are two totally different type incidences. It’s not a race thing, like people want to try to make it to be.”
Mattingly added: “This is a point where we were doing our job, we gave too much time. When we go in, I get shot, we return fire. This is not us going and hunting somebody down, this is not kneeling on a neck. This is nothing like that.”
While Walker has said he aimed his gun at the ground when firing, Mattingly said Walker was pointing the gun at him. The officer also objected to Walker’s claim that he did not know the people at the door were police.
“Everybody knows the police knock,” Mattingly said. “When that took place for that long — and they had that much time to think and react and formulate a plan – I don’t know he didn’t hear us. We were talking 20 feet away through a thin metal door.”
As for Taylor, Mattingly said that she “didn’t deserve to die” but that police were not at her home coincidentally. The search warrant for Taylor’s apartment said officers believed she was receiving packages that may have been connected to her ex-boyfriend’s alleged drug trafficking.
“There’s a reason the police were there that night,” Mattingly said. “And if you’re a law-abiding citizen, the only contact you’ll probably ever have with the police is running into them in Thorntons or if you get a speeding ticket. Other than that, unless you know them, you’re not really dealing with the police.”
A public picture of what occurred the night police went to Taylor’s apartment has come into increasingly clear focus in the past few weeks, as prosecutors released audio of the grand jury proceedings and Louisville officials publicized the police department’s internal investigative file.
The juror’s public statement on Tuesday came minutes after a Jefferson County Circuit Court judge ruled that jurors could speak publicly about the proceedings for the sake of transparency and public trust in the investigation. Cameron had opposed the juror’s request, arguing that letting the juror discuss what happened would be unfair to witnesses and other jurors.
Cameron said Tuesday that he disagreed with the judge’s decision but did not plan to file an appeal. Prosecutors considered the legal issues of causation and justification when determining what charges to recommend to grand jurors, he said.
“As Special Prosecutor, it was my decision to ask for an indictment on charges that could be proven under Kentucky law,” Cameron said in a statement. “Indictments obtained in the absence of sufficient proof under the law do not stand up and are not fundamentally fair to anyone.”
The ambiguity about how prosecutors framed potential charges to the jurors became a flash point in the case after Cameron told reporters that “the grand jury agreed” with prosecutors that homicide charges were not warranted. He later said his office had not presented homicide charges to the jury.
The unidentified juror then filed a court motion asking Judge Annie O’Connell to affirm that the juror could talk publicly about what occurred in the grand jury room despite the fact that grand jury proceedings are usually secret. The juror argued that Cameron had used “grand jurors as a shield to deflect accountability and responsibility” for the charging decision. A second anonymous juror later said he or she also wanted to speak publicly.
In her order granting jurors permission to speak, O’Connell wrote that the traditional reasons for grand jury secrecy were no longer relevant in this case and that “the ends of justice require disclosure.” The jury’s proceedings are over, Hankison has been indicted and audio of the evidence presented to the jury has been made public, the judge wrote.
O’Connell added that she also needed to consider “the interest of the citizens of the Commonwealth of Kentucky to be assured that its publicly elected officials are being honest in their representations; the interest of grand jurors, whose service is compelled, to be certain their work is not mischaracterized by the very prosecutors on whom they relied to advise them; and, the interest of all citizens to have confidence in the integrity of the justice system.”
Those interests leave “no doubt that justice requires disclosure” in this case, O’Connell wrote.
The judge also denied a motion from Cameron requesting that if she were to give jurors permission to speak, the jurors would be prohibited from doing so until prosecutors were able to appeal the order.
At a news conference shortly after O’Connell released her decision, Kevin Glogower, an attorney for the unidentified grand jurors, declined to elaborate on the juror’s statement. The juror wanted to take issue with “the way that it was portrayed to the public as to who made what decisions and who agreed with what decisions,” Glogower said.
The second unidentified juror has not yet made a public statement. Louisville anti-violence activist Christopher 2X said in an interview that he and Glogower would talk with both jurors about potential opportunities to speak further.
Roger Fairfax, a law professor at George Washington University, said it was extraordinarily rare for the public to hear directly from a grand juror about a case. A judge denied a similar request from a grand juror who sought to speak publicly after Michael Brown, a Black 18-year-old, was fatally shot by a White police officer in Ferguson, Mo., in 2014.
Fairfax said it was striking that the juror in the Taylor case alleged that prosecutors had brushed off questions about bringing additional charges. Prosecutors are supposed to be responsive to jurors’ questions and concerns, he said.
The possibility that Cameron mischaracterized the grand jury proceedings, as the juror claims, raises the question of whether prosecutors made an honest effort to seek justice in this case, Fairfax said.
“If not, I think that there may be grounds for considering a new grand jury investigation with a different set of prosecutors,” he said. “It may reach the same outcome, but there might be greater public confidence in those proceedings at the end of the day.”
Taylor was shot shortly after midnight on March 13.
Walker fired one shot with a gun he owned legally. The three officers returned a total of 32 shots, six of which struck and killed Taylor.