Breonna Taylor Grand Jurors On Living With The Outcome
It’s been almost three months since the grand jury heard evidence in the Breonna Taylor case, one of the most highly publicized police killings in 2020. Three of the jurors say they still live with it every day.
“Mentally, you know, my life has changed. You know, it’s almost always in the back of my mind,” said the man who identifies himself as Juror 1. “The more time goes on, the more I’m convinced that, you know, it was a political decision [by Attorney General Daniel Cameron].”
The decision he’s referencing is the attorney general’s choice to offer the jury the option only to indict one former officer, Brett Hankison, for wanton endangerment for shooting into Taylor’s neighbors’ apartment.
He was the first of three anonymous grand jurors to get a lawyer and take the highly unusual step of challenging the secrecy tied to grand jury proceedings. A judge ruled that he and other grand jurors could speak out publicly, and they quickly contradicted Attorney General Daniel Cameron’s claims: notably, that the jurors agreed with him that the two other officers who shot Taylor in March should face no charges.
Juror 1 said prosecutors told them they couldn’t make anything stronger stick.
He and two other jurors, along with their lawyer Kevin Glogower and activist Christopher 2X, spoke to WFPL News on Zoom this month. Although they filed — and won — a lawsuit to speak publicly about the case, they kept their cameras turned off. And they describe Cameron as a bully who impeded their civic duty.
This group of three includes people of different backgrounds. Two men are Highlands-area residents — one white, one Black. The third person is a Black woman who grew up in the West End.
Juror 2 said serving on that grand jury also changed him, in some ways that he sees as positive.
“I felt more of a rounded person. It was my first civic opportunity to be on this kind of a jury. And I felt really gratified to be able to have been picked,” he said.
He still feels that way. But he said Cameron denied the grand jury’s rights by not allowing them to bring the more serious charges related to Taylor’s death that some of them wanted.
The jurors first spoke out on CBS This Morning in October and have been speaking occasionally since. Juror 2 said it’s been a form of therapy for him. Juror 3 has actually turned to counseling to help her cope.
As a Black woman, Taylor’s case feels personal to her. She worries that what happened to Taylor could happen to her. And she’s grappling with the public blame cast on the grand jury amid continued cries for justice for Breonna.
“I kind of feel like a child being blamed for something,” she said. “You know how you feel when you’re younger and you cry or want to just lash out or something, so that’s kind of how it affected me.”
She said she decided to join the other two jurors in going public to help herself deal with the fallout. And she said, day by day, she’s coping better.
All three say they stepped forward to correct the impression Cameron cast that jurors agreed with his charging decision.
Jurors Split With Cameron
When he explained the long-awaited charges on Sept. 23, Cameron said “the grand jury agreed” with his office that the two other officers who fired their weapons at the scene, Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly and Det. Myles Cosgrove, were justified in doing so.
LMPD officers were executing a search warrant at Taylor’s apartment March 13 to find evidence in a narcotics case against her ex-boyfriend. Taylor’s boyfriend Kenneth Walker fired a single shot as police were breaking down the door. He has said he believed them to be intruders, and police said his bullet hit Mattingly.
Three officers fired a total of 32 shots back, striking Taylor repeatedly and killing her.
“It’s not justified to me,” Juror 3 said. “You can’t find no drugs, no money, but here it is a young lady dead and there’s nobody accountable for why she’s dead or who killed her or anything?”
Unlike a trial jury that considers innocence or guilt, the grand jury votes on whether prosecutors have presented enough evidence to charge someone with a crime in the first place.
For this grand jury, jurors spent the first three weeks hearing cases presented by the Jefferson County Commonwealth’s Attorney. By the time the attorney general’s office — a special prosecutor for the Taylor case — stepped in, they had learned a lot about the process and the law.
Juror 1 said he found out they would hear the Taylor case the night before it started.
“It was kind of like, ‘This is where you’re going to meet, there’s going to be these people here, they’re going to have a list of your names, you’re going to check in, they’re gonna take your cell phones from you…and then they’re going to transport you somewhere,’” he said.
The first part of the month they were impaneled, they’d been at the courthouse downtown. By the time the grand jury headed off-site to hear the Taylor case, preparations to restrict movement downtown were underway.
Tension in the city was high, as Taylor’s family, protesters, police and city officials waited for a decision. By that time, Louisville had seen daily demonstrations for nearly four months straight.
Juror 2 said he was apprehensive.
“It was, you know, butterflies,” he said.
At the time, some worried that the charging decision, whatever it was, would lead to mass rioting. And there were demonstrations — including one in which two police officers were shot. They survived those injuries.
The intensity of the protests has since diminished. The case is out of the daily headlines. A request by Taylor’s mother for a new special prosecutor is unlikely to be granted. So what’s left is the federal case, which is focused on whether officers who obtained the warrant that let them into Taylor’s home committed civil rights violations. That’s a subject Cameron’s investigation didn’t touch.
“I hope that the federal [investigators] pick it up and give better charges on it because I do feel whether they can make it stick or not, some other charges should have been presented,” Juror 3 said.
If federal prosecutors want to bring charges related to this case, they’ll have to take it to a new grand jury. Juror 2 hopes that jury takes their example.
“The whole thing for me is to stand up now and let any other grand jury know that you actually have rights,” he said. “And unless you stand up for those rights, they’re just going to steamroll.”
Going forward, these three hope future grand jurors resist being treated like rubber stamps.