LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Kentucky prosecutors have dropped criminal charges against the boyfriend of a Louisville EMT gunned down by police in her own home, and FBI officials have announced a federal probe into the March shooting.
The new developments in the death of Breonna Taylor and the case against Kenneth Walker came late last week, even as Louisville Metro Police Chief Steve Conrad announced his intent to retire from the force, effective July 1. Activists incensed by Taylor’s killing had been demanding Conrad’s resignation.
Conrad, who has been chief since 2012, did not mention the Taylor case in his announcement. He did allude, however, to tough times within the department.
“You all are weathering a lot right now and I know how challenging this is,” Conrad said in his statement. “Approach this as we approach all our struggles – as a team. Look out for each other. Show compassion to the community, even when it might not be shown to you. And remember what a privilege this job is.”
Louisville officers’ conduct is at the heart of the FBI probe into Taylor’s March 13 killing. FBI agents in the Louisville field office confirmed Thursday that they have begun an investigation into the case.
“FBI Louisville has opened an investigation into the shooting of Breonna Taylor,” Special Agent in Charge Robert Brown said in a statement. “The FBI will collect all available facts and evidence and will ensure that the investigation is conducted in a fair, thorough and impartial manner.”
Conrad and Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer earlier this month requested that the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office look into Taylor’s death.
Taylor and Walker were asleep around 12:40 a.m. March 13 when three Louisville officers, Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly and officers Myles Cosgrove and Brett Hankinson, went to Taylor’s apartment complex in the 3000 block of Springfield Drive. In their hands was a search warrant for a drug suspect.
There were two problems: The man the officers were looking for lived elsewhere, and he had been arrested hours earlier, meaning he was already in police custody.
When the officers used a battering ram to break down the door, Walker got his legally owned handgun and, according to what he told authorities, fired a single shot, which struck Mattingly in the leg.
Commonwealth’s Attorney Tom Wine said Friday that the bullet pierced Mattingly’s femoral artery. If not for Mattingly’s wallet, which was in his front left pocket, the wound could have been fatal, the prosecutor said.
Mattingly and the other officers fired more than 20 shots into Taylor’s apartment, striking her at least eight times and killing her, according to a lawsuit filed by her family. Walker, who was not injured, was subsequently charged with the attempted murder of a police officer and aggravated assault.
Wine announced in a teleconference Friday that prosecutors had dropped the charges against Walker, who told authorities he fired in self-defense after the police entered the apartment. Walker said he believed he and Taylor were the victims of a home invasion.
While making the announcement Friday, Wine also attempted to combat a rumor that Mattingly had been shot by one of his fellow officers.
“His injury was not the result of friendly fire,” Wine said.
The prosecutor said there has been “a tremendous amount of false information” on what happened the morning Taylor was killed. Wine said neither his office nor the police department has been able to speak freely about the case due to the ongoing investigation.
“I am frustrated by this decision and I know you are as well, especially since we know how seriously our sergeant was injured,” Conrad said in a statement to his officers. "But I still respect Mr. Wine’s integrity and judgment. We will have to let the process continue to play out and see if the case goes before a grand jury again.
“Mr. Wine presented additional information publicly today. Much of that information contradicts major points in the narrative being shared in the public. But ultimately, Mr. Wine is correct – a jury would have to decide which version of the events they believe. And we will continue to let the investigations progress.”
‘A whole lot of shots’
In Friday’s teleconference, Wine played recordings of interviews with both Walker and Mattingly in which each man describes what he saw and heard the morning Taylor was killed. Wine said the men’s accounts “dovetail” closely, an indication that their recollections are accurate.
Walker said he and Taylor were awakened by several loud bangs on the apartment door. When they got up and started to dress, they realized the door was being rammed open.
Walker said he fired at the intruders, unaware they were police officers.
“I let off one shot and then all of a sudden there’s a whole lot of shots,” Walker said. “We both just dropped to the ground and the gun fell.”
Saying he was “scared to death,” Walker said he began seeing “lights and stuff.”
“So, I’m like, ‘OK, there’s the police,’ and there’s a lot of yelling and stuff. They’re just shooting and we’re both on the ground, and when all the shots stop, I’m, like, panicking, she’s right there on the ground, like, bleeding,” he said.
Taylor died on the floor of her hallway.
No drugs were found in the home. Neither Taylor nor Walker had a history of drug arrests, according to the lawsuit filed by her family.
Nevertheless, Vine said, the officers had a valid search warrant for Taylor’s apartment pertaining to their investigation.
Vine on Friday disputed witness statements that the officers failed to knock on Taylor’s door. To support his stance, he pointed to Walker’s own statement to police, in which he said he and Taylor heard multiple knocks on the door.
When they asked who was there, no one responded, Walker said. That’s when he grabbed his gun, which he said he had never fired outside of a shooting range.
Walker said as they walked into the hallway, he saw the door come off the hinges. He fired one shot, still not knowing who was there, he said.
Walker told police he aimed his gun toward the ground, hoping the shot would simply scare away whoever was breaking into the apartment.
“I don’t need to kill anybody if I can just get you out of here just by you hearing that,” Walker said.
Watch Wine’s news conference below and hear statements from Kenneth Walker and Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly, courtesy of WAVE 3 News.
In his own interviews with investigators, Mattingly said he knocked multiple times on Taylor’s door. He said he and his colleagues didn’t immediately identify themselves.
“We didn’t announce the first couple because our intent was not to hit the door,” Mattingly said. “Our intent was to give (Taylor) plenty of time to get to the door because they said she was probably there alone.”
Though Walker and other witnesses said the officers never identified themselves, Mattingly said they announced themselves after the third knock. When no one came to the door, they used a battering ram to open it.
Read the lawsuit filed by the family of Breonna Taylor below.
Wine said Friday that he believes Mattingly’s contention that the officers knocked on the door and identified themselves as police officers before making entry into Taylor’s home.
Ben Crump, a nationally-renowned civil rights attorney who is representing Taylor’s family, argued in a news release that Louisville authorities should “get their story straight.”
“First, they publicized that they knocked and announced,” Crump said. "But then they stated that they had a no-knock warrant that did not require them to knock and announce. And then today, the prosecutor said on a dry erase board that it was a knock and announce warrant. And they want the public to have faith that they can trust the police in the execution of this warrant.
“Until everyone involved is held accountable and the full truth of what happened that night is revealed, justice for Kenneth and Breonna is incomplete.”
WAVE 3 News in Louisville reported that Walker’s criminal attorney, Rob Eggert, filed the motion to have his charges dismissed based on the fact that a detective who testified March 19 before a grand jury never told the jurors that officers killed Taylor.
The witness, Sgt. Amanda Seelye, also failed to tell jurors Walker fired his weapon because he thought Taylor’s apartment was being broken into, the motion said.
“The picture presented to the grand jury completely mischaracterizes the events that took place at Ms. Taylor’s apartment that resulted in Ms. Taylor’s death,” Eggert wrote in the motion, according to WDRB. “In fact, they completely omit the existence of Ms. Taylor at all.”
Listen to Seelye’s brief testimony below, courtesy of the Louisville Courier Journal.
Wine took issue with Eggert’s assertion that Seelye and prosecutors acted inappropriately.
“There was no misleading testimony by the detective in this case, nor was there any ethical breaches by the prosecutors in the Office of the Commonwealth Attorney,” Wine said Friday. “However, I do agree with him that more should have been presented to the grand jury, including the statement of Kenneth Walker.”
Wine said that belief has led him to have the charges dismissed.
“I believe that additional investigation is necessary,” Wine said. “I believe that the independent investigation by the Attorney General’s Office of Kentucky, the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office must be completed before we go forward with any prosecution of Kenneth Walker.”
Wine said charges could be refiled against Walker if the independent investigations produce new evidence against him.
“And if he wishes to testify before the grand jury, Kenneth Walker will be given that opportunity,” he said.
Walker was released from custody Tuesday, WAVE 3 News reported.
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