A key miscalculation by officers contributed to the tragic death of Breonna Taylor

A CNN analysis finds key missteps by officers, including using months-old information, contributed to the shooting death of 26-year-old Breonna Taylor in a high-risk police operation. CNN's Drew Griffin reports.

Posted: Jul 24, 2020 7:11 PM
Updated: Jul 24, 2020 7:11 PM

In the early morning hours of March 13, police in Louisville, Kentucky, arrested a suspected crack cocaine dealer by the name of Jamarcus Glover.

Glover was no kingpin. His arrest would not have made national headlines. But having him in handcuffs represented a key moment in a monthslong narcotics probe. Had it ended there it would have been a good night for the police.

But in a related, near-simultaneous operation across town, officers wearing tactical vests set up outside an apartment on Louisville's South End with a green door bearing a gold No. 4. It was the home of a young woman detectives suspected was tied to Glover's alleged ring.

Her name: Breonna Taylor.

Officers used a battering ram to break down Taylor's door, triggering a chain of events that would leave the unarmed 26-year-old woman fatally shot in a barrage of seemingly out-of-control police gunfire.

Unlike the recent controversial killings of George Floyd and Rayshard Brooks, there is no police body camera video of what transpired in the moments after officers bashed through Taylor's door. And in an era of widespread demand for greater police accountability, it's a case in which achieving a widely agreed upon sense of justice could prove elusive.

In the absence of videotape evidence, the circumstances surrounding Taylor's slaying have been widely discussed — and sometimes distorted — on social media and by pundits. Among the false claims is that police were conducting a raid at the wrong address, and that an officer injured in the shooting was a victim of "friendly fire" by fellow cops.

Misconceptions aside, the police operation that night was tragically flawed.

A CNN review of the incident found that a key miscalculation by police who assumed Taylor was home alone when she was in fact accompanied by a boyfriend who was legally armed, coupled with the decision to press forward with a high-risk, forced entry under questionable circumstances, contributed to the deadly outcome. This story is based on a review of search warrant affidavits, audio recordings of the official statements of key participants, 911 recordings and interviews with more than a dozen people.

The chaotic scene that night was exacerbated by an officer accused by his own department of "blindly" firing 10 rounds into Taylor's apartment from an outdoor patio. He's since been fired and is appealing his termination.

Police officials and prosecutors declined comment for this report, citing an ongoing investigation. Attempts to reach Glover, who faces drug trafficking charges stemming from the incident, were unsuccessful. His attorney said his client intends to plead not guilty but declined further comment.

Walter Katz, a veteran police oversight expert who has monitored departments in Los Angeles, San Jose and Chicago, called the known circumstances surrounding Taylor's death "very problematic," and indicative of systemic flaws in training and tactics.

The investigation, which now includes the state attorney general's office and the FBI, is being closely watched not just in Kentucky, but across the US.

Five warrants approved

Around noon on March 12, a Louisville police detective presented Jefferson County Circuit Court Judge Mary Shaw with a stack of five search warrant applications for her approval, according to court records.

They were for locations linked to Glover, a convicted felon suspected of supplying a local drug house. One of the places to be searched was Taylor's apartment.

Police said Glover used Taylor's residence as his "current home address" as of a February 20 check of various online computer databases and had been receiving mail there, a three-page affidavit for a search warrant written by Detective Joshua C. Jaynes states. The detective said he saw Glover "walk directly" into Taylor's apartment in mid-January and leave a short time later with a package. He then drove straight to a "known drug house," Jaynes stated. Taylor's car, the detective noted, had been seen parked outside another alleged drug house linked to Glover "on different occasions." The affidavit did not document any activity regarding Taylor or her residence in March.

Besides seeking approval for the searches, police wanted the judge to give them permission to execute the warrants without having to knock on the door, meaning officers could force entry if they saw fit. Such extreme tactics are supposed to be reserved for cases in which police fear suspects may try to arm themselves or are considered likely to destroy evidence if given the opportunity in the moments before a raid. Serving so-called "no-knock" warrants is considered among the most dangerous work in law enforcement. Police are supposed to precisely articulate for judges why such actions are needed in a given case.

For each of his five warrants, Jaynes used identical language seeking to justify the no-knock entry: "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 have a history of fleeing from law enforcement."

The judge approved all the searches and gave the police permission to force entry into the locations if needed.

In a written statement provided to CNN, Judge Shaw declined to discuss the details of the warrant, saying she was "restrained in my ability to comment on ongoing legal matters." But, she said, she took more than 30 minutes to review and consider the warrant applications and "made the probable cause determination required of me by law."

Shaw added that Taylor's death was a tragedy that "will stay with me forever."

Lawyers for Taylor's family would later attack Jaynes' affidavit for Taylor's residence as weak and misleading. For example, any mail Glover may have received at her apartment would have been innocuous items such as clothes or shoes, one of the attorneys told CNN.

"It definitely wasn't drugs."

'We kept banging'

Hours after Shaw signed the warrants, police began the operation, conducting near-simultaneous raids at the various locations.

Taylor's apartment, according to police, was considered a less volatile, "soft target." As such, police commanders decided in advance to have officers knock and announce their presence before entry. That decision was communicated in a pre-operational briefing, according to a source familiar with the details of the operation who requested anonymity due to the ongoing investigation.

Sometime after 12:30 a.m., Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly began pounding on the door. He later told investigators he believed Taylor was alone and he wanted to give her sufficient time to answer.

As officers waited for a response, a neighbor poked his head out to ask what was going on. One of the officers, Brett Hankison, extended his gun and told the neighbor to get back inside his apartment, Mattingly would later tell investigators.

"Brett was a little bit worked up," Mattingly said. "I remember looking at Brett, saying, 'Brett, relax. Brett, just relax. Relax."

When there was no answer after repeated knocks, Mattingly said, he announced he was a police officer there to serve a search warrant.

"Police. Come to the door," he said.

Another officer on the search team said he heard movement inside and thought someone was about to answer the door.

"We kept banging and announcing," Mattingly said, but still no one answered.

Eventually, a lieutenant at the scene gave the order to "go ahead and hit" the door with the battering ram, Mattingly said.

'Who is it?'

Taylor had been watching a movie in bed together with her boyfriend Kenneth Walker when she drifted off to sleep beside him. Walker told investigators he heard banging at the door after midnight and his first thought was that it was Glover. He said he knew Taylor had dated the accused drug dealer during their on-and-off seven-year relationship. He was concerned there might be trouble.

Taylor, who had awoken, shouted, "Who is it"?

Walker said there was no response.

He said he and Taylor scrambled to get dressed and that he grabbed his gun, which his attorney said he legally owns.

The pounding at the door continued, he said.

"She's yelling at the top of her lungs — and I am too at this point — who is it?" he recalled. "No answer. No response. No anything."

As they made their way down a hallway toward the front door, Walker said, the door flew off its hinges.

"So I just let off one shot," he said. "I still can't see who it is or anything."

Following orders and police procedure

Mattingly was first through the door.

He could make out a man and a woman in the darkened hallway, he said, and the man had a gun in his hand.

"I remember seeing the barrel," Mattingly said.

Then, in an instant, he saw the flash of the muzzle and felt the heat of a bullet in his leg. The round had severed his femoral artery.

Mattingly returned fire, squeezing off multiple shots in rapid succession.

"Boom. Boom. Boom. Boom. Boom," he recalled. In all, he said he fired six times.

He remembered falling to the ground and being helped to safety outside the apartment before hearing fellow officers return fire.

Hankison and Officer Myles Cosgrove were later identified as the other officers who discharged their weapons that evening.

An attorney for Cosgrove declined comment. Hankison's attorney did not respond to calls and emails from CNN. Mattingly's attorney, Todd McMurtry, defended his client's conduct.

"Sgt. Mattingly was following orders of superior officers, was not involved in the planning process of the arrest, and at all times followed established police procedures," he said.

None of the officers has been charged with a crime.

'Help'

Inside the apartment, Walker was unharmed. But Taylor lay on the ground beside him, bleeding profusely. There were bullet holes everywhere, including in a neighboring apartment where a young child lived.

Walker punched 911 into his cell phone.

His voice sounds distraught as he tells the dispatcher someone had kicked in the door and shot his girlfriend.

As the operator peppered him with questions, Walker repeatedly moaned his girlfriend's nickname — "Bre" — and the word "help."

In the minutes after the shooting, Louisville police swarmed the parking lot of Taylor's apartment complex.

Cell phone video shot by a neighbor and posted on social media by Taylor's sister captured the scene:

Officers with guns drawn shout commands from behind squad cars, as Walker walks backwards out of the complex with his hands in the air.

He was taken away in handcuffs. Six days later, a grand jury indicted him of attempted murder of a police officer.

The indictment was returned following a brief presentation in which members of the panel were essentially told only that Walker had opened fire on the police during a raid and that one of the officers had been hit.

Grand jurors were not told that Walker said he was unaware the people who broke through Taylor's door were police and that he believed he was acting in self-defense. Nor was the panel told of Taylor's death.

No drugs were found in the apartment

In May, Walker's defense attorney, Rob Eggert, filed a motion to have the indictment dismissed.

He said the prosecution's presentation to the panel "completely mischaracterizes" what took place on the night Taylor was killed and that the grand jury was "woefully misled."

"Their way out of this was to bury my guy," Eggert told CNN in a recent interview. "And that's not right."

A day later, in a surprise move, the Louisville area's top local prosecutor agreed to have the indictment against Walker dismissed. Thomas Wine, the Commonwealth's Attorney for Jefferson County, said he disagreed that grand jurors had been misled, but agreed that it was important for them to hear from Walker directly before deciding whether to indict. If, after further investigation, the case was brought back to the grand jury, Wine said, Walker would be given that opportunity.

'A shock to the conscience'

Taylor's shooting was well covered by the Louisville Courier Journal in the days and weeks after it occurred. But the case received comparatively little national exposure.

That changed following the May 25 police slaying of Floyd in Minneapolis, Minneapolis, that sparked weeks of protests in cities around the country.

Taylor's case exploded into the national consciousness alongside Floyd's.

Last month, the Louisville city council passed Breonna's Law, which banned no-knock warrants and requires officers serving search warrants to wear body cameras.

Eight days later, Louisville's newly appointed police chief gave Hankison a termination letter.

The chief accused Hankison of blindly firing 10 rounds into Taylor's apartment through a covered patio door and window that prevented him from assessing any threat posed by the occupants before opening fire.

Some of his rounds penetrated a neighboring apartment and endangered the lives of three of its occupants, the letter stated.

"I find your conduct a shock to the conscience," the chief wrote. "Your actions have brought discredit upon yourself and the Department ... and demands your termination."

The department's Public Integrity Unit has completed a formal investigation into the shooting, but the results of the probe have not been publicly released.

Meanwhile, FBI agents have taken documents from Louisville police investigators, according to a source familiar with the matter. At Taylor's apartment complex, agents have been interviewing her former neighbors, one resident told CNN.

Katz, the police oversight expert, said he believes there has been mounting pressure on prosecutors across the country to stop giving undue deference to the police version of events in controversial uses of force.

But a case like Taylor's, which has no video, demands a methodical, painstaking investigation that could take significant time to complete, he said.

One key area of dispute in the case is whether police announced their presence before breaking down the door.

Mattingly told investigators he and others did so repeatedly. Walker said he never heard anyone say "police" and that his and Taylor's shouts of "who is it?" were met with silence.

CNN interviewed several of Taylor's neighbors, either directly or through their attorney. Most said they were awakened by the gunfire and therefore did not hear what preceded it.

'Truly, definitely missed'

In a recent interview in a park overlooking downtown Louisville, Taylor's sister and aunt spoke about the circumstances surrounding her slaying, and what they hope will come of her death.

Her aunt, Bianca Austin, described Taylor as a "spunky, goofy little kid" who blossomed into a hard-working, goal-oriented young woman who placed an emphasis on family. At the time of her death, she had been working as a certified emergency medical technician.

"She just was a fun person to be around," Austin said. "She's going to be truly, definitely be missed."

The loss has been so devastating on Taylor's mother that she spent this past Mother's Day in her room, refusing to get out of bed.

Taylor's sister, Ju'Niyah Palmer, who was also her roommate and best friend, acknowledged that Taylor had a past relationship with Glover. But she said her sister wasn't involved in Glover's alleged drug operation and had forbade him from bringing that aspect of his life into her personal life.

"You cannot come up in my house with any drugs," she quoted her sister as telling Glover. "My sister live(s) here and I can't jeopardize her getting hurt because of what you do."

She said Taylor had nothing to hide in her apartment and would have been happy to prove that to the police if she'd known it was them at the door.

"If they were to come in and say, 'Hey, you sell drugs', she'd be like ... that's not who I am," Palmer said.

Both women faulted the police for Taylor's killing and said the officers involved should be charged with murder.

"We're going to fight this to the end," her aunt said. "This is our baby and she's going to get the justice she deserves."

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