Current and Former Louisville, Kentucky police officers charged with federal crimes related to death of Breonna Taylor

An image of Breonna Taylor is displayed on a sign during a Black Lives Matter march protest in Atlanta, May 31, 2020. – Photo by Maria Oswalt/Unsplash

 

Special to The Dallas Examiner

 

WASHINGTON – A federal grand jury in Louisville, Kentucky, returned two indictments that were unsealed Aug. 4, along with third charging document filed by the Department of Justice, in connection with an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of Breonna Taylor.

“The Justice Department has charged four current and former Louisville Metro Police Department officers with federal crimes related to Breonna Taylor’s death,” said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland. “Among other things, the federal charges announced today allege that members of LMPD’s Place-Based Investigations Unit falsified the affidavit used to obtain the search warrant of Ms. Taylor’s home, that this act violated federal civil rights laws, and that those violations resulted in Ms. Taylor’s death. Breonna Taylor should be alive today. The Justice Department is committed to defending and protecting the civil rights of every person in this country. That was this Department’s founding purpose, and it remains our urgent mission.”

Taylor was a 26-year-old Black woman who was shot and killed in her home by LMPD police officers executing a search warrant.

“On March 13, 2020, Breonna Taylor should have awakened in her home as usual, but tragically she did not,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke. “Since the founding of our nation, the Bill of Rights to the United States Constitution has guaranteed that all people have a right to be secure in their homes, free from false warrants, unreasonable searches and the use of unjustifiable and excessive force by the police. These indictments reflect the Justice Department’s commitment to preserving the integrity of the criminal justice system and to protecting the constitutional rights of every American.”

 

The new charges

“In charging four current and former Louisville police officers with violating Breonna Taylor’s civil rights, the U.S. Department of Justice yesterday offered hope for long-delayed accountability for her tragic, disgraceful murder by police. Taylor was the victim of an illegal, no-knock drug raid on her home. She was shot eight times while she lay in her bed. The person the police claimed to be looking for had already been arrested and did not live there. It is worth saying that Breonna was not a suspect and had not committed a crime. However, even if she had, the police are not, and should never be judge, jury and executioner,” said Monifa Bandele, chief strategy officer at MomsRising, a grassroots organization that advocates for families.

The additional charges include federal civil rights offenses, unlawful conspiracies, obstruction offenses and use of excessive force.

The first indictment charged former Detective Joshua Jaynes, 40, and current Sergeant Kyle Meany, 35, with federal civil rights and obstruction offenses for their roles in preparing and approving a false search warrant affidavit that resulted in Taylor’s death. This contains four counts.

  • Count One charges that Jaynes and Meany, while acting in their official capacities as officers, willfully deprived Taylor of her constitutional rights by drafting and approving a false affidavit to obtain a search warrant for Taylor’s home. The indictment alleges that Jaynes and Meany knew that the affidavit contained false and misleading statements, omitted material facts, relied on stale information, and was not supported by probable cause. The indictment also alleges that Jaynes and Meany 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. According to the charges, the officers tasked with executing the warrant were not involved in drafting the warrant affidavit and were not aware that it was false. This count alleges that the offense resulted in Taylor’s death.
  • Count Two charges Jaynes 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. Count Three charges Jaynes with falsifying a report with the intent to impede a criminal investigation into Taylor’s death. Count Four charges Meany with making a false statement to federal investigators.

The second indictment charged former Detective Brett Hankison, 46, with civil rights offenses for firing his service weapon into Taylor’s apartment through a covered window and covered glass door. This includes two civil rights charges alleging that Hankison willfully used unconstitutionally excessive force, while acting in his official capacity as an officer, when he fired his service weapon into Taylor’s apartment through a covered window and covered glass door.

  • Count One charges him with depriving Taylor and a person staying with Taylor in her apartment of their constitutional rights by firing shots through a bedroom window that was covered with blinds and a blackout curtain.
  • Count Two charges Hankison with depriving three of Taylor’s neighbors of their constitutional rights by firing shots through a sliding glass door that was covered with blinds and a curtain; the indictment alleges that several of his bullets traveled through the wall of Taylor’s home and into the apartment unit occupied by her neighbors. Both counts allege that Hankison used a dangerous weapon, and that his conduct involved an attempt to kill.

The third charging document – information filed by the DOJ – charged Detective Kelly Goodlett with conspiring with Jaynes to falsify the search warrant for Taylor’s home and file a false report to cover up the false affidavit.

 

Conclusion of violations

All of the civil rights charges involve alleged violations of Title 18, United States Code, Section 242, which makes it a crime for an official acting under color of law – meaning an official who is using or abusing authority given to that person by the government – to willfully violate a person’s constitutional rights. A violation of this statute carries a statutory maximum sentence of life imprisonment where the violation results in death or involves an attempt to kill.  The obstruction counts charged in the indictments carry a statutory maximum sentence of 20 years; and the conspiracy counts carry a statutory maximum sentence of five years, as does the false-statements charge. Actual sentences, in case of conviction, are determined by a judge.

The charges Aug. 4 are separate from the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division’s pattern or practice investigation into Louisville Metro Government and the LMPD, which Garland announced April 26, 2021. The additional charges are criminal against individual officers, while the ongoing pattern or practice investigation is a civil investigation that is examining allegations of systemic violations of the Constitution and federal law by LMPD and Louisville Metro. The civil pattern or practice investigation is being handled independently from the criminal case by a different team of career staff.

The charges Aug. 4 are also separate from the charges previously filed by the Commonwealth of Kentucky against Hankison related to the shooting at Taylor’s home. The federal charges allege violations of the U.S. Constitution, rather than of state law. The federal charges also allege excessive use of force with respect to Taylor and a person staying in her apartment; violations not included in the Commonwealth’s case.

These federal cases were investigated by the FBI Louisville Field Office. Trial Attorneys Michael J. Songer and Anna Gotfryd of the Civil Rights Division are prosecuting the cases with Assistant U.S. Attorney Zachary Dembo of the Eastern District of Kentucky.

“While these charges and guilty pleas will not bring Breonna back, we hope it sends a message to all that no one is above the law. The NBA thanks Attorney General Garland, Assistant Attorney General Clarke and their staff for their diligence for pursuing justice in Breonna’s case. Where the Commonwealth failed to act, we appreciate the federal government stepping in to ensure justice is pursued no matter the length of time,” National Bar Association President Lonita K. Baker stated.

An indictment or an information is merely a formal allegation of criminal conduct. The defendants are presumed innocent unless and until they are proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

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