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Crime A shadowy figure, an 'ambush': Officers give jumbled accounts of night Breonna Taylor died

03:40  05 october  2020
03:40  05 october  2020 Source:   usatoday.com

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The death of Breonna Taylor , a Black medical worker who was shot and killed by Louisville police officers in March during a botched raid on her Ms. Taylor ’s family also said it was outrageous that the police felt it necessary to conduct the raid in the middle of the night . Their lawyers say the police

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Police interviews of Louisville officers who were part of the failed drug raid that ended in Breonna Taylor's death show their recollections were jumbled and at times mistaken.

Transcripts of the interviews were obtained on Friday by The Louisville Courier Journal of the USA TODAY Network and were part of the presentation to the Jefferson County grand jury in the Taylor case. 

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What happened at Breonna Taylor 's apartment in Kentucky has turned into a national debate on What happened that night at Taylor 's Springfield Drive apartment in southwest Jefferson County And why was Taylor killed? Using interviews, court records and witness accounts , The Louisville Courier

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A Courier Journal analysis shows Louisville Metro Police investigators often failed to press the officers on inconsistencies in their statements.

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The interviews were conducted by the department's internal Police Integrity Unit roughly two weeks after officers broke down Taylor's door shortly before 1 a.m. March 13 while searching for drugs and cash as part of a larger narcotics operation.

a close up of a garden: LMPD Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly was shot in the breezeway outside Breonna Taylor's apartment. An attorney for Taylor's boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, said photos show there was no indication of blood in the area. © Crime scene photo LMPD Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly was shot in the breezeway outside Breonna Taylor's apartment. An attorney for Taylor's boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, said photos show there was no indication of blood in the area.

That search quickly went awry when Taylor's boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, fired a shot, saying he thought someone was trying to break in. Officers fired more than 30 rounds in response, striking Taylor six times and killing her.

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The chaos of that night was reflected in the statements officers later gave to investigators.

The Courier Journal review also shows investigators didn't ask follow-up questions that would pinpoint what officers knew or didn't know about who and what they were shooting at in the apartment.

Because the case is still open, LMPD declined to comment.

Related: Listen to the recordings from the Breonna Taylor grand jury proceedings

Taylor attorney: Interviews were 'loaded with softballs'

In one interview, Public Integrity Unit sergeants accept the disjointed recollection of Detective Myles Cosgrove — one of two officers whose rounds struck and killed Taylor — who said he vaguely remembered shooting at a "distorted shadowy" figure he said he saw inside Taylor's home.

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Sam Aguiar, an attorney for Taylor's family, said the interviews were "loaded with softballs."

"When somebody gives you an answer that causes more questions, you have to ask those questions," he said. "They didn’t do it. It’s almost like they were checking boxes.”

Attorney Steve Romines, who represents Taylor's boyfriend, who has sued for false arrest, said the interviews show police took a conciliatory approach with their colleagues that they would never use with civilian suspects.

“I mean, there’s no way if it’s an ordinary citizen they conduct this investigation in any way close to this," Romines said. "They know that their statements are contradicted by one another, they know they’re contradicted by the evidence, yet they never even question them about it."

“Sgt. (Jonathan) Mattingly and Det. Cosgrove gave voluntary statements to both the PIU investigators and to the Attorney General’s investigators,” their attorney, Kent Wicker, said in a statement. “Both times, they answered every question asked to them, fully and truthfully.”

Two of the officers who fired their guns, Mattingly and Cosgrove, were not charged in Taylor's death because Attorney General Daniel Cameron office told a grand jury they acted in self-defense after Walker fired at them first.

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Breonna Taylor , a 26-year-old African-American woman, was fatally shot in her Louisville, Kentucky apartment on March 13, 2020, when police officers Jonathan Mattingly, Brett Hankison

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Ex-Detective Brett Hankison was charged with wantonly endangering three neighbors when some of his bullets went into their apartment next to Taylor's. He was fired in June for "blindly" firing into the apartment.

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Troy Barron et al. posing for the camera: Three Louisville Metro Police Department officers fired their guns into Breonna Taylor's apartment: Brett Hankison, Jonathan Mattingly and Myles Cosgrove. © LMPD Three Louisville Metro Police Department officers fired their guns into Breonna Taylor's apartment: Brett Hankison, Jonathan Mattingly and Myles Cosgrove.

Cameron has suggested Taylor died too "quickly" for Hankison to have endangered her life.

Still, the police interviews present the first picture of what the officers saw and felt during those frenetic, harried minutes when gunshots rang out and an unarmed woman lay dead in her own home.

More on this: Grand jury recordings reveal chilling scene of chaos, misinformation

Here's what police officers told investigators — and what they were not asked:

Cosgrove: I fired at a 'distorted shadowy mask'

Interviewed 12 days after Taylor's March 13 death, Cosgrove spoke of a “distorted shadowy figure” he said he fired at in her apartment. 

In an hourlong interview he gave to the Public Integrity Unit, Cosgrove, who fired what the FBI later determined was the fatal shot, told Louisville investigators he shot at a "distorted shadowy mask.”

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In the March 25 interview conducted by Sgt. Amanda Seelye and Sgt. Jason Vance, Cosgrove made conflicting statements that were not challenged by either sergeant. 

Cosgrove said at one juncture he never heard any gunfire, but at another point told Seelye and Vance he was “deafened” by it. 

He also said he used a high-powered flashlight to illuminate the apartment but he was “immediately overwhelmed with darkness.” 

Cosgrove described how “this darkness in front of me" was "followed by — and this is hard for me to explain — this distorted shadowy mask, this figurine, this figure in front of me that is just … coming and going due to the flash fog light.”  

But the interviewers don’t ask him if the figure was male or female, Black or white, or if he saw only one person, or more than one. 

They also don’t ask about the shot fired from the apartment, which Taylor’s boyfriend, Walker, had already told police he fired because he thought someone was breaking in. 

In his account, Cosgrove described seeing “vivid white flashes” and “blackness at the same time."

But Cosgrove responded clearly when attorney Steve Schroering, then his counsel, asked him at the end of the interview: “At the time you were in that doorway with Mattingly, did you have any question in your mind that your all's lives were in danger?” 

“Absolutely not,” Cosgrove replied. “I knew for a fact that we were in danger of being killed or seriously injured."

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Aguiar, who helped Taylor's estate win a $12 million settlement with the city of Louisville for her wrongful death, said Cosgrove's statement was too vague to say he acted justifiably, especially given that he fired 16 times.

"If he couldn’t see, couldn’t hear, couldn’t feel, how can we say that you were justified?” Aguiar said.

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Hankison: 'I thought they were being executed'

Hankison, the former detective fired in June, told investigators in a March 25 interview he was by the front door when officers broke it down and saw a person inside with “an AR-15 or a long gun, a rifle-type gun.”

Immediately, he said, he realized officers were poorly positioned, so he ran out of the breezeway, toward the parking lot. He described hearing “rapid fire from — from like an AR-15” and seeing flashes.

No long gun was ever found, the department said. And the investigation determined Walker was armed with a legally owned Glock 9 mm handgun that he fired once. Police say that round hit Mattingly in the thigh, severing his femoral artery. 

“I thought they were just being executed, because I knew they were helping Jon (Mattingly),” Hankison said. “I was almost under the impression at the time that they were either all getting sprayed with bullets or, as they were trying to move him out of that breezeway, he was shooting at us through the wall.”

“My only option was to return fire,” he said, “and I did that to the muzzle flashes.”

Hankison said he could see “muzzle flash, or I could see the intense, like, fire flashing through — and the curtains or blinds, I think, were closed in that room also, but I could see it lighting up the room.”

He said he “returned fire through that window” and the flashing stopped.

Investigators didn't press Hankison on whether the flashes he saw came from fellow officers' weapons, since Walker only fired once.

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Related: Hankison pleads not guilty to charges related to Breonna Taylor shooting

Hankison also stated he was “100% sure” the person inside was armed with a long gun: “I’m kinda familiar with shotguns from hunting as a kid and I knew it was not a shotgun. Um, one, ‘cause shotguns don’t shoot that fast and don’t shoot with the same — the same percussion.”

He was not challenged on that point.

Investigators did ask where Hankison went before going to the Public Integrity Unit office. He said he went to the hospital where Mattingly was.

But the interview gives no indication investigators pressed the former detective on anywhere else he may have gone. Attorneys for Taylor's family have argued Hankison was unaccounted for hours that night.

Hankison additionally volunteers that he entered the apartment after the shooting — despite it being an active crime scene.

In the March 25 interview, Hankison told investigators he was involved in the search warrant execution because a sergeant had requested a K-9 dog at each location. According to Hankison, his police dog stayed in the kennel inside his car as the search transpired.

He explained he didn’t “know anything about the specifics of the investigation … other than they just needed a dog, which I have.” A team was briefed in a large conference room before the search and told the warrants would be executed “simultaneously or just after” connected warrants elsewhere in the city, he said.

He also later stated he believed the no-knock warrant designation was sought “because of the propensity for violence.” However, he didn’t know if the home had kids or pets. 

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Mattingly: 'We didn't do any of the investigation'

Some comments made by Mattingly were first released in May by Commonwealth’s Attorney Tom Wine during a press conference, and his full interview with LMPD became public in July.

Mattingly described Taylor’s apartment being a “soft target” with minimal threats.

"We didn't write (the warrant),” he told investigators. “We didn't do any of the investigation. We did none of the background.”

But that has been called into question when an internal LMPD report found that months earlier, Mattingly asked the Shively Police Department to check with the Postal Service about any packages going to Taylor’s address for Jamarcus Glover.

Glover, Taylor’s ex-boyfriend, was the main suspect in the larger narcotics investigation that led police to her door. Shively officers told Mattingly that Glover wasn’t getting packages at her South Louisville apartment.

But when investigators asked Mattingly on March 25 what he was told in the pre-operational briefing on March 12, he said, “their main target, (Glover), had packages sent to (Taylor's) location, her name, she held, possibly held, dope for him, received the packages and held his money.”

About 12 minutes into the interview, after recounting knocking on the door, being shot and getting out of the line of fire, Mattingly asked investigators if that’s all they needed from him.

Shawn Hoover: 'In my opinion, we were ambushed'

From the start of the interview on March 13, LMPD investigators told Lt. Shawn Hoover he was not the target of the criminal investigation, according to the transcript, which seems to have been taken from 4 to 4:50 a.m. in the aftermath of the shooting.

“You don’t have to give us a statement at this time … if you don’t want to,” they told him. “You still gotta do what’s best for you and what’s right for you.”

Hoover has been with LMPD for about 18 years and was the ranking officer on-scene at Taylor’s apartment during the warrant execution. Of the seven officers who served the warrant, Hoover is the only one not under internal investigation for his role.

He recalled the night beginning with a briefing from Detective Wes Barton of the Place-Based Investigations unit, which conducted the investigation that led to the warrant at Taylor’s apartment and four other locations.

Officers knocked on Taylor's door repeatedly and announced themselves, he said, before Hoover ordered them to use a battering ram. From inside the dark apartment, Hoover said he immediately “hears gunshots comin’ outta that apartment.” He realized Mattingly had been hit.

"When he went down, he was goin' down, he was returnin’ fire while he was layin' on the ground," Hoover said.

He dragged Mattingly away from the gunfire and tended to his bleeding leg for the next several minutes, he said, until police were able to get the injured sergeant into an ambulance.

See also: Witness who said police announced themselves changed story

After Taylor's boyfriend, Walker, left the apartment, Hoover said, “none of us stepped foot in that apartment, with the incident. SWAT was the only one to go in there.”

“So you guys never actually made entry?” an investigator asked.

“We never made it in,” Hoover said. “We were, in my opinion, we were ambushed. They knew we were there. I mean, hell, the neighbors knew we were there upstairs, you know, they were comin’ out, see what was goin’ on and they were, they were waiting.”

Investigators asked if a risk-assessment matrix was done ahead of serving the warrant — a checklist to determine the possible danger inside.

Hoover said he thought so, but he didn’t see it.

“I guess that’d be an error on me for not askin’ that question,” he said. “I assume they did it.”

Investigators noted that Hoover had been involved with serving “umpteen” warrants over his career and that he’d have a good idea of the risks in certain situations.

“It sounded like you guys were usin’ more of an approach of try to be more cautious and also tryin’ to mitigate the higher risk that the no-knock caused,” one asked him.

Hoover agreed.

“Would you say that you felt like it was safer for everybody to do it that way?” they asked.

Again, Hoover agreed.

“I assumed somebody would come and answer the door,” he said. “That was our intention. … It’s after midnight. You’re breakin’ down somebody’s door and it’s dark, and if they’re in bed, startled.”

Since Taylor's death, Mayor Greg Fischer has said he wants to shift responsibility for investigations of LMPD shootings to the Kentucky State Police.

Follow Darcy Costello, Tessa Duvall and Andrew Wolfson on Twitter: @dctello, @TessaDuvall, @adwolfson.

This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: A shadowy figure, an 'ambush': Officers give jumbled accounts of night Breonna Taylor died

'An encyclopedia of police incompetence': Breonna Taylor case exposes array of errors .
An analysis of the Breonna Taylor case reveals poor planning, execution and judgment from the raid on her home to their failure to control the scene.The litany of errors shows that the March 13 police shooting of Taylor in her home was more than the result of a few bad apples, according to Samuel Walker, who reviewed The Louisville Courier Journal’s summary of investigative documents made public over the past two weeks.

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