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US 'An encyclopedia of police incompetence': Breonna Taylor case exposes array of errors

21:05  11 october  2020
21:05  11 october  2020 Source:   usatoday.com

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — From start to finish, the Louisville Metro Police operation that killed Breonna Taylor reads like an "encyclopedia of police incompetence,” a nationally renowned expert in criminal justice policy said.

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.

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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It reveals "systemic failures" across LMPD, as well as “a pervasive failure of training, supervision and management," said Walker, an emeritus professor at the University of Nebraska Omaha's School of Criminology and Criminal Justice.

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Walker has authored 14 books on civil liberties, policing and criminal justice policy and also has served as an expert in Chicago's civilian-led policing efforts.

A Courier Journal analysis of the investigative file of the Taylor case corroborates those findings, revealing poor planning, execution and judgment from the moment that police planned the drug raid at her apartment, through its ill-conceived execution and afterward with the failure to control the crime scene and chaperone the officers involved in her death. 

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The revelations from thousands of pages of testimony, police statements and investigative reports unearthed in a grand jury investigation and an internal police probe help explain why the city of Louisville paid one of the largest amounts ever in the U.S. for police misconduct — $12 million settlement to Taylor’s family, as well as agreeing to a dozen police reforms.

LMPD did not respond to a request for comment.

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One of three officers to fire their weapons that night Taylor died was charged with a crime — for allegedly endangering Taylor’s neighbors by firing into their next-door apartment.

No one was charged in Taylor's death. 

Advocates for the officers say Taylor never would have been killed had not her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, fired first. Walker said he thought someone was breaking in, but police say his single shot from his legal firearm struck Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly in the thigh, severing an artery.

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Mattingly and detectives Myles Cosgrove and Brett Hankison fired 32 rounds in response, hitting the 26-year-old unarmed Black woman six times. She died in her hallway, wearing the clothes she had hastily thrown on when she and Walker heard pounding at their door.   

Though the city admitted no wrongdoing in the shooting, Mayor Greg Fischer has ordered a top to bottom assessment of LMPD, hiring security goliath Hillard Heintze as consultants to figure out how to fix the department.

The list may prove long. Records in the Taylor investigation alone show an array of police mistakes and policy violations in the case: 

  • First, a detective included false information to obtain the warrant for the search of Taylor’s home. Judge Mary Shaw, who signed it, now says she worries he lied
  • Then, the Criminal Interdiction Division, which was to execute the search, didn't tell the SWAT team, which could have assisted or consulted on strategy. 
  • Intelligence provided in advance of the search suggested to some officers it was a "soft target" because Taylor would likely be there alone. They had no idea Walker was there, or he was armed.
  • The officers that battered their way in after midnight say they first announced they were police. But only one of a dozen neighbors said they heard it — and that witness initially told police the exact opposite. 
  • Neither Mattingly nor Cosgrove appears to have properly identified their target before they fired — or took into account what was behind their target that their bullets might hit.
  • Hankison, who ran outside, sprayed the apartment and an adjoining one with gunfire, shooting through a window and glass door obscured by curtains — an act for which he was later fired. He is appealing.
  • After the shooting, two of the officers wandered through the crime scene and Hankison appears in body camera footage to have questioned other officers working the scene, at one point stepping into Taylor's apartment. Those actions were in apparent violation of LMPD policy.

Pattern of errors almost 'like dark comedy'

The Courier Journal of the USA TODAY Network reached out to policing experts, asking them to look over the newsroom's summary of investigative documents made public over the past two weeks.

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Maria Haberfeld, a professor of police science at New York’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice, disputed that some of those things were errors.

For example, the former lieutenant in the Israel Police force said once officers are fired upon, they had no duty to identify their targets. And she noted that SWAT teams nationally are not dispatched to every search.

Yet, LMPD's own SWAT commander, Lt. Dale Massey, later described the failed raid as an "egregious" act to investigators.

And Ashley Heiberger, a retired police officer from Pennsylvania now working in federal oversight of law enforcement, described officers' failure to identify and verify targets as "problematic."

"We as police officers are responsible for every round that we fire," he said.

Heilberger said he hadn't reviewed the entire investigation but saw enough to identify a pattern of errors — from "relatively small lapses all the way up to potentially criminal misconduct."

"Pattern almost seems to be an understatement," he said. “If it wasn’t so tragic, it would almost be like dark comedy."

As for flawed intelligence leading to the raid, Heiberger said “that just sometimes happens.”

“Police have to operate in the real world, and sometimes incorrect information is communicated,” he said.

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But Walker — of the University of Omaha-Nebraska, who has been interviewed by major media outlets including The New York Times, The Washington Post, PBS/Frontline and CNN — said the sequence that led to Taylor's death is an example of what the Justice Department police investigations describe as "systemic failures."

"The culprits include the chief and the commanders of the relevant units," Walker said.

Here are several places where LMPD came up short:

Breonna Taylor search warrant questioned

The search warrant that brought police to Taylor's door was part of a larger narcotics investigation targeting two suspects 10 miles away on Elliott Avenue. One was Taylor's ex-boyfriend, Jamarcus Glover.

LMPD Detective Joshua Jaynes wrote in the affidavit seeking the warrant he had "verified through a U.S. Postal Inspector that suspected drug dealer Jamarcus Glover has been receiving packages" at Taylor's home on Springfield Drive that could contain drugs and cash.

A postal inspector disputed Jaynes' claim, who later admitted it wasn't true.

Jaynes told investigators in May he could've worded the affidavit "differently." And last week, Judge Shaw said she was concerned Jaynes may have lied to obtain the warrant she signed. 

Jaynes told detectives in the Professional Integrity Unit (LMPD's internal affairs) he actually had asked Mattingly to look into whether Glover was receiving packages at her address through his sources, and claims to have interpreted what Mattingly said as confirmation packages were being received there.

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But Shively Police, who quizzed the postal inspectors for Mattingly, have said they told at least three LMPD officers, including Mattingly, that no packages were delivered to Glover at Taylor's home. 

When Jaynes texted a Shively police sergeant a month after Taylor's death — which he told investigators was an effort to help him complete an investigative letter — Sgt. Tim Salyer interpreted it as a way for Jaynes to "cover your ass."

LMPD investigators labeled Jaynes' warrant language as "misleading" and recommended it be reviewed "for criminal actions."

Cameron said he did not include the warrant in his criminal investigation, deferring to an ongoing FBI investigation. Shaw, too, said she'd let the FBI handle the matter.

Jaynes has been on administrative reassignment since June.

Conflicting intelligence leaves police unprepared for Breonna Taylor raid

It's not clear what intelligence police had before breaking down Taylor's door around 12:40 a.m. March 13. 

Detective Mike Nobles described expecting Taylor "and a small child" to be inside, possibly referring to a little girl she sometimes watched.

Detective Mike Campbell, who had been assigned to watch the apartment that night, said he'd expected both Taylor and Glover to be inside. Glover was actually on Elliott Avenue.

Detective Tony James, meanwhile, told investigators the officers thought the search was "gonna be low key."

Mattingly described Taylor's address as a "soft target" in part because they expected she was home alone.

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It's also unclear if officers consulted a SWAT matrix risk assessment before the raid that could have warned officers there was a chance a registered gun owner would be inside.

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Lt. Shawn Hoover, the ranking officer on scene for the warrant service, told investigators he thought a risk assessment was completed, 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.”

Mattingly told Public Integrity investigators that while Campbell watched Taylor's home before the search, "there was no change in lights comin' on or off."

"Only thing he saw was, uh, the light on the bedroom, the TV." 

After the shooting, Walker told the Public Integrity Unit that he and Taylor had returned to her apartment after going to dinner at Texas Roadhouse.

They were asleep in bed, or close to it, when police arrived, he said.

Planning errors left officers ill-prepared

No master plan existed for the search, other than what was scribbled in marker on a whiteboard, Massey, the SWAT commander, told investigators.

And the SWAT team, which could have provided armor, additional officers and expertise, was not told of the Taylor search, Massey and three officers in his unit said.

They didn't know the raids they were helping with on Elliott Avenue were being done at the same time as at Taylor's Springfield Drive apartment, they said.

They said they first learned of the Springfield raid when they heard on their radios that an officer there had been shot.

"We're like, 'What are you talkin' about?'" Massey recalled to investigators.

He added in a May 19 interview he would have advised the officers "100% not to do it until we were done doin' what we had to do," and that serving multiple warrants simultaneously is inherently dangerous and "bad business." 

An investigative summary written July 2 noted LMPD investigators never received an operations plan for the Springfield Drive warrant.

Errors raised in conducting search

Even before police broke in Taylor's door, Hankison was already "a little bit worked up," Mattingly told investigators.

He recalled the detective angrily confronted a neighbor upstairs and demanded he return to his apartment.

Mattingly and other officers said in interviews they knocked and announced themselves before battering down Apartment 4's front door. But of a dozen neighbors later interviewed, just one said he heard police announce themselves — and only after he was interviewed a second time.

Heiberger, the former Pennsylvania police officer, said he's not in a position to make a credibility determination on the announcement but said the question could make it more difficult to make a self-defense argument if the case would go to trial.

After Mattingly was shot, officers fired off 32 shots in return, peppering the apartment with bullets, some of which went into occupied units next door.

Questions have arisen over what officers were able to see when they were shooting. Massey, the SWAT commander, said Hankison violated a basic rule of policing — identify your target before you shoot.

Hankison's 10 rounds were fired through a patio door obscured by blinds and curtains and a covered bedroom window. He said he fired at flashes of light inside, which would have been the muzzle flashes of his own men.

Massey also said Cosgrove, Mattingly and Nobles, who battered the door down, committed another policing error by lining up three across in what is known as the fatal funnel, meaning they all were in the direct line of fire.

Moreover, although Officer James was wearing his body camera on his shoulder, no footage exists of the raid or subsequent shootings.

"I did not know that it did not activate," he told investigators. "But it was rigged up and ready to go."

Poor management of scene and officers involved in shooting

When SWAT arrived at the South Louisville apartment complex, they described a chaotic scene.

Patrol officers who responded stood outside the apartment pointing rifles at the building. Massey said he told them to stand down because they were "literally just pointin', uh, and they don't know what they're pointin' at."

He also recalled being startled to see Cosgrove wandering around the scene, in violation of police protocols requiring officers in police shootings to be isolated and paired with a support officer.

Hankison, too, remained on-scene after firing his weapon, seemingly alone with no support officer.

After clearing the apartment, SWAT Sgt. Michael Burns said Hankison approached him and asked if anyone inside was dead. 

And Sgt. Joel Casse said Hankison tried to enter the apartment while SWAT was still taking control. 

"'Man, is there a gun in there?'" he said Hankison asked. "And I blurted out, 'Yeah, man, there's a gun in here. Get out of our scene.'" 

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After that interaction, Hankison, who should have gone with an escort immediately to the Public Integrity Unit office on Taylor Boulevard, instead went to the hospital where Mattingly was being treated and mingled with other officers, including then-Chief Steve Conrad.

James, another officer on-scene during the failed raid, took Mattingly's gun and wallet — both pieces of evidence — with him to the hospital and then stashed them in Nobles' car. 

Breonna Taylor investigation plagued by missteps

The department's internal investigation was plagued initially with misinformation.

Conrad, who was fired in June by Mayor Fischer after repeated body camera failures among his officers, said he was initially told Taylor was armed with a rifle and fired it at officers before they shot her dead.

Neither was true, though Walker, her boyfriend, initially lied to police that she had shot at officers, not him.

Hankison added to the confusion by radioing from the scene that police had "encountered rifle fire" and that it looked like it was an AR-15 rifle. In fact, Walker had fired once, with a 9-mm handgun.

In interviews about two weeks after Taylor's death, Public Integrity Unit detectives failed to press officers involved in the shooting on inconsistencies in their statements and failed to ask follow-up questions to pinpoint what they knew or didn't know about the targets they had shot at.

In one interview, Public Integrity Unit sergeants accepted the disjointed recollection of Cosgrove, who said he vaguely remembered shooting at a "distorted shadowy" figure he saw inside Taylor's home.

But interviewers didn't ask him if the figure was male or female, Black or white, or if he saw one person or several. 

They also didn't ask about the shot fired at them from the apartment, which Walker admitted he fired because he thought someone was breaking in.

Moreover, in a mid-May meeting about the status of the criminal investigation into officers' actions, Maj. Kimberly Burbrink, commander of the officers being investigated, asked "pointed questions" that amounted to a "cross-examination of the investigation," Sgt. Jason Vance wrote.

"Investigators felt pressured to provide the information but deemed this content sensitive to the investigation," Vance wrote.

Four days later, Burbrink told Vance she'd "provided the involved officers" an update on the case from that meeting.

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

This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: 'An encyclopedia of police incompetence': Breonna Taylor case exposes array of errors

Fact check: Viral post misstates amount of Justine Damond family settlement .
Viral posts on Facebook falsely claim Minneapolis police shooting victim Justine Damond's family received a $55 million settlement.In the weeks following that decision, outrage and frustration has erupted across social media platforms. Viral posts compare Taylor's case to Justine Damond, an unarmed white woman killed by a Minneapolis police officer in 2017.

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