BREAKING NEWS: No charges for killing Breonna Taylor

This article contains news with liberal commentary.

The facts of the case

Police suspected Taylor’s current and prior boyfriends of drug dealing, and obtained a no-knock warrant to search her apartment for drugs I(none were found). When they battered down the door, her current boyfriend believed they were intruders, and shot one of them in the leg. The cops returned fire, blindly and randomly, missing him but killing her, and barely missing an occupant of an adjacent apartment. After the incident, nearly everything the police said about what happened turned out to be a pack of lies.

Here’s what has happened

The state took over the investigation after local authorities dragged their feet for several months.

The state attorney general convened a grand jury and presented it with investigative findings.

The grand jury indicted the cop who killed Taylor for endangering the neighbors, but returned no charges for her death. The community is outraged by this result.

The city:

    • paid her family a $12 million settlement, which is unusually large but not unprecedented in wrongful death cases
    • fired the cop who killed her
    • fired the police chief, but for a different incident.
    • suspended use of “no knock” warrants and required officers to wear body cameras

One of the cops involved in the raid, Jonathan Mattingly, circulated a whiny email to his fellow cops this week saying, “I know we did the legal, moral, and ethical thing that night,” and calling the protesters “thugs.”

What I think

Symbolism is important (see, e.g., Confederate statues). Apart from whether the cops acted in accordance with department policies (those are factual issues) or have legal immunity or other defenses that preclude prosecution (that’s a legal question), prosecuting these officers was symbolically important to Taylor’s family and supporters, the black community, and many other citizens concerned with social justice.

My response is they shouldn’t be prosecuted for political reasons, e.g. to placate community outrage. Let’s not even have that discussion; don’t go there at all. But a grand jury proceeding isn’t like a trial. The prosecutor (in this case the attorney general) controls what evidence the grand jury sees, what indictments are sought, and can sabotage a viable case if he wants to. If he did, that’s on him, not the grand jury. If he didn’t, it’s possible the grand jury refused to indict when they should have, out of pro-police bias or for some other reason. If they did, that’s on the grand jurors. Let’s wait and see what the legal experts say about what the attorney general and grand jury did. For now, I’ll assume both acted in good faith and this decision is based on the law, in which case we should defend it, because it’s in all our interests to maintain the rule of law. (Trump is an example of what you get when it isn’t.)

But in order for legal experts to determine whether the grand jury proceedings were fair or rigged in the officers’ favor, it’s necessary to make those proceedings transparent. Normally, grand jury proceedings are secret. But every rule has exceptions, and this is an exception case. The Democratic governor has called for the Republican attorney general to release the evidence presented to the grand jury, and the attorney general should do that. “We ought to be able to see the evidence and see the facts that led to that conclusion,” he said (here). Otherwise, there will always be doubts about whether the grand jury’s decision was fair or manipulated. Because, let’s face it, the police and justice system are deeply distrusted by a large part of the community right now, and a refusal will only deepen distrust and harden those suspicions.

There have been other repercussions. Taylor’s family got a huge settlement. The cop who killed her was fired. That won’t mean very much if he gets another police job elsewhere, but given that he was fired from his previous police job too, and likely will end up with a rap sheet from the reckless endangerment charge, he’s almost certainly now out of law enforcement for good. The other two cops weren’t fired, and in view of all the police lying that occurred in this case, that amazes me. Other heads should roll for that, too. Firing the chief for something else doesn’t give satisfaction but does get rid of him and clear the way for a new police management that will bring changes.

The suspension of “no knock” warrants should be made permanent, use of body cams should be strictly enforced with real penalties, and reform should not stop with those two changes. All of American policing, Louisville’s included, needs comprehensive reform of who is recruited, how officers are trained, and supervision and discipline, including eliminating the power of police unions over how police agencies are run.

The Breonna Taylor protests should continue, because it’s symbolically important to protest the police killing of an innocent person, and because the need for police reform remains. But the protests must be peaceful and orderly. Violence or even disorderly conduct is wrong, illegal, and worst of all gives ammunition to Trump and empowers vigilantes.

Mr. Mattingly can take his email and stuff it up his ass. He’s a prime example of somebody who doesn’t know when to keep his mouth shut. Better yet, find some excuse to fire him, too, because the citizens of Louisville don’t want him on their police force, and the rest of us don’t want him on any police force.

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0 Comments Add Yours ↓

  1. Injustice remains #

    Battering down someone’s door at night without identifying themselves and no warrant, what kind of outcome can be expected from that scenario?

    Paying off a settlement doesn’t correct nor change a wrong verdict, nor does it make the injustice go away.

    Injustice remains, injustice.