I had just started my VIP Gold live chat with HotAir’s Ed Morrissey when the news broke about a Kentucky grand jury indicting Louisville police officer Brett Hankinson on three charges of wanton endangerment in the raid on Breonna Taylor’s apartment that led to her being killed by police back in March, and my immediate reaction upon hearing the news was “uh oh.”
Taylor’s family and attorney Benjamin Crump had said before the grand jury’s decision was released that anything less than a second-degree manslaughter charge would be considered “unacceptable,” and many of the demonstrators who’ve taken to the streets of Louisville in recent months had been demanding the arrest of the officers who conducted the raid on murder charges. Given the circumstances that led to Taylor’s death, neither of those were realistic possibilities, but the wanton endangerment charge isn’t likely to please anyone either, and the demonstrations have already begun in Louisville, where police say the National Guard will be out to try to ensure that protests over the decision remain peaceful.
Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron was right when he said on Tuesday afternoon that Taylor’s death was and is a tragedy, but given the fact that the Louisville police officers who fired into Taylor’s apartment were actually returning fire, a murder or even manslaughter charge was going to be a stretch. Breonna Taylor’s boyfriend Kenneth Walker has said that he didn’t hear police announce themselves, and believed that Taylor’s home was being broken into when he fired a shot as the front door burst open. I still think that’s likely the case, but Cameron noted in his comments on Tuesday afternoon that an eyewitness who lives in the apartment complex did confirm that police had announced themselves before breaching the apartment door.
The most likely explanation as to how the events unfolded on March 13th is that both sides thought they were acting in self-defense. Kenneth Walker believed he was protecting himself and his girlfriend from home invaders, and police opened fire after Walker fired a shot. Walker was originally charged with attempted murder, but prosecutors dropped the charge back in May, though they did say that they could file additional charges once the investigation had concluded.
How strong is the case against Hankinson? Prosecutors will have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the officer “under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life” wantonly engaged “in conduct which creates a substantial danger of death or serious physical injury to another person.” Hankinson fired ten shots that night, but not into Taylor’s apartment. Instead, his shots entered an adjacent unit.
Hankinson’s attorneys will likely claim that, far from exhibiting extreme indifference to the value of human life, he was acting to protect his fellow officers after one of them was wounded by Kenneth Walker as they breached the door. Wanton endangerment is probably the most appropriate charge for the grand jury to bring, but I still think prosecutors are going to have their work cut out for them in order to obtain a conviction.
In the meantime, the streets of Louisville are already filling up with people, and it looks like things are already starting to go sideways.
The BLM crowd was marching in the street until they were stopped by Louisville police in riot gear. The police moved in and rioters started to fight with the police and arrests have been made. pic.twitter.com/Y9lAV76SJP
— Julio Rosas (@Julio_Rosas11) September 23, 2020
I’m glad to see that the National Guard is already on its way to Louisville, and my fervent hope is that the tragic death of Breonna Taylor isn’t compounded by further tragedies when the sun sets on the city tonight.