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STATE AND LOCAL ROUNDUP | Two Louisville police officers shot and wounded ... No evidence of widespread Covid-19 outbreaks in reopened schools ... California protects Joshua trees but allows solar companies to cut them down ... Colorado will furlough thousands of state employees, including the governor.
A grand jury on Wednesday returned three criminal charges against former detective Brett Hankison, one of three Louisville police officers involved in the botched drug raid that killed 26-year-old Breonna Taylor in March.
Hankison, fired by the Louisville Metro Police Department in June, was charged with three counts of first-degree wanton endangerment for firing bullets that hit neighboring apartments during the raid on Taylor’s residence.
Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly and Detective Myles Cosgrove, the other two officers who fired their weapons during the raid, were not indicted by the grand jury, and no one was charged in Taylor’s death. The revelation that no officers were charged in the death sparked protests around the country, including in Louisville, where two officers were shot and wounded about eight hours after the grand jury announcement.
Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron's office ran the investigation into Taylor's death, presenting its findings to the grand jury after investigating for four months. Cameron announced their report in a press conference Wednesday, opening with condolences to Taylor’s family.
“Every day this family wakes up to the realization that someone they loved is no longer with them,” he said. “There is nothing I can offer today to take away the grief and heartache this family is experiencing as a result of losing a child, a niece, a sister, and a friend. What I can provide today are the facts.”
Ben Crump, a lawyer representing Taylor’s family, called the limited indictment “outrageous and offensive” in a tweet.
“If Brett Hankison's behavior was wanton endangerment to people in neighboring apartments, then it should have been wanton endangerment in Breonna Taylor's apartment too. In fact, it should have been ruled wanton murder!” he wrote.
Taylor, a 26-year-old Black emergency room technician, was shot six times in the hallway of her apartment on the night of March 13. Officers were there to serve a no-knock search warrant, which allows police to forcibly enter and search people’s homes without warning. But Cameron said Wednesday that evidence, including statements from at least one independent witness, “shows that officers both knocked and announced themselves” in this instance. Others neighbors at Taylor's apartment complex have said they didn't hear police identify themselves.
When no one answered, officers forced the door open. Mattingly was the only one to enter and was subsequently shot in the leg by Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker.
Walker said later he mistook the officers for intruders and admitted “he was the first to shoot,” an acknowledgement supported by ballistics evidence, Cameron said. Police returned fire, shooting a total of 21 times. Taylor was hit six times, but “only one shot was fatal,” and she likely died within seconds, Cameron said.
Lab reports to determine which officer fired the fatal shot were conflicting, Cameron said, though the FBI concluded that it came from Cosgrove.
“I think it is important to reiterate that Mattingly and Cosgrove were justified in their use of force, having been fired upon first,” he said.
Taylor’s death sparked months of nationwide protests and elicited calls for justice from politicians and celebrities, including Joe Biden, Michelle Obama, LeBron James and Beyonce. Louisville has since banned no-knock warrants, and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul in June proposed a bill to ban them nationally.
The city of Louisville had braced for months for a decision in the case, and Mayor Greg Fischer declared a state of emergency this week in anticipation of “civil unrest,” including a 72-hour city-wide curfew from 9 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. beginning on Wednesday. Protesters expressing frustration about the limited indictment gathered not in in Louisville, but also in cities across the country, including Chicago, Washington, D.C., and Seattle. In Louisville, officials said the two police officers at protests in the city downtown who were shot and wounded suffered non-life threatening injuries.
In Chicago, the mayor called for a citywide moment of silence and people gathered in parks to chant, "Say her name, Breonna Taylor!"
The grand jury’s indictment, delivered by a judge in Jefferson County, charges Hankison with three counts of first-degree wanton endangerment for “wantonly shooting a gun” into multiple apartments. The judge issued a warrant for his arrest and approved a $15,000 all-cash bond.
The Louisville Metro Police Department fired Hankison in June in a dismissal letter that noted his “extreme indifference to the value of human life.” In September, the city agreed to a $12 million settlement in a wrongful-death suit filed by Taylor’s family, an agreement that includes multiple mandates to change police policies and practices. [Courier Journal; New York Times]
OFFICERS SHOT | Two Louisville police officers were shot and wounded in downtown Louisville during protests around 8:30 p.m. Wednesday night, suffering what a police official said were non-life threatening injuries. One officer, shot in the abdomen, needed surgery. The other was shot in the thigh."I am very concerned about the safety of our officers. Obviously we’ve had two officers shot tonight, and that is very serious. ... I think the safety of our officers and the community we serve is of the utmost importance," Interim LMPD chief Robert Schroeder said. A suspect was taken into custody, Schroeder said at a news conference.The officer shooting was condemned by Gov. Andy Beshear, who asked people still on the streets to go home, saying they would have more opportunities to express their outrage about the grand jury decision. "We know that the answer to violence is never violence, and we are thinking about those two officers and their families tonight. So I'm asking everybody, please, go home. Go home tonight." [Courier-Journal; Washington Post; New York Times]
SAFE SCHOOLS | Thousands of students and teachers have been diagnosed with Covid-19 since schools began reopening in August, but so far those infections have not translated to widespread transmission or outbreaks in schools, public health experts said this week. In most cases, rates of infection in schools are well below the same rates in the surrounding communities. It’s still early, experts cautioned—most school districts are still conducting some or most classes remotely, and the situation could worsen as more schools return to in-person instruction and as flu season gets underway. But the trend offers other school districts another data point to consider when making decisions for reopening. [Washington Post]
SOLAR EXEMPTION | Officials in California granted temporary endangered species status to the western Joshua tree Tuesday, but will also allow 15 solar energy firms to cut down trees that stand in the way of planned projects. Experts say this move reflects the reality of balancing public health and environmental sustainability in the age of climate change. The protection, approved 4-0 by the state’s Fish and Game Commission, includes an “emergency rule” granting exemptions to the solar energy firms, whose projects are designed to help the state shift its electric grid entirely off fossil fuels by 2045, part of a larger effort to address and mitigate the effects of climate change. The director of the Center for Biological Diversity, which filed the petition to protect the trees, said he could “grudgingly live with” the compromise. [Los Angeles Times]
HIGH-RISK HELP | A Medicaid partnership program in Minnesota is screening residents for factors that put them at greater risk of contracting Covid-19, then connecting them with support services to help reduce their odds of infection and severe illness. The program, created in response to disparities in the way the pandemic has affected poor and disabled communities, has roughly 430,000 participants, all of them non-elderly adults. Participants are screened for medical risks (compromised immune systems, chronic conditions) and social risks (crowded dwellings, high-contact jobs) and are then directed to local medical providers for services related to those factors. The goals of the program include promoting preventive measures, including mask-wearing, to avoid infection, as well as helping patients with confirmed Covid-19 cases maintain the best health possible so they can more effectively fight the virus. [Minneapolis Star-Tribune]
GOVERNOR FURLOUGH | More than 23,000 state employees in Colorado—including Gov. Jared Polis—will take up to four unpaid furlough days before the end of the fiscal year, a cost-cutting measure aimed at shoring up revenue shortfalls from the coronavirus pandemic. The number of required furlough days is linked to an employee’s salary—workers who make up to $70,000 must take one day, and those who make $140,000 or more will take four. Employees with salaries of $50,000 or less are exempt from the policy, as are public safety employees and those whose jobs have been deemed essential during the pandemic. The move is expected to save the state between $7 and $8 million, according to the governor’s office. [Denver Post]
Editor's note: This story was changed after initial publication to update information about the Breonna Taylor case and protests.
Kate Elizabeth Queram is a staff correspondent for Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.