For 874 days ― nearly 2½ years ― Tamika Palmer has told anyone who would listen that Louisville police never should have been at her daughter Breonna Taylor’s apartment the night they shot her dead in the hallway.
On day 874, she learned the federal government agreed.
“What we’ve been saying was the truth, that they shouldn’t have been there, and that Breonna didn’t deserve that,” Palmer said Thursday, hours after the U.S. Department of Justice announced federal indictments accusing three current or former Louisville police officers of lying to obtain the search warrant that led officers to Taylor’s apartment on March 13, 2020, ― and then trying to cover up those lies.
The Justice Department announced an indictment against a fourth ex-police officer, Brett Hankison, on a federal charge of using “unconstitutionally excessive force” when he blindly fired 10 shots into Taylor's apartment the night she was killed, with several rounds ending up in a neighbor’s apartment. Hankison was previously acquitted of state charges of wanton endangerment earlier this year for those actions.
“Today’s overdue, but it still hurts,” Palmer said, flanked by family, attorneys and supporters during a press conference Thursday in Jefferson Square, the epicenter for 180-plus days of protests that erupted following Taylor’s killing.
The indictments mark the first time any police officers have been criminally charged in connection with the 26-year-old emergency technician’s death.
In announcing the indictments, Attorney General Merrick Garland said former detective Joshua Jaynes and current officers Sgt. Kyle Meany and Kelly Hanna Goodlett knew they didn’t have probable cause to get a warrant to search Taylor’s apartment that night, and they knew the affidavit supporting that warrant “contained false and misleading information and that it omitted material information.”
“Breonna Taylor should be alive today,” Garland said during the announcement.
Many of the allegations against Jaynes first surfaced when the Louisville police department fired him for lying on the search warrant. But the new indictment also accuses Jaynes and Goodlett of meeting in Jaynes’ garage in May 2020, where they “conspired to knowingly falsify an investigative document” and “conspired to mislead federal, state and local authorities” during the subsequent investigation.
“We weren’t crazy when we said they were conspiring to cover up the murder of this innocent Black woman,” said Ben Crump, a national civil rights attorney and one of the co-counsels who represented Taylor’s family in their successful civil lawsuit against the city and police department.
Hankison, Jaynes and Meany each appeared before Magistrate Judge Regina Edwards Thursday and were granted conditional release. Goodlett, meanwhile, was charged by information ― an indicator she may have agreed to plead guilty.
All except Goodlett face a possible maximum sentence of life in prison. The federal system has no parole.
Louisville police issued a statement saying Chief Erika Shields started termination proceedings against Meany and Goodlett, who is also one of the officers named in an FBI investigation over LMPD staff allegedly throwing drinks at people in the city’s West End.
Attorney Sam Aguiar, one of the Taylor family’s attorneys, said Goodlett’s apparent guilty plea could give the other accused officers “a hard time” mounting a defense.
“I’m confident the feds wouldn’t indict unless they have a strong case,” he said.
Well over a dozen supporters gathered in Jefferson Square after the press conference, hugging and dancing as the Sam Cooke classic, “A Change is Gonna Come,” played through speakers. The occasional car horn blared from passing drivers who raised their fists out their windows and yelled, “Breeway,” the now-official name for the streets that surround the downtown park.
Many said they saw the federal indictments as proof that the months of continuous protests across Louisville were not in vain. They also directed sharp criticism at Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron ― currently running for governor ― for his handling of a state investigation that resulted in only the wanton endangerment charges against Hankison.
Grand jurors later complained anonymously that prosecutors never presented them with potential charges against any other officers.
“The federal government had the guts to do what Daniel Cameron did not,” said Lonita Baker, Taylor family attorney and president-elect of the National Bar Association.
“The malfeasance that the Kentucky attorney general’s office showed in this case shows that his political career needs to end now.”
Cameron could not be immediately reached for comment. But in a series of Tweets posted early Thursday evening, he defended his office’s investigation.
“Our primary task was to investigate whether the officers who executed the search warrant were criminally responsible for Ms. Taylor’s death under state law,” he wrote. “At the conclusion of our investigation, our prosecutors submitted the information to a state grand jury, which ultimately resulted in criminal charges being brought against Mr. Brett Hankison for wanton endangerment.”
At the conclusion of our investigation, our prosecutors submitted the information to a state grand jury, which ultimately resulted in criminal charges being brought against Mr. Brett Hankison for wanton endangerment. I’m proud of the work of our investigators & prosecutors. (4/7)
— Attorney General Daniel Cameron (@kyoag) August 4, 2022
Calling the federal indictments “vindication,” Sadiqa Reynolds, president of the Louisville Urban League, said the public needs to continue to demand accountability from city leaders and the police.
“Somebody is dead,” she told the crowd of media and supporters gathered in the square. “It could have been you. It could have been me. And it still can be unless we change the way business is done.”
'An emotional day': Celebration continues into evening
More than 50 people gathered at the square Thursday evening to celebrate the charges, embracing one another for their calls for justice.
“This has been an emotional day,” said Tyra Walker, co-chair of the Kentucky Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression.
“There were a lot of sacrifices,” she said, pointing to the trauma and loss felt by many in the crowd.
Walker and others who addressed the crowd frequently told those gathered that the indictments shouldn’t be the last achievement of the city's racial justice movement.
“Thank you Daniel Cameron for showing us who you are and that you can’t be trusted to do your job for the state of Kentucky,” Walker said. “We are calling for your arrest for not doing your job.”
Chris Will, president of FIRM Initiative, called on charges against protesters to be dropped.
Between May 2020 and May 2021, LMPD recorded more than 1,000 arrests of protesters. Over the past two years, nearly 700 cases have been dismissed, with many defendants completing volunteer work, while 116 cases have resulted in guilty verdicts, according to a Courier Journal analysis of court records.
About 170 cases remain open.
“They called us looters, rioters – we had a bad rep from the get go,” Will said.
“The rest of you cops, don’t get comfortable, they are coming to get you,” he added, referring to a belief that other officers will be accused of wrongdoing related to Taylor’s killing.
Taylor’s aunt, Bianca Austin, said the indictments should help restore demonstrators' faith in each other and in their community.
Taylor won’t come back, she continued, but through her loss the world has gotten to know her and while people often talk about the protesters being arrested, more focus should be on the good that has come from the fight – the organizations they’ve started and their efforts to rebuild their community.
Reporters Billy Kobin, Krista Johnson and Andrew Wolfson contributed to this story.
This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: Breonna Taylor family feels vindication over federal charges of cops