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Kentucky AG asks for delay in release of Breonna Taylor grand jury tapes

kentucky-ag-asks-for-delay-in-release-of-breonna-taylor-grand-jury-tapes

DNY59/iStockBy BILL HUTCHINSON and SABINA GHEBREMEDHIN, ABC News

(LOUISVILLE, Ky.) — Kentucky State Attorney General Daniel Cameron has asked for a delay in releasing the grand jury’s recordings in the Breonna Taylor case just hours before he was ordered by a judge to place the materials in the court record.

Cameron requested a week to redact names and personal information of witnesses and private citizens from the 20 hours of audio recordings a judge ordered him to place in the court record by noon on Wednesday.

“We are complying with the Judge’s order. The Grand Jury audio recording is more than 20 hrs long, & we filed a motion to request additional time, if the court permits it, to redact personally identifiable information of witnesses (addresses and phone numbers),” Cameron said in a Tweet.

Cameron was ordered by a judge to enter into the court record by noon Wednesday the recording of the grand jury hearing that produced a single charge of wanton endangerment against one of the officers involved in the Taylor shooting, but not for Taylor’s death. On Wednesday morning, Cameron filed a motion asking the release of the recording be delayed for a week.

“For its grounds, the Commonwealth states that in the interest of protection of witnesses, and in particular private citizens named in the record, the Commonwealth seeks to redact personal identifiers of any named person, and to redact both names and personal identifiers of any private citizen,” Cameron’s motion reads.

A judge has not immediately ruled on the motion.

Cameron had initially objected to releasing the audio tapes, saying. “The Grand Jury is meant to be a secretive body.”

“It’s apparent that the public interest in this case isn’t going to allow that to happen,” Cameron said in the statement he released earlier this week. “As the special prosecutor, our team has an ethical obligation not to release the recording from the Grand Jury proceedings, and we stand by our belief that such a release could compromise the ongoing federal investigation and could have unintended consequences such as poisoning the jury pool. Despite these concerns, we will comply with the Judge’s order to release the recording on Wednesday.”

In her 20 years as a court reporter, taking dictation on hundreds of grand jury hearings, Jackie Carter said she’s never heard of such a scenario that has transpired in a grand jury hearing that has included a juror revolting against a prosecutor in the Breonna Taylor case.

But Carter said she’s not surprised that a grand juror in the police shooting that has garnered national attention has filed a motion asking a judge to speak publicly about the case and for all the records in the hearing to be released to the public. The motion was filed just two days after Kentucky State Attorney General Daniel Cameron put the onerous task on the panel that declined to indict any of the police officers on charges directly connected to Taylor’s death.

“He’s the district attorney. So how do you still pass that buck? You can’t. You made that decision. He has to own that decision. He has to own it because no one else came up with it,” Carter, who spent her career working in courts in Washington D.C., and Northern Virginia, told ABC News.

The charges against now-former Louisville Metro Police Department officer Brett Hankison, who was fired in June for violating police department policy in the shooting, stem from firing errant shots into Taylor’s apartment that penetrated a wall and entered the residence of a white family that lived next door.

Hankison pleaded not guilty to the charges during his arraignment on Monday.

In a news conference following the Jefferson County grand jury’s announcement last week, Cameron claimed prosecutors walked the panel through the “homicide offense.” He said “then the grand jury was ultimately the one that made the decision about indicting Detective Hankison for wanton endangerment.”

“No, the jury did not ask you for any charges because most grand jurors don’t know the criminal code. So why would they come to you and say, ‘We want wanton endangerment?'” said Carter, who is retired and has now founded an organization called Alliance For Safe Traffic Stops, which works to defuse tensions between the police and Black communities.

She said that is why the release of the recording of the grand jury hearing and the transcript of it are crucial for the public to understand what transpired in the closed-door proceedings.

“Not only was I the court reporter, I was the transcriber. So the transcript is an accurate depiction of what goes on. So that transcript will tell that he (Cameron’s designated prosecutor) came in asking for specific charges because you will see the soliloquy that the grand jury’s talking and the attorney’s talking and you’ll see who said what,” Carter said. “That will be very clear. I will be very shocked and dismayed if the grand jury came to the district attorney and said, ‘Can you please give us this charge? I’ve never seen it. It’s never happened. So the truth will come out when it comes to that.”

In a statement released on Monday, Cameron conceded that prosecutors did not recommend homicide charges against the officers involved in the Taylor shooting. He said the “only charge recommended was wanton endangerment” for Hankison, who has since pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Jefferson County Circuit Judge Ann Bailey Smith’s order for Cameron’s office to release the recording and other records related to the grand jury hearing came as a member of the grand jury filed a motion asking the material to be released and to be granted freedom to speak about the decision he and his fellow panelists made in the case.

“The citizens of the Commonwealth have demonstrated their lack of faith in the process and proceedings in this matter and the justice system itself,” reads the motion filed by the grand juror. “Using grand jurors as a shield to deflect accountability for these decisions only sows more seeds of doubt in the process while leaving a cold chill down the spine of future grand jurors.”

Judge Smith’s decision was not based on the grand juror’s motion, since it was only filed Monday night and there hasn’t been a hearing. She ordered the recording released as part of the normal trial rules of discovery.

Cameron’s office has come under intense scrutiny about what evidence was presented to the grand jury. The panel declined to indict any of the three officers who unleashed a barrage of 32 shots into Taylor’s Louisville apartment in March, killing the 26-year-old certified emergency medical technician.

A criminal investigation conducted by Cameron’s office found the two other officers involved in the shooting, Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly and Detective Myles Cosgrove, were justified in their use of deadly force because Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, fired at them first, hitting Mattingly in the thigh when the plainclothes officers forced open Taylor’s door to serve a search warrant, according to Cameron.

The grand jury’s Sept. 23 announcement of its decision set off a cascade of demands for the public release of the evidence from Walker, who was initially charged with attempted murder, and attorneys for Taylor’s family who called the proceedings a “sham” and alleged that no evidence was presented to the panel in regards to Taylor’s death.

Attorneys for the Taylor family released a statement Tuesday, saying, “Daniel Cameron clearly failed to present a comprehensive case that supported justice for Breonna.”

“That conclusion is supported by the grand juror who came forward to say that the attorney general misrepresented the grand jury’s deliberations,” reads the joint statement from attorneys Benjamin Crump, Sam Aguiar and Lonita Baker. “We fully support the call to release the entire proceeding transcript as the only way to know what evidence was presented and how the grand jury instructions led to this outcome.”

The shooting unfolded on March 13, when officers attempted to serve a search warrant at Taylor’s apartment in a drug trafficking investigation.

A judge approved a “no-knock” warrant based on a sworn affidavit from a detective that an ex-boyfriend of Taylor’s was sending packages of drugs to her apartment through the U.S. Postal Service.

No drugs were found in Taylor’s apartment and lawyers for Taylor’s family allege the warrant was secured with an affidavit that contained lies. The warrant required the police to verify with postal inspectors that the ex-boyfriend was receiving packages at Taylor’s address. But lawyers for Taylor’s family say the Louisville Postal Inspector denied that his office inspected packages sent to Taylor’s home as part of a drug-trafficking investigation.

The officers who served the warrant claimed they were ordered by their supervisor to knock and announce themselves when they arrived at the apartment, Cameron said during a news conference last week. When no one answered the door, the officers used a battering ram to force it open.

Cameron claimed that statements from the officers that they knocked and announced their presence before entering Taylor’s apartment “were corroborated by an independent witness, who was near in proximity to apartment 4,” which was Taylor’s unit. But lawyers for Taylor’s family claim that at least 11 other witnesses who were at the apartment complex when the shooting erupted say they didn’t hear the officers knock or announce themselves.

Walker’s attorneys say the one witness who says otherwise changed his story. They told ABC News that a week after the shooting, the individual, who has not been publicly identified, claimed the officers did not identify themselves as police, yet two months later he said they did. Vice News published an alleged recording of the witness telling an investigator on March 21 that “nobody identified themselves.” ABC has not independently verified the audio.

Walker claimed the officers never knocked or announced their presence before they entered the apartment. He said he fired a warning shot from his licensed 9mm handgun because he thought the officers were intruders.

Cameron said a total of 32 shots were fired by Mattingly, Cosgrove and Hankison. Six shots hit Taylor, including a fatal bullet fired by Cosgrove, Cameron said.

Hankison fired 10 shots through a sliding glass patio door, but none of his bullets hit Taylor, Cameron said.

The attorney general said that because Walker fired the first shot, Cosgrove and Mattingly were justified in using deadly force.

“This justification bars us from pursuing charges in Ms. Breonna Taylor’s death,” Cameron said.

Walker was initially charged with attempted murder, but those charges were later dropped. He has since filed a civil suit against the police department suggesting that Mattingly was shot by friendly fire from one of the other officers.

A ballistics report from the Kentucky State Police could not determine that Walker shot Mattingly, contradicting Cameron’s statements, according to records obtained by ABC News.

In an interview with ABC News, Steve Romines, one of Walker’s attorneys, said “the Kentucky State Police’s own ballistics report could not determine that Kenny’s shot is who hit Officer [Jonathan] Mattingly.”

A portion of the Kentucky State Police ballistic report obtained by ABC News indicates that the one shot fired by Walker “was neither identified nor eliminated as having been fired” from his weapon “due to the limited markings of comparative value.”

Mattingly’s attorney, Kent Wicker, released a statement on Tuesday saying the theory that Mattingly was shot by someone else other than Walker “is a ridiculous argument not grounded in fact or reality.”

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