- On Monday, an anonymous grand juror on the Breonna Taylor case filed a complaint alleging that Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron misrepresented the jury’s deliberations and failed to offer them the option to bring homicide charges against the officers.
- Last week, Cameron announced to the public that the grand jury had not filed any charges against the officers for Taylor’s death. Instead, the jury only brought charges against one officer for firing his weapon recklessly, sending shots into a neighboring apartment.
- In his announcement, Cameron repeatedly said that while he knew people would be upset with the decision, it was simply his job to present all the facts to the grand jury and let them decide.
- However, the complaint accused Cameron of using the jury “as a shield to deflect accountability and responsibility.” It requested that the jury recordings be released and that the jurors be permitted to discuss the case publicly.
- Also on Monday, a judge ordered the recordings to be released, and Cameron said he would honor the request.
Grand Juror Files Complaint
A grand juror in the Breonna Taylor case filed a complaint in court Monday claiming that Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron misrepresented the jury’s discussions and never offered them the option to bring homicide charges against the officers who shot Taylor in her apartment.
The complaint, which was filed anonymously, also requests that all recordings and transcripts from the jury deliberations be released and that the jurors on the case be permitted to speak about it publicly.
The filing comes just a week after Cameron announced that none of the three Louisville Metro Police officers involved in Taylor’s death were charged for the actual killing of the 26-year-old EMT in what has largely been described as a botched drug raid.
Louisville police were serving a warrant because they believed an ex-boyfriend of Taylor’s was using her apartment to receive packages. Both Taylor and her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, did not have any prior drug arrests or convictions, and no drugs were found in the apartment.
Police say they knocked and identified themselves before entering, but Walker claimed they did not. As a result, he said he thought they were an intruder, and when they entered by force, he fired a weapon, hitting one of the officers in the leg and prompting them to unload more than two dozen rounds into the apartment.
One of the officers, Detective Brett Hankison, blindly fired shots into the apartment which also traveled into neighboring apartments. Last week, the grand jury charged him with three counts of wanton endangerment, though not in connection with the death Taylor, but because of the shots he fired into the neighboring apartment.
The two other officers present, Jonathan Mattingly and Myles Cosgrove, do not face any charges.
Following Cameron’s announcement of the grand jury’s findings, Taylor’s family, their lawyers, and many others said they did not believe the attorney general advocated on behalf of the young woman. Many have also called for more information regarding how Cameron presented the case to the jury.
However, Cameron refused to release any grand jury transcripts or recordings, arguing that it could interfere with other ongoing investigations.
Complaint Allegations vs. Cameron’s Public Statements
The grand juror complaint filed Monday also echoed those calls for transparency concerning the information presented to the jury, and accused Cameron of using the jury “as a shield to deflect accountability and responsibility.”
In his remarks to the public, Cameron said that he knew many people would be unhappy with the decision but repeatedly emphasized that his role was to pursue the truth, present all the facts to the grand jury, and let them decide.
Regarding those facts, he said there were six possible homicide charges that could have been filed, but added that those charges “are not applicable to the facts before us because our investigation showed — and the grand jury agreed — that Mattingly and Cosgrove were justified in the return of deadly fire after having been fired upon.”
Cameron also said that the officers’ claim that they knocked and announced themselves was backed by an independent witness.
When a reporter asked why the testimony from just one witness was so credible — especially because out of a dozen witnesses they had spoken to only one said they heard police knock — he said that the jury “got to hear and listened to all the testimony and made the determination that Detective Hankinson was the one that needed to be indicted knowing all of the relative points that you made.”
Perhaps most significant, when asked if he ever presented manslaughter or homicide charges to be considered by the jury, Cameron refused to answer, citing the secrecy of the proceedings, but placed the decision firmly on the jury.
“What I will say is that our team walked them through every homicide offense, and also presented all of the information that was available to the grand jury,” he said. “And then the grand jury was ultimately the one that made the decision about indicting Detective Hankinson for wanton endangerment.”
In the complaint, however, the juror claims that Cameron’s public remarks about the decisions the jury made “further laid those decisions at the feet of the grand jury while failing to answer specific questions regarding the charges presented.”
The complaint alleges that Cameron “attempted to make it very clear that the grand jury alone made the decision on who and what to charge,” and thus imply it was the jury that decided not to bring homicide charges, when in reality, he was the one who never gave them that option in the first place.
“The only exception to the responsibility he foisted upon the grand jurors was in his statement that they ‘agreed’ with his team’s investigation that Mattingly and Cosgrove were justified in their actions,” it continued.
The complaint then goes on to argue that it is in the public interest to release the records, specifically because so many citizens have shown a lack of faith in the legal proceedings and the justice system itself.
“The public interest spreads across the entire commonwealth when the highest law enforcement official fails to answer questions and instead refers to the grand jury making the decisions,” it said. “It is patently unjust for the jurors to be subjected to the level of accountability the Attorney General campaigned for simply because they received a summons to serve their community.”
Cameron Response and Judge Ruling
Notably, the juror’s request that the records be made public was not the only such petition made Monday. During an arraignment hearing for Hankison — where he pleaded not guilty to all charges — the judge overseeing the case ordered recordings of the grand jury proceedings to be added to the court file by noon Wednesday.
On Monday night, Cameron said that he would follow the judge’s order and release the recordings, and confirmed for the first time that he never asked the jury to consider homicide or manslaughter charges.
In a statement announcing the decision, the attorney general reiterated that he believed the grand jury was meant to be secretive, and that releasing the records “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,” he continued, noting that the release “will also address the legal complaint filed by an anonymous grand juror.”
Cameron also said that he did not have concerns about jurors speaking to the public, arguing that once the public hears the recording, “they will see that over the course of two-and-a-half days, our team presented a thorough and complete case to the Grand Jury,”
See what others are saying: (The Courier-Journal) (The Washington Post) (CNN)
FDA Finds Violations and Unsanitary Conditions at Emergent J&J Plant as Lawmakers Open Investigations
- The Food and Drug Administration said Wednesday that it found numerous safety violations at Emergent Biosolutions, the Baltimore manufacturing plant responsible for ruining more than 15 million Johnson & Johnson Vaccines.
- The FDA said it watched security footage of employees ignoring cross-contamination protocols and improperly handling medical waste. It also found brown and black residue on the floors and walls of the plant, respectively.
- Separately, top House Democrats launched an investigation into how Emergent won contracts to manufacture two COVID-19 vaccines and whether or not those contracts were the result of an improper relationship between the plant and a former Trump administration official.
- Democrats are also investigating Emergent’s role as the country’s only provider of the anthrax vaccine in the Strategic National Stockpile.
The FDA’s Unforgiving Report
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration released a damning inspection report Wednesday on Emergent Biosolutions, the Baltimore manufacturing plant that ruined 15 million Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines.
Among a multitude of violations, inspectors workers hadn’t been properly trained. They also found that medical waste had been improperly handled, saying “such waste was transported through the warehouse before disposal and has the potential to contaminate the warehouse and adjacent areas.”
For example, it found that employees had used their gloved hands to put waste into bags, that they drug the waste through hallways, and that they even allowed it to touch walls.
Made worse was the fact that the FDA found peeling paint on the walls of several sensitive work areas, with inspectors noting that they found paint flecks all along the floors around the walls. As the agency reported, that peeling — as well as additional wall damage — “impacts the firms’ ability to adequately clean and disinfect the area.”
Moreover, inspectors said they found an unknown brown residue attached to the walls, as well as a black residue on the floor.
Through reviewing security footage, inspectors said workers repeatedly failed to follow procedures that were meant to prevent vaccine cross-contamination.
Notably, that backs up information that had been previously reported, particularly that those 15 million Johnson & Johnson vaccines were ruined because of cross-contamination with AstraZeneca’s vaccine. That said, it’s important to note that none of those vaccines were ever distributed to the public because the FDA never gave the plant approval to do so.
It’s possible that the report also describes the event that specifically led to the vaccine cross-contamination, as it mentions that through security footage, it watched an employee travel from one area of the plant where one vaccine was being made, to another area of the plant where the other vaccine was being made — all without that employee changing their protective gear.
With that finding, the FDA said Emergent didn’t properly investigate its workers’ movements as a potential cause of contamination. More broadly, it also noted that even after the plant was made aware of the contamination, it only performed routine cleaning and didn’t take further decontamination steps.
Congress Investigates Emergent’s Role in Winning Vaccine Contracts
Alongside the FDA’s recent report, top House Democrats have now launched an investigation into how Emergent won several multi-million dollar contracts.
Those lawmakers are specifically looking into what role Dr. Robert Kadlec played in helping the company obtain the contract and if it was influenced by Kadlec’s previous role as a consultant for Emergent.
Kadlec was the assistant secretary for preparedness and response under former President Donald Trump, and as this group of Democrats alleges, Kadlec “appears to have pushed for this award despite indications that Emergent did not have the ability to reliably fulfill the contract.”
Those Democrats went on to say that after Kadlec’s confirmation, Emergent obtained millions in contracts from his agency — including some that “were awarded without competitive bidding.” In fact, the Trump administration ultimately awarded $628 million to the plant, even though it had fallen short on federal investigations.
Emergent also reportedly tried to encourage oversight of the stockpile to be shifted from the CDC to an office under Kadlec’s control.
“We are concerned by the costs to taxpayers and the potential impact on our nation’s vaccination efforts caused by Emergent’s failed attempts to manufacture these vaccines,” the Democrats said.
Congress Investigates Emergent’s Role as Sole Anthrax Provider
It doesn’t end there. Those lawmakers are also looking into Emergent’s role as the country’s sole provider of the anthrax vaccine in the Strategic National Stockpile.
“Emergent has raised the government purchasing price of the anthrax vaccine by 800% since acquiring the drug in 1998,” they said. “As a result, through most of the last decade, nearly half of the SNS’s budget has been spent purchasing Emergent’s anthrax vaccine.”
When Emergent acquired that anthrax vaccine license in 1998, the vaccine was selling for about $3.35 a dose. Today, it’s over $30.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (Wall Street Journal) (CNBC)
Ohio Police Fatally Shoot Black Teenage Girl
- Ma’Khia Bryant, a 16-year-old Black girl, was fatally shot by a Columbus police officer Tuesday afternoon.
- Police released body camera footage that appears to show Bryant lunging at two other women with a knife before the officer opened fire.
- Members of Bryant’s family disputed parts of the police department’s version of events, including Bryant’s aunt, who said the teen called police and was trying to defend herself from people who had come to her foster and threatened her with physical assault.
- The incident came just before a Minnesota jury convicted former officer Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd, exacerbating frustrations over repeated police killings of Black people in America.
Ma’Khia Bryant Shot by Police
Columbus police shot and killed a Black teenage girl Tuesday, shortly before the verdict against Derek Chauvin was convicted of murdering George Floyd, adding tension to existing conversations about excessive use of force from police against Black people.
The girl was identified as 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant by a spokesperson for Franklin County Children’s Services, who said she had been in foster care.
During a news conference late Tuesday night, Columbus police said the shooting happened after they received a 911 call around 4:30 from someone who said that women were trying to stab them before hanging up.
The law enforcement officials also played segments of body camera footage from the officer who fired the shots, which they said showed the victim lunging at two others with a knife.
In the graphic video, the officer is seen getting out of his car as Bryant appears to chase someone who falls onto the sidewalk. She then lunges at another person, and the officer yells “get down” three times before quickly firing at least four shots at the teenager.
Bryant collapses on the ground, and the bodycam video shows a knife next to her as officers attempt CPR. People at the scene immediately start screaming, and one man can be heard yelling, “You didn’t have to shoot her! She’s just a kid, man!”
“She had a knife,” the officer responds. “She just went at her.”
Police officials said Bryant was taken to the hospital, where she was pronounced dead. Notably, they did not identify the officer who shot her, though they did say he would be pulled off patrol duty while the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation conducts an inquiry.
Some of Bryant’s family members contradicted elements of the police report. Her aunt, Hazel Bryant, told The Daily Beast that adult women had come to the foster home and started an altercation with her niece, who called the police.
Hazel claimed that Ma’Khia grabbed the knife to defend herself and was fending off a physical assault when the police arrived. She also told a local outlet that the teenager had dropped the knife before she was shot, but the slow-motion capture of the video shown by the police appears to show the knife in her hand at the time.
Protests & Response
According to local reports, shortly after the shooting, a group of roughly 60 people gathered at the site to demonstrate but dispersed around 10 p.m. Others protesters also took the streets of downtown, with many gathering in front of the Columbus Police Department headquarters.
The shooting quickly sparked a widespread response on social media and #MKhiaBryant became a trending Twitter hashtag. Many argued that the shooting, which coincided so closely with the Chauvin verdict, shows that single instances of police accountability do not change systemic problems.
“The emotional contrast between the #DerekChauvinVerdict and the killing of #MaKhiaBryant is exactly why we must not use small wins to justify the end of large fights!” tweeted Derrick Johnson, the president of the NAACP. “We must stay steadfast in our pursuit of #PoliceAccountability WE NEED #PoliceReformNOW”
Other users also condemned the officer for immediately shooting Bryant instead of trying to de-escalate the situation or use other tactics like a Taser. Some asserted that if police can arrest white men who commit mass shootings without killing them, they can do the same for a Black teenager with a knife.
“In a world where the police can safely apprehend white male mass shooters. I would really like to know why a trained police officer assumed that the only way to deescalate a fight, where a 16 year old black girl had a knife, was to immediately shoot her dead,” one user wrote.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Daily Beast) (The Columbus Dispatch)
USDA Extends Free Meals for All Students Through June 2022
- The U.S Department of Agriculture will extend free meals for kids at schools and daycare facilities through the 2021-2022 school year.
- The move will bring much-needed relief to families across the country as an estimated 12 million children are experiencing food insecurity amid the coronavirus pandemic.
- The extension also gives schools time to prepare and improve their current meal distribution systems without having to scramble to process a massive influx of free lunch applications at the start of the year.
USDA Call for Free Lunch Extension
The U.S Department of Agriculture announced Tuesday that it will extend free meals for children at schools and daycare facilities through the 2021-2022 school year.
In the early days of COVID-19 last March, the USDA implemented Child Nutrition waivers that cut through barriers to allow kids to eat free even outside of normal school settings and meal times.
Those waivers also allowed schools the flexibility to adapt their own programs to better meet the needs of their families. For instance, they allowed parents to do a curbside pickup of multiple days of food at once for students learning from home, even without the student being present. In many cases, they allowed for meals to be dropped off at a student’s home if they continue to learn virtually part- or full-time.
The USDA even increased the school’s meal reimbursement budgets to allow for healthier options and cover bigger costs that came due to added transportation and labor, as well as pandemic-related supply shortages for to-go boxes, Personal Protective Equipment, and more.
These waivers were only supposed to last until Sept. 30, which left a ton of families uncertain about what to do after that as many continue to struggle financially.
Helps Remove Extra Burdens
Now, the extension will bring much-needed relief to families across the country because according to the USDA, an estimated 12 million kids are experiencing food insecurity amid the coronavirus pandemic.
While celebrating more free meals for students, school nutrition groups have also pointed to the fact that this gives schools time to prepare and improve their current meal distribution systems after the surge in need this current school term.
Diane Pratt-Heavner, director of media relations for the School Nutrition Association, the trade group for school food-service manufacturers and professionals, told The Washington Post, “Schools aren’t going to have to scramble to collect applications from families that are eligible.
“At the start of every school year, this is a huge task for administrators to collect and process the applications, a task made bigger because during the pandemic there are more families eligible who may never have applied before.”
It also means fewer “touch points” like keypads that take pin numbers to prove free meal eligibility.