- Audio recordings from the grand jury hearings in the Breonna Taylor case released over the weekend revealed that the officers involved in the incident gave jumbled, contradictory, and factually incorrect statements that also sometimes went against testimonies from witnesses.
- The recordings were released after an anonymous juror demanded they be made public in a complaint accusing Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron of misrepresenting the juror’s deliberations.
- The complaint alleged that Cameron never offered the jury the option to bring homicide charges against the officers, despite the fact that he told the public he “walked them through every homicide offense” and said it was the jury who made the final call not to levy charges.
- Notably, the recording to not include the recommendations Cameron gave to the jurors regarding what charges should be brought.
- Cameron claimed that was because those recommendations are often not recorded as they are not evidence, but legal experts have pushed back on that assertion, as well as other recent remarks he made concerning the role of the jury and his handling of the case.
Grand Jury Recordings Released
Recordings from the grand jury that oversaw the case of Breonna Taylor, were released Friday, revealing contradictory statements from the officers involved.
The recordings include testimony from officers Jonathan Mattingly, Myles Cosgrove, and Brett Hankison, the three police involved in shooting and killing of the 26-year-old EMT in her apartment. Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron announced last month that the grand jury decided not to charge any of the three officers with Taylor’s actual death.
Mattingly and Cosgrove did not face any charges at all, while Hankison was charged with three counts of wanton endangerment. However, those charges were because of the shots he fired into the neighboring apartment and were not connected to Taylor’s death, which was not mentioned in the indictment.
The jury recordings of that decision were released at the request of a judge after an anonymous juror filed a complaint claiming that Cameron misrepresented the jury’s discussions and used them “as a shield to deflect accountability and responsibility.”
According to the filings, Cameron never offered jurors the option to bring homicide charges against the officers, despite the fact he told the public he “walked them through every homicide offense” and said it was the jury who decided to just charge Hankison.
In an interview last week, Cameron defended himself and his role in the process, arguing that the jury was an “independent body.”
“If they wanted to make an assessment about different charges, they could’ve done that,” he said. “But our recommendation was that Mattingly and Cosgrove were justified in their acts and their conduct.”
However, numerous legal experts have said it is rare, if not entirely unheard of, for a grand jury to go beyond the recommendations of a prosecutor. Unlike trial juries, where jurors hear evidence from both sides, grand juries are largely managed by prosecutors who decide what evidence to bring, what charges to suggest, and even office guidance to jurors.
One of the most notable examples in this case is the fact that Cameron ignored 11 of the 12 witnesses who told reporters they did not hear police announcing themselves. While explaining the jury’s decision, he cited the one single witness who said he did hear them announce themselves, despite the fact that witnesses twice told investigators in Cameron’s office that he did not hear police announce themselves before changing his story.
What the Recordings Show — And What They Don’t
However, the jury recordings do not include the recommendations Cameron gave to the jurors regarding what charges should be brought.
In a statement, Cameron said that the recommendations he gave the jury were not recorded because they were not evidence. But legal scholars have condemned the lack of this information, arguing it is key to understanding how Cameron handled the proceedings.
“It leaves unanswered the single most fundamental questions that have been raised: whether the grand jury had a genuine opportunity to consider more serious charges, and whether the Attorney General was being candid when he said multiple times that the grand jury agreed with him that Officers Mattingly and Cosgrove acted reasonably,” Samuel Marcosson, a law professor at the University of Louisville said in an email to the Washington Post. In that same email, he also described the decision not to reveal the recommendations as “completely unacceptable.”
“If we don’t know what the prosecutors recommended, and we don’t know what the grand jury deliberated about, we [k]now very little more now than we did yesterday,” he added.
The recordings, however, did provide some new insights into what the jury heard. Among other things, they revealed that the officer’s accounts to Louisville Metro Police Department (LMPD) investigators were sometimes jumbled, contradictory, and mistaken, and that those investigators often failed to press them on this.
For example, as USA Today reports, the recordings show that “investigators didn’t ask follow-up questions that would pinpoint what officers knew or didn’t know about who and what they were shooting at in the apartment.”
One of the most notable instances is the statement given by Cosgrove, who fired the shot that ultimately killed Taylor. In his interview, Cosgrove made conflicting statements that were not challenged by either of the sergeants questioning him. At one point he said he never heard any gunfire, but at another he said he was “deafened” by it.
Cosgrove also described seeing “vivid white flashes” and “blackness at the same time.” He said he used a high-powered flashlight to illuminate the apartment, but he also claimed that he was “immediately overwhelmed with darkness.”
He also said he saw what he described as “a distorted shadowy mask, this figurine, this figure in front of me that is just … coming and going due to the flash fog light.”
However, the interviewers did not ask him if the figure was male or female, or if he saw more than one person. They also did not ask him if the figure fired a shot — or anything about the shot fired by Walker.
Hankison’s statement also had a number of issues. He said when officers broke down the door, he saw a person inside with “an AR-15 or a long gun, a rifle-type gun.” He claimed he ran to the breezeway and described hearing “rapid fire from — from like an AR-15.”
Hankison explicitly told the interviewers that he was “100% sure” it was a long gun because he hunted, and they did not question him on that at all, despite the fact that investigators found that Walker used a hand-gun and no gun of the type he described was found in the apartment.
Perhaps most significant from his testimony is the fact that Hankison said he did not “know anything about the specifics of the investigation” other than that he needed a drug dog. He later stated he believed the warrant was given a no-knock designation “because of the propensity for violence,” but he did not know if the home had kids or pets.
Similarly, Mattingly also claimed that the officers involved in the shooting did not play a role in any part of the investigation before executing the warrant. That, however, has been called into question because an LMPD report found Mattingly had asked another local police department to check with the Postal Service and see if any packages were going to Taylor’s address for the suspect in their narcotics investigation.
Officers at that department told Mattingly that the suspect was not getting packages at her apartment, but when investigators asked him what he was told in the pre-operational briefing, he told them that the suspect had sent packages to Breonna in her name and that she was possibly holding drugs and money for him.
Other key highlights from the nearly 15 hours of recordings include the Lieutenant who gave the officers the order to open the door by force saying the officers were “ambushed” and claiming Taylor and Walker knew they were there.
The recordings also gave the public first-hand knowledge of the testimonies from neighbors who said they did not hear the officers announcing themselves, adding another layer of contradictions to the officer’s story, augmenting the narrative of how poorly the whole situation has been handled, and illustrating how contradictory so many elements have been.
In an open letter to Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear on Sunday, Taylor’s family slammed Cameron, accused him “intentionally” not presenting homicide charges, and demanded that the governor appoint a new special prosecutor to reopen the case. Beshear has yet to make a comment on the letter, and it is unclear now if the family’s request or the newly released recordings will move the needle.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (USA Today) (The New York Times)
Coronavirus Cases Surge in the US, Shattering Records
- The United States hit its highest seven day average of coronavirus cases on Sunday, reaching a 68,787 case average, according to Johns Hopkins. This is over 1,000 cases higher than the previous record which was hit in July.
- Also this weekend, over 83,000 cases were reported on Friday and Saturday, marking the two highest single day case counts in the country.
- Some state and local governments are issuing curfews or other restrictions to slow the spread of the virus. Federal health leaders, including Dr. Anthony Fauci and Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb are calling for a mask mandate throughout the country.
Cases in the U.S. Surge
As coronavirus cases surge across the United States, the country hit its highest seven-day average of cases reported since the start of the deadly pandemic.
According to Johns Hopkins, that average hit 68,787 cases on Sunday. The previous high was a 67,293 average at the end of July. This follows a weekend of record-breaking reports. The two highest single day case counts were reached on Friday and Saturday, with over 83,000 new cases reported each day.
As cases spike, it is unlikely that the entire country will face full lockdowns similar to the ones ordered in March, but some local leaders are taking smaller steps to curb the spread. New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham announced new COVID-19 restrictions on Friday that include curfews for certain businesses and safety rules for dining.
“Please be extremely conservative in deciding how much time to spend outside of the home,” Grisham wrote when announcing the new mitigation strategies. “The visit to friends or family can wait – it’s not worth your life, or theirs.”
Some local leaders are taking stronger approaches. In South Dakota, the Ogala Sioux Tribe mandated a seven-day lockdown that started Friday as a result of a spike on their reservation. In El Paso, Texas, County Judge Ricardo Samaniego ordered a 10:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m. curfew throughout the county as hospitalizations trend upwards.
Federal Leaders Call For Mask Mandate
Some believe that in addition to local restrictions, more should be done on a federal level to curb the spread of the virus. Specifically, many think the country should mandate mask-wearing in public.
On Sunday, Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb wrote an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal arguing that as winter approaches, a mask mandate could save lives.
“It will be essential to use standard interventions, including limits on crowded settings such as bars and continuing to test and trace contacts,” Gottlieb wrote. “But on the current trajectory these measures won’t be enough to keep hospitals from being overwhelmed in some areas.”
“Masks would help,” he added. “As a practical matter, it’s easier to wear a mask in the winter than the summer. A mandate can be expressly limited to the next two months. The inconvenience would allow the country to preserve health-care capacity and keep more schools and businesses open.”
While President Donald Trump has repeatedly mocked the use of masks in the past, his opponent former Vice President Joe Biden has advocated for a mandate. On Friday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases echoed his support for a mandate on CNN.
“If everyone agrees that this is something that’s important and they mandated it, and everyone pulls together and says ‘you know we’re going to mandate it, but let’s just do it,’ I think that would be a great idea to have everyone do it uniformly,” he said.
“Though I get the issue of, if you mandate a mask then you’re going to have to enforce it, which will create more of a problem. Well, if people are not wearing masks, then maybe we should be mandating it.”
At Least 130,000 Covid-19 Deaths Were Avoidable, Columbia Study Finds
- A report from the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University estimates that between 130,000 and 210,000 coronavirus deaths were avoidable in the United States.
- While the U.S. accounts for just 4% of the global population, the country makes up 20% of the world’s coronavirus cases and fatalities. The country’s proportional death rate is twice as high as Canada’s and 50 times higher than Japan’s.
- The report largely blamed the Trump administration for ignoring warning signs and scientists, arguing that he has been downplaying the issue, peddling misinformation, and turning the pandemic into a political game.
- It also criticized the Trump administration and other federal leaders for not responding quickly enough in terms of testing and social distancing measures, which could have saved lives if implemented sooner.
Preventable Deaths in the U.S.
The National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University released a report on Wednesday estimating that at somewhere between 130,000 and 210,000 coronavirus deaths in the United States were avoidable.
At the time the report was made, the county had lost 217,000 thousand lives to the virus. As of Thursday morning, the U.S. death toll stands at 222,000. While the U.S. accounts for just 4% of the global population, the country makes up 20% of the world’s coronavirus cases and fatalities.
According to the report, the U.S. has the ninth highest proportional death rate in the world behind Peru, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Chile, Spain, and Mexico. The country’s proportional death rate is twice as high as Canada’s and 50 times higher than Japan’s.
The report estimated how many deaths may have been preventable by seeing what the U.S. death toll may have been if it had mirrored the strategies of more proactive and high-income countries.
For example, it says that if the U.S. had followed policies similar to those in Canada, the country may have seen just 85,192 fatalities, making more than 132,500 American deaths “avoidable.” If the States had mirrored Germany the death toll may have been 38,457, leaving 179,260 avoidable losses. If the U.S. modeled after South Korea’s robust intervention, Americans may have seen around 2,799 deaths, leaving nearly 215,000 deaths avoidable.
The researchers do acknowledge that other various factors could contribute to a country having a higher mortality rate, including demographics, distribution of population, health risk factors like obesity, and health care access in general. Still they do not believe this would explain the magnitude of the COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. According to the report, even if the U.S. had implemented an “averaged” response, the virus may have only claimed between 38,000 to 85,000 lives, meaning that at least 130,000 COVID-19 deaths might have been avoidable.
Failures of the Trump Administration
Many, including the researchers behind this report, largely blamed state and federal governments as well as President Donald Trump’s Administration for the catastrophic death toll in the nation. Criticism has come from leaders all over, including former president Barack Obama. During a speech on Thursday, Obama said that he handed Trump’s White House a “pandemic playbook” that got thrown out the window.
“Other countries are still struggling with the pandemic but they’re not doing as bad as we are because they’ve got a government that’s actually been paying attention,” Obama added. “And that means lives lost. And that means an economy that doesn’t work. And just yesterday, when asked if he’d do anything differently, Trump said, ‘Not much.’ Really? Not much? Nothing you can think of that could have helped some people keep their loved ones alive?”
Because the U.S. has been repeatedly condemned for its reckless mishandling of the virus, the idea that thousands of deaths could have been prevented is not surprising. Still, seeing the staggering numbers and lives that did not need to be taken is a sobering reminder of the tragedy the country is currently facing. The report said this tragedy falls on Trump’s hands and specifically criticized the president for ignoring science and instead spreading misinformation and turning the pandemic into a political game.
“Many nations facing the pandemic crisis have put politics aside and orchestrated a response led by public health experts and global coordination,” the report stated.
“Unfortunately, the Trump Administration has shown hostility to much of the critical guidance and recommendations put forth by its own health agencies, with the President at times misleading the public on the scope of the threat, attempting to ‘downplay’ the extent of the crisis, and advocating for unproven therapeutical or unsafe treatments.”
A Delayed Response From the U.S.
Among the many oversights, the report claimed the administration was responsible for was a lack of testing. From the start of the pandemic, the U.S. was far behind on testing efforts, which are essential in fighting a pandemic. Both the U.S. and South Korea had their first confirmed cases on the same day. South Korea began rapid widespread testing and had conducted 250,000 by March 16. At this time in the United States, Trump was still peddling the idea that the virus was like a flu and might fade away.
The report also noted that a lack of mask mandates and delayed responses in other areas like social distancing likely contributed to the spread of the coronavirus. If major cities in the country had introduced social distancing measures just one or two weeks earlier, it is estimated that 62% of cases and 55% of deaths could have been avoided.
Deaths and case counts are not the only things that could have been avoided. The report noted that in New York State alone 325,000 children have been pushed to poverty because of the pandemic and 4,200 children have lost a parent to COVID-19. If policies had been implemented earlier, there could be at least 1.5 million less people grieving across the country right now.
“The U.S. should have – and could have – done better to protect the nation, and particularly its most vulnerable populations, from a threat that was identified and recognized early in 2020,” the report said in its conclusion.
“The weight of this enormous failure ultimately falls to the leadership at the White House – and among a number of state governments – which consistently undercut the efforts of top officials at the CDC and HHS…a pandemic is not a time for a decentralized and combative national response.”
Purdue Pharma Agrees To Plead Guilty To 3 Opioid-Related Charges in $8B Settlement, But Don’t Expect Them To Pay the Full Amount
- As part of a more than $8 billion settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice, Purdue Pharma will plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government and two counts of violating anti-kickback, or bribery, laws.
- Because Purdue filed for bankruptcy last year, that full figure likely won’t be collected by the government.
- Under the settlement, which will need approval in bankruptcy court, Purdue would become a public benefit corporation that is controlled by the government, with revenue from opioid sales being used to fund treatment options and programs.
- A number of state attorneys generals and Democratic lawmakers have said the settlement does not hold Purdue or its owners fully accountable and could derail thousands of other cases against the company.
- They have also argued that the government should “avoid having special ties to an opioid company… that caused a national crisis.”
Purdue to Plead Guilty to 3 Criminal Charges
The Justice Department announced Wednesday that Purdue Pharma has agreed to plead guilty to three criminal charges related to fueling the country’s opioid epidemic.
Notably, those guilty pleas come as part of a massive settlement worth more than $8 billion, though Purdue will likely only pay a fraction of that amount to the government.
Purdue is the manufacturer of oxycontin, which is a powerful and addictive painkiller that’s believed to have driven the opioid crisis. Since 2000, opioid addiction and overdoses have been linked to more than 470,000 deaths.
As part of the settlement, Purdue will plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States. There, it will admit that it lied to the Drug Enforcement Administration by claiming that it had maintained an effective program to avoid opioid misuse. It will also admit to reporting misleading information to the DEA in order to increase its manufacturing quotas.
While Purdue originally told the DEA that it had “robust controls” to avoid opioid misuse, according to the Justice Department, it had “disregard[ed] red flags their own systems were sending up.”
Along with that guilty plea, Purdue will also plead guilty to two anti-kickback, or bribery, related charges. In one charge, it will admit to violating federal law by paying doctors to write more opioid prescriptions. In the other, it will admit to using electronic health records software to increase opioid prescriptions.
According to a copy of the plea deal obtained by the Associated Press, Purdue “knowingly and intentionally conspired and agreed with others to aid and abet” the distribution of opioids from doctors “without a legitimate medical purpose and outside the usual course of professional practice.”
The $8 billion in settlements will be split several different ways.
In one deal, the Sackler family — which owns Purdue — will pay $225 million to resolve civil fines.
As part of the main deal, another $225 million will go directly to the federal government in a larger $2 billion criminal forfeiture; however, the government is actually expected to forego the rest of that figure.
In addition to that, $2.8 billion will go to resolving Purdue’s civil liability. Another $3.54 billion will go to criminal fines, but because Purdue filed bankruptcy last year, these figures also likely won’t be fully collected — largely because the government will now have to compete with other claims against Purdue in bankruptcy court.”
Purdue Will Become a “Public Benefit Company”
Since Purdue is in the middle of bankruptcy proceedings, a bankruptcy court will also need to approve the settlement.
“The agreed resolution, if approved by the courts, will require that the company be dissolved and no longer exist in its present form,” Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen said.
However, that doesn’t mean that Purdue’s fully gone or that it will even stop making oxycontin. In fact, as part of this settlement, the Sacklers would relinquish ownership of Purdue, and it would then transform into what’s known as a public benefit company.
Essentially, that means it would be run by the government. Under that setup, money from limited oxycontin sales, as well as from sales of several overdose-reversing medications, would be pumped back into treatment initiatives and other drug programs aimed at combating the opioid crisis.
For its part, the Justice Department has endorsed this model.
Should Purdue Be Punished More?
There has been strong opposition to this deal, mainly from state attorneys general and Democratic members of Congress who say it doesn’t go far enough.
Those critics argue that the settlements don’t hold Purdue or the Sackler family fully accountable, especially the Sacklers since — unlike Purdue — they didn’t have to admit any wrongdoing.
“[W]hile our country continues to recover from the pain and destruction left by the Sacklers’ greed,” New York Attorney General Letitia James said, “this family has attempted to evade responsibility and lowball the millions of victims of the opioid crisis. Today’s deal doesn’t account for the hundreds of thousands of deaths or millions of addictions caused by Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family.”
“If the only practical consequence of your Department’s investigation is that a handful of billionaires are made slightly less rich, we fear that the American people will lose faith in the ability of the Department to provide accountability and equal justice under the law,” A coalition of 38 Democratic members of Congress said in a statement to Attorney General Bill Barr last week.
While this settlement doesn’t include any convictions against the Sacklers specifically, as the Justice Department noted, it also doesn’t release them from criminal liability and a separate criminal investigation is ongoing.
Still, last week, 25 state attorneys general asked Barr not to make a deal that includes converting Purdue into a public benefit company, urging the Justice Department to “avoid having special ties to an opioid company, conflicts of interest, or mixed motives in an industry that caused a national crisis.”
Part of their concern is that the government would essentially run this new company while also holding the original one accountable. Those attorneys general instead argued that Purdue should be run privately but with government oversight.