- 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)
FDA Authorizes Moderna and J&J COVID Vaccine Boosters, Approves Mix-and-Match Doses
The approval will allow at-risk Americans who received Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to get any booster six months after their initial series and all Johnson & Johnson recipients 18 and older to do the same two months after their single-shot dose.
New FDA Authorization
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Wednesday authorized boosters shots of Moderna and Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines and approved a mix-and-match strategy that will allow people who got one company’s shot to get a booster from a different maker.
The decision paves the way for millions of more at-risk Americans to get extra protection, and not just certain Pfizer recipients as previously approved by the FDA.
Under the authorization, people who received Moderna or Pfizer can get any one of the three booster shots six months after completing their initial series if they are 65 and older, at high risk of severe COVID, or face increased exposure because of their work.
Meanwhile, all J&J recipients 18 and older can get any of the approved vaccines two months after they received the one-shot jab.
Hazy Recommendations, For Now
Notably, the FDA did not recommend a certain combination of vaccines, nor did the agency say whether or not it would be more effective for people to stick with their original vaccine maker for their booster.
The new authorizations draw on a study from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which found that there are no safety concerns with mixing boosters and that vaccine combinations were at least as effective in stimulating antibodies as matched vaccines.
In the case of J&J recipients, the NIH found that people actually had a higher boost from mixing either Moderna or Pfizer boosters.
However, some of the scientists who worked on the study said it should not be used to recommend one combination over another because the research was limited.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which determines vaccine recommendations, could issue more guidance on when and whether people should switch vaccine makers for their booster shots.
An advisory panel for the agency is meeting Thursday to discuss the new FDA authorizations and recommendations.
Once the panel makes its decision, the CDC director has the final say on the guidelines. If the agency agrees with the FDA’s decisions, the booster shots could be rolled out as soon as this weekend.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NPR) (The Washington Post)
Paris Hilton Urges Lawmakers To Crack Down on Abusive Teen Treatment Facilities
The heiress alleges that she was a victim of abuse in these types of centers for two years and wants to ensure that no child suffers through the same experience.
Paris Hilton Details Abuse Within “Troubled Teen Industry”
Socialite and entrepreneur Paris Hilton spoke outside of the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday to support the Accountability for Congregate Care Act, which is set to be introduced in the near future.
Hilton joined Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA), Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) to advocate for the legislation, which aims to create a “bill of rights” for children in treatment and behavioral centers.
The heiress has alleged that she spent two of her teenage years in these types of facilities and was subject to rampant abuse. She is far from alone.
During a press conference, Hilton said that one night when she was 16, she woke up to two large men in her bedroom forcing her out of her house. She said she screamed for help because she thought she was being kidnapped, but her parents watched as she was taken away to a “troubled teen” program.
“Like countless other parents of teens, my parents had searched for solutions to my rebellious behavior,” she explained in an op-ed for The Washington Post this week. “Unfortunately, they fell for the misleading marketing of the ‘troubled teen industry’ — therapeutic boarding schools, military-style boot camps, juvenile justice facilities, behavior modification programs and other facilities that generate roughly $50 billion annually in part by pitching ‘tough love’ as the answer to problematic behavior.”
Hilton said she was sent to four different facilities where she was “physically and psychologically abused.”
“I was strangled, slapped across the face, watched in the shower by male staff, called vulgar names, forced to take medication without a diagnosis, not given a proper education, thrown into solitary confinement in a room covered in scratch marks and smeared in blood and so much more,” she explained during the press conference.
“At Provo Canyon School in Utah, I was given clothes with a number on the tag. I was no longer me, I was only number 127,” she continued. “I was forced to stay indoors for 11 months straight, no sunlight, no fresh air. These were considered privileges.”
Goals of the Accountability for Congregate Care Act
Hilton claims that a lack of transparency and accountability has allowed this structure of abuse to thrive for decades. In some cases, she said it has taken children’s lives. Now, she wants Congress and President Joe Biden to act.
“This bill creates an urgently needed bill of rights to ensure that every child placed into congregate care facilities is provided a safe and humane environment,” Hilton said of the Accountability for Congregate Care Act.
“This bill of rights provides protections that I wasn’t afforded, like access to education, to the outdoors, freedom from abusive treatment, and even the basic right to move and speak freely. If I had these rights and could have exercised them, I would have been saved from over 20 years of trauma and severe PTSD.”
Foster children, children being treated for mental disorders, and other children in youth programs would be impacted by the bill.
Hilton was one of several survivors and advocates who fought for the legislation on Wednesday. Rep. Khanna thanked them for using their stories to fight for change.
“No child should be subjected to solitary confinement, forced labor, or any form of institutional abuse,” he wrote. “Thanks to Paris Hilton, my colleagues & the survivors & advocates who joined us today to discuss how we can hold the congregate care industry accountable.”
While only Democratic legislators are currently sponsoring the bill, Hilton called for a bipartisan effort to fight for the rights of children.
“Ensuring that children are safe from institutional abuse isn’t a Republican or Democratic issue,” Hilton said. “It’s a basic human rights issue that requires immediate attention.”
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The Hill) (NBC News)
Surgeons Successfully Test Pig Kidney Transplant on a Human
The procedure has been hailed as a major scientific breakthrough that could eventually open the door to a renewable source of desperately needed organs.
Surgeons at the NYU Langone Transplant Institute revealed Tuesday that they temporarily attached a kidney from a genetically modified pig to a human patient and found that it worked normally.
The operation was the first of its kind and could one day lead to a vast supply of organs for those who are in severe need. According to the Associated Press, more than 90,000 people in the U.S. are in line for a kidney transplant. Each day, an average of 12 die while waiting.
With the family’s consent, the groundbreaking procedure was performed on a brain-dead patient who was kept alive on a ventilator.
According to the surgeons, the pig used was genetically engineered to grow an organ that wouldn’t produce a sugar that the human immune system attacks, which would then trigger the body to reject the kidney.
The organ was connected to blood vessels on the patient’s upper leg, outside the abdomen, and it was observed for over 54 hours, with doctors finding no signs of rejection.
Concerns and Hurdles Ahead
While the procedure was successful, this doesn’t mean it’ll be available to patients anytime soon. Several questions about long-term functionality remain, and it will still have to go through significant medical and regulatory hurdles.
Details of the procedure haven’t even been peer-reviewed or published in a medical journal yet, though there are plans for this.
Experts are also considering the ethical implications of this type of animal-to-human transplant. For some, raising pigs to harvest their organs raises concerns about animal welfare and exploitation. Such medical procedures have already earned criticism from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA.
“Pigs aren’t spare parts and should never be used as such just because humans are too self-centered to donate their bodies to patients desperate for organ transplants,” PETA said in a statement, according to The New York Times.
On the other side of the debate are people like Dr. Robert Montgomery, the director of the N.Y.U. Langone Transplant Institute who performed the breakthrough procedure in September.
“I certainly understand the concern and what I would say is that currently about 40% of patients who are waiting for a transplant die before they receive one,” he told BBC.
“We use pigs as a source of food, we use pigs for medicinal uses – for valves, for medication. I think it’s not that different.”