- 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)
Texas Students Created Snapchat Group To ‘Slave Trade’ Black Classmates
- Freshmen at a Texas high school set up a Snapchat group to pretend to sell their Black classmates.
- A screenshot showed the group name being changed from “Slave Trade” with emojis of a Black man, a gun, and a white police officer to “[racial slur] Farm” and then “[racial slur] Auction.”
- That image also shows a person saying they would spend $100 on a peer while a second student said they would spend $1 on another, adding “would be better if his hair wasn’t so bad.”
- The school faced backlash for initially describing it as “an incident of cyberbullying and harassment,” without acknowledging the racism. The district later issued a stronger condemnation and said the students were disciplined but did not list specific consequences.
Racist Snapchat Group
Aledo high school students at Daniel Ninth Grade Campus in Northern Texas are making headlines for setting up a Snapchat group to pretend to sell their Black classmates.
A screenshot reviewed by several local news outlets showed the group name being changed from “Slave Trade” with emojis of a Black man, a gun, and a white police officer to “[racial slur] Farm” and then “[racial slur] Auction.”
That image also shows a person saying they would spend $100 on a peer. A second student said they would spend $1 on another, adding “would be better if his hair wasn’t so bad.”
At least one student who was mentioned as being “sold” in the chats was later sent screenshots of the conversations.
According to a report from the Star-Telegram reported last week, when the issue was brought to Principal Carolyn Ansley, she sent parents an email that didn’t mention the Snapchat group but only cited “an incident of cyberbullying and harassment.”
That caused frustrations because parents felt the issue of racism wasn’t being addressed or acknowledged.
Mark Grubbs, a father of three former students, told KXAS he was sickened by the students’ actions. Grubbs, who is Black, also said he had taken his children out of the district over other racist incidents in the past.
“My son being called out of his name and what not and it got to the point he didn’t mind fighting and that didn’t sit right with me and my wife. My son was never a fighter,” he said.
After the incident garnered media attention, the Aledo Independent School District issued a statement.
The district said it learned of the incident more than two weeks ago and started an investigation that involved law enforcement.
“There is no room for racism or hatred in the Aledo ISD, period,” it added. “Using inappropriate, offensive and racially charged language and conduct is completely unacceptable and is prohibited by district policy.”
District officials spoke with the students responsible as well as their parents, saying they “made it clear that statements and conduct that targets a student because of his or her race is not only prohibited but also has a profound impact on the victims.”
The district also said it assigned disciplinary consequences, though it did not explicitly state what those consequences were or state how many students were involved.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (ABC) (Fort Worth Star-Telegram)
What You Need To Know About the Johnson & Johnson Vaccine Pause
- The CDC and the FDA have issued a joint recommendation to pause distribution of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine amid reports that six women experienced “extremely rare” blood clots after receiving the single-dose shot.
- The vast majority of the 6.8 million Americans who were given the Johnson & Johnson vaccine have reported minor to no side effects, and no direct link has been established between the vaccine and blood clots at this time.
- The two agencies are expected to release updated guidance in the coming days.
- Several states and cities are now automatically giving the two-dose Pfizer vaccine to people who were scheduled to receive the Johnson & Johnson vaccine this week.
CDC and FDA Recommend J&J Vaccine Halt
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as the Food and Drug Administration, released a statement Tuesday recommending a pause on the use of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine.
So far, 6.8 million people in the U.S. have been vaccinated with Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose vaccine, most with zero or only mild side effects.
The updated guidance comes after six women, all between the ages of 18 to 48, experienced what both agencies described as “extremely rare” blood clots six to 13 days after being vaccinated. One of those women has died and another is in critical condition.
Neither the CDC nor the FDA has confirmed that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is the cause of these blood clots; rather, they said this guidance comes “out of an abundance of caution.”
That’s also in line with Johnson & Johnson itself, which said it’s aware of the reports but added that “no clear causal relationship has been established between these rare events.” As a precaution, Johnson & Johnson has also now delayed the rollout of its vaccine in Europe.
What Happens From Here?
Principal Deputy Director of the CDC Anne Schuchat said further recommendations will come quickly.
FDA Acting Commissioner Janet Woodcock echoed that statement, saying, “We expect it to be a matter of days for this pause.”
Wednesday, a CDC committee will convene to discuss the cases and assess their potential significance.
When asked if the government was overreacting to just six cases out of nearly 7 million vaccinations (a criticism made by some online), Schuchat said the CDC pulled its recommendation specifically because the type of blood clots seen in these 6 women requires special treatment, so “it was of the utmost importance to us to get the word out.”
In the meantime, both agencies are urging Johnson & Johnson vaccine recipients to contact their doctors if they experience any combination of severe headaches, abdominal pain, leg pain, or shortness of breath.
What If I Had A J&J Appointment?
Both agencies, as well as other health officials, are still urging unvaccinated people to take the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines when available in their area.
The White House’s COVID-19 response coordinator has said that 28 million doses of those vaccines will be made available this week. Notably, that’s more than enough for the country to continue giving 3 million shots a day.
If you had an appointment scheduled to get the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, you’re likely not completely out of luck.
For example, while D.C. vaccination sites are canceling all Johnson & Johnson appointments between Tuesday and this Saturday, the health department there has said it’ll send out invitations on Wednesday to reschedule.
Similar situations were reported in Virginia and Maryland, though some vaccination sites in Maryland are still honoring existing appointments by automatically giving people Pfizer instead. That’s also a process that is now being conducted in places like New York State and Memphis.
See what others are saying: (Associated Press) (NBC News) (The Washington Post)
Minnesota Protests Continue for a Second Night Over Police Killing of Daunte Wright
- Protests continued in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, on Monday over the death of Daunte Wright, who was fatally shot by a police officer who allegedly thought she was using her Taser.
- Police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at demonstrators violating the 7 p.m. curfew, as well as others who threw projectiles back at the officers. Several incidents of looting were reported, though law enforcement officials said they were minimal.
- That same evening, police officials identified the officer involved in Wright’s death as Kimberly Potter, a 26-year veteran of the force, prompting many experts to flag numerous reasons an officer with her experience should have known not to confuse her weapon with a stun gun.
- Wright tendered her resignation on Tuesday, as did Brooklyn Center Police Chief Tim Gannon.
Second Night of Demonstrations
Demonstrators clashed with police for the second night in a row Monday after an officer shot and killed 20-year-old Daunte Wright during a traffic stop in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota.
Much like protests the day before, the events reportedly started out peaceful, with hundreds attending a vigil on the street where Wright was killed. Hundreds more gathered outside the Brooklyn Center Police Department.
The situation started to escalate after 7 p.m. when the curfew instituted across all four Twin City metro-area countries went into effect. According to reports, police began to warn people that they were in violation of the curfew, and shortly before 8 p.m., officers began firing rounds of tear gas, rubber bullets, and flash grenades.
Some protesters reportedly retaliated by throwing water bottles, fireworks, and other projectiles. Later, police in riot gear pushed groups of demonstrators who had regrouped away from the police station.
Looters also broke into several businesses at a strip mall close by, including a Dollar Tree, where flames were reportedly later spotted, though law enforcement officials described the looting as limited.
During a press briefing just after midnight, officials said that 40 people had been arrested at the Brooklyn Center protest.
Late Monday, state officials identified the officer who fatally shot Wright as Kimberly Potter, a 26-year veteran of the force. BCPD Chief Tim Gannon had previously said that the officer, who he refused to name, had intended to use her Taser, but accidentally used her gun.
Many social media users and experts questioned how someone with 26 years of experience could mix up a Taser and a gun, including one retired sergeant with the Los Angeles Police Department, who told The New York Times, “If you train enough, you should be able to tell.”
The Times also noted that it is not common for officers to mix up their Tasers and guns, that most police forces — including BCPD — use a variety of protocols to prevent this from happening
Tasers are usually designed with specific features to distinguish them from guns, such as bright color-coating and different styles of grips. According to The Times, the BCPD manual cites three different pistol models as standard-issue, all three of which “weigh significantly more than a typical Taser.”
Those pistols also have a trigger safety that can be felt when touching them, while the Tasers do not. The outlet additionally noted that BCPD protocol requires officers to wear guns on their dominant sides and Tasers on the opposite to prevent exactly this kind of confusion.
Beyond that, Potter’s actions may have violated department policy even if she had used her Taser because the manual says it should not be used on people “whose position or activity may result in collateral injury,” including those “operating vehicles.”
It also says that officers should make “reasonable efforts” to avoid using the stun gun on people in the “head, neck, chest and groin,” but Wright was shot in the chest.
On Tuesday afternoon, it was reported that Potter and Chief Gannon have resigned from the force. The resignations come after Brooklyn Center leaders dismissed the city manager, a decision that could potentially give Mayor Mike Elliot the ability to fire the chief or officers in the department.
The resignations also come amid reports that Potter had been involved in another police-involved shooting in 2019, where she had been “admonished by investigators for allegedly attempting to conceal evidence after a police shooting that left a 21-year-old autistic man dead,” according to The Daily Beast.
As more information comes out surrounding the traffic stop that led to Wright’s death, several pieces of misinformation have also continued to spread on social media.
Most of the false information centers around the warrant for Wrights’ arrest that prompted police to attempt to detain him.
According to reports, court records show that a judge issued the warrant earlier this month after he missed a court appearance for two misdemeanor charges he was facing from last June for carrying a pistol without a permit and running from officers.
Notably, Wright does have a number of past charges filed against him, including two for attempted sale of Marijuana and aggravated robbery. Despite claims by many social media users, those charges were for separate incidents, and the warrant was specifically for failing to appear in court for the June charge.
There has also been a viral video circulating Twitter and TikTok claiming court records show that the hearing notification was sent to the wrong address, seemingly in reference to a piece of mail that had failed to be delivered in his court records.
The mail, however, was actually for a different case and is not connected to the notification for the hearing he missed. While that video is incorrect and county officials maintain that they did send him notification, Wright’s public defender, Arthur Martinez, told reporters his client had never received the notice and that the court had not informed him either.