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Breonna Taylor Grand Jury Recordings Reveal Contradictions, Lack AG’s Recommendations

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  • 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.”

Officer’s Testimonies

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)

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Florida Cracks Down on “Vaccine Tourism”

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  • Florida is now requiring that people show proof of either full-time or part-time residency in the state in order to get vaccinated against COVID-19. 
  • The state has been hit with “vaccine tourism” as many people, predominantly wealthy individuals, fly to the state from other parts of the U.S. and abroad just to get the shot. 
  • So far, nearly 41,000 of the 1.3 million doses administered in Florida went to out-of-staters, though it is unclear if all those people were tourists or if this figure includes some part-time residents.

Florida Requires Proof of Residency

Florida is cracking down on “vaccine tourism” and requiring that people show proof of either full-time or part-time residency in the state in order to get a COVID-19 shot.

Previously the state was allowing anyone 65 and older, including non-residents, to get the vaccine. This resulted in people flying to the Sunshine State from across the U.S. and abroad just for the purpose of receiving it. 

According to state data, nearly 41,000 of the 1.3 million doses Florida has administered have gone to out-of-staters. It is unclear if all these out-of-staters are tourists or if this figure includes some part-time residents. 

Now, people must show a form of identification like a driver’s license or mortgage payment to receive it. Exceptions will be made for healthcare workers. 

Vaccine Supply Continues to Be Limited

Wealthy people in particular were quick to schedule travel plans to Florida for this reason. According to the Wall Street Journal, there was an influx of Canadians booking private jets to Florida. Some were looking to book flights there and back on the same day, leaving just enough time for them to get vaccinated against the coronavirus. 

Meanwhile, people in Florida and across the country are waiting in long lines and struggling to book appointments on glitching websites to get their shots. Vaccine supply continues to be incredibly limited and not everyone in high-risk groups have received them.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said this rule is not made to impact snowbirds, people who live in Florida during the winter to escape cold weather up north. 

“They go to doctors here or whatever, that’s fine, DeSantis said, according to CNN. “What we don’t want is tourists, foreigners. We want to put seniors first, but we obviously want to put people that live here first in line.”

See what others are saying: (Wall Street Journal) (CNN) (Travel + Leisure)

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Amanda Gorman Wows the Nation With “The Hill We Climb”

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  • Amanda Gorman, a 22-year-old poet, impressed the nation when she read “The Hill We Climb” at President Biden’s inauguration, making her the youngest inaugural poet in the nation’s history.
  • Gorman’s said the Jan. 6 attack on the nation’s Capitol inspired her to focus on a message of hope, community, and healing in her poem.
  • Big names like Oprah Winfrey, Anderson Cooper, Barack Obama, and Lin-Manuel Miranda have all praised her work.

Amanda Gorman Becomes Youngest Inaugural Poet

Inaugural poet Amanda Gorman wowed the nation on Wednesday as she spoke of healing, unity, hope, and what it means to be American while reading her poem, “The Hill We Climb.”

At 22-years-old Gorman is the youngest inaugural poet in the nation’s history. Born and raised in Los Angeles, she was the youth poet laureate of Los Angeles in 2014 at the age of 16. She then became the first national youth poet laureate in 2017. 

Now, her books are topping Amazon’s Best Sellers list and they are not even scheduled to be released until the fall.

First Lady Dr. Jill Biden became a fan of Gorman after watching her give a reading at the Library of Congress. She then suggested that Gorman be a part of the ceremony. 

“Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true: That even as we grieved, we grew. That even as we hurt, we hoped That even as we tired, we tried,” Gorman recited during inauguration. “That we’ll forever be tied together, victorious. Not because we will never again know defeat but because we will never again sow division.”

Like President Biden, Gorman has struggled with a speech impediment and has been open about her experience overcoming it. She actually used poetry as a tool to correct it. First, she used it as a way of expressing herself without having to speak. Then she used it to bring her poems to life.

“Once I arrived at the point in my life in high school, where I said, ‘you know what? Writing my poems on the page isn’t enough for me,” she told CBS News. “I have to give them breath, and life, I have to perform them as I am.’ That was the moment that I was able to grow past my speech impediment.”

What Inspired “The Hill We Climb”

Gorman said the inaugural committee gave her freedom and flexibility when it came to choosing what to write about. She was well on her way before the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. Those events then influenced her writing. 

“It energized me even more to believe that much more firmly in a message of hope, community and healing. I felt like that was the type of poem that I needed to write and it was the type of poem that the country and the world needed to hear,” she told CNN’s Anderson Cooper.  

That message came across clearly and the insurrection was depicted in part of “The Hill We Climb.”

“It’s because being American is more than a pride we inherit. It’s the past we step into and how we repair it. We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation rather than share it, would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy and this effort very nearly succeeded,” she said. “But while democracy can be periodically delayed it can never be permanently defeated. In this truth, in this faith we trust. For while we have our eyes on the future history has its eyes on us.”

Nation Impressed by Gorman

“Wow…Wow, I just, wow you’re awesome,” Cooper said when closing his interview with her. “I am so transfixed.” 

Lin-Manuel Miranda also cheered Gorman on. “The Hill We Climb” notably references a line of scripture that appears in a “Hamilton” song. Gorman also said she used to sing the song “Aaron Burr, Sir” to help her say her R sounds and correct her speech impediment. 

“I have never been prouder to see another young woman rise!” Oprah Winfrey wrote. “Brava Brava Amanda Gorman! Maya Angelou is cheering—and so am I.”

Winfrey also gave Gorman a ring with a caged bird on it—a reference to the famous Angelou poem— which Gorman wore during the inauguration. 

Actor Mark Ruffalo joined the onslaught of praise, saying that her words will lead the nation. 

Former President Barack Obama echoed that idea as well, and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Gorman promised to run for president one day. 

See what others are saying: (CBS News) (New York Times) (Los Angeles Times)

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SAT Drops Subject Tests and Optional Essay Section

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  • The College Board will discontinue SAT subject tests effective immediately and will scrap the optional essay section in June. 
  • The organization cited the coronavirus pandemic as part of the reason for accelerating these changes.
  • Regarding subject tests, the College Board said the other half of the decision rested on the fact that Advanced Placement tests are now more accessible to low-income students and students of color, making subject tests unnecessary. 
  • It also said it plans to launch a digital version of the SAT in the near future, despite failing to implement such a plan last year after a previous announcement.

College Board Ends Subject Tests and Optional Essay

College Board announced Tuesday that it will scrap the SAT’s optional essay section, as well as subject tests.

Officials at the organization cited the COVID-19 pandemic as part of the reason for these changes, saying is has “accelerated a process already underway at the College Board to simplify our work and reduce demands on students.”

The decision was also made in part because Advanced Placement tests, which College Board also administers, are now available to more low-income students and students of color. Thus, College Board has said this makes SAT subject tests unnecessary. 

While subject tests will be phased out for international students, they have been discontinued effective immediately in the U.S. 

Regarding the optional essay, College Board said high school students are now able to express their writing skills in a variety of ways, a factor which has made the essay section less necessary.

With several exceptions, it will be discontinued in June.

The Board Will Implement an Online SAT Test

In its announcement, College Board also said it plans to launch a revised version of the SAT that’s aimed at making it “more flexible” and “streamlined” for students to take the test online.

In April 2020, College Board announced it would be launching a digital SAT test in the fall if schools didn’t reopen. The College Board then backtracked on its plans for a digital test in June, before many schools even decided they would remain closed.

According to College Board, technological challenges led to the decision to postpone that plan.

For now, no other details about the current plan have been released, though more are expected to be revealed in April. 

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (NPR) (The New York Times)

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