- 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)
After Uvalde, Politicians, Public Figures, Gun Violence Survivors, and More Call For Change
“When are we going to do something?” Golden State Warriors Coach Steve Kerr asked during an emotional plea at a press conference.
Uvalde Shooting Kills 21 People
Democratic politicians, activists, and many others are calling for gun reform in the United States after 19 children and two teachers were killed in a Tuesday shooting at Robb Hill Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.
The 18-year-old suspected gunman was reportedly killed by officers. The massacre marks the 27th school shooting of 2022, according to Education Week.
It also comes just a week and a half after 10 people were killed in a shooting in Buffalo, New York, and another shooting in a Southern California church left one person dead and several others injured.
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Ct.) spoke fervently on the Senate floor Tuesday, slamming his colleagues for refusing to pass gun control legislation that could prevent future shootings.
“What are we doing?” he asked of his fellow lawmakers. “Why do you spend all this time running for the United States Senate? Why do you through all the hassle of getting this job, of putting yourself in a position of authority, if your answer is, as the slaughter increases, as kids run for their lives, we do nothing? What are we doing?
“Why are you here if not to solve a problem as existential as this?” he continued. “This isn’t inevitable. These kids weren’t unlucky. This only happens in this country.”
“And it is a choice. It is our choice.”
President Joe Biden likewise urged action by supporting the now-expired assault weapons ban.
“We can do more. We must do more,” he added.
Public Figures And Shooting Survivors Speak Out
The demands for change spread far past political figures. Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr took time out of a pre-game press conference to passionately plead for common-sense gun control. He specifically called on Senators to vote on H.R. 8, a background check bill previously passed in the House.
“When are we going to do something?” Kerr asked while slamming his hands on the table.
“I ask you, Mitch McConnell, I ask all of you senators who refuse to do anything about the violence and school shootings and supermarket shootings. I ask you: Are you going to put your own desire for power ahead of the lives of our children and our elderly and our churchgoers?” Kerr continued. “Because that’s what it looks like.”
He went on to say that Americans, who largely support background checks, are “being held hostage by 50 Senators who refuse to even put it to a vote.”
Grammy Award-winning musician Taylor Swift shared his message, adding that she is filled with “rage and grief” not just from the shootings, but by “the ways in which we, as a nation, have become conditioned to unfathomable and unbearable heartbreak.”
“It doesn’t have to be this way,” tweeted David Hogg, an activist and survivor of the 2018 school shooting in Parkland, Florida. “The way we will make this time different is by Americans on both sides of the aisle collaborating on what we can agree on to get something done even if small. Kids are dying we have to do something.”
Manuel Oliver, the father of one of the children lost in the Parkland shooting, slammed the inaction of politicians in an interview on CBS News.
“The families don’t need your freaking hearts,” Oliver said. “They need their kids, and the kids are not there anymore. So I feel very angry and offended and I just don’t understand how come a whole society doesn’t wake up.”
People impacted by the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting also spoke out, including Mary Ann Jacob, who worked as a librarian at the school during the shooting.
“I’m so sorry those deaths did not change our world,” Jacob wrote.
Texas-based figures felt especially compelled to stand up as the tragedy hit so close to home. Academy Award-winning actor Matthew McConaughey, whose hometown is Uvalde, wrote a message on social media asking Americans to “take a longer and deeper look in the mirror and ask ourselves, ‘What is it that we truly value?’”
“We have tragically proven that we are failing to be responsible for the rights our freedoms grant us,” McConaughey wrote.
“Action must be taken so that no parent has to experience what the parents in Uvalde and the others before them have endured.”
Fellow Texas native Selena Gomez also took to social media to argue for action.
“If children aren’t safe at school where are they safe? It’s so frustrating and I’m not sure what to say anymore,” the “Only Murders in the Building” star wrote on her Instagram story. “Those in power need to stop giving lip service and actually change the laws to prevent these shootings in the future.”
We make it a point to not include the names and pictures of those who may have been seeking attention or infamy and will not link out to websites that might contain such information.
Lawmakers Call For Action as Oil Companies Post Record Profits Amid Rising Gas Prices
A recent analysis from the Center for American Progress found that the top five oil companies earned over 300% more in profits during the first quarter of 2022 than the same period last year.
As Consumer Prices Climb, Big Oil Profits
American oil companies are facing increased scrutiny over profiteering practices as gas prices continue to surpass record highs driven by Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine.
Last week, costs surged to above $4 per gallon in all 50 states for the first time ever, according to the auto club AAA. Prices are currently averaging over $4.59 per gallon nationwide, which is 50% higher than they were this time last year.
In addition to consumers hurting at the pump, there are also rising concerns for industries that rely on fuel and oil like trucking, freight, airlines, and plastic manufacturers.
To account for high prices, some in sectors have responded by ramping up prices further down the supply chain to account for costs, putting even more of a burden on consumers to pay for everyday items.
But as Americans struggle with sky-high gas prices at a time of record inflation, recently released earnings reports show that many of the world’s largest oil companies thrived in the first quarter of 2022.
ExxonMobil more than doubled its earnings from the same period last year, reporting a net profit of $5.5 billion. Meanwhile, Chevron logged its best quarterly earnings in almost a decade, and Shell had its highest earnings ever.
According to a new analysis conducted by the Center for American Progress, the top five oil companies — including the three mentioned above — earned over 300% more in profits this quarter than during the same time last year.
“In fact, these five companies’ first-quarter profits alone are equivalent to almost 28 percent of what Americans spent to fill up their gas tanks in the same time period,” the report noted.
Per Insider, for at least four of those companies, that growth marks a tremendous increase in profits from even before the pandemic.
Lawmakers Ramp-Up Efforts to Reduce Prices
To address these startling disparities, federal lawmakers have moved in recent weeks to increase pressure on oil companies and take steps to lower prices.
On Thursday, the House of Representatives passed a bill proposed by Rep. Katie Porter (D-Ca.) that aims to reduce gas prices. The legislation, called The Consumer Fuel Price Gouging Prevention Act, would give the president the authority to issue an Energy Emergency Declaration that would be effective for up to 30 days with the possibility of being renewed.
In that emergency period, it would be illegal for anyone to increase gas or home energy fuel prices to a level that is exploitative or “unconscionably excessive.”
The proposal would also give the Federal Trade Commission the power to investigate and manage instances of price gouging from larger companies and give state authorities the ability to enforce price-gouging violations in civil courts.
The bill, which has already seen widespread opposition from Republicans and extensive lobbying from pro-oil interest groups, faces an uphill battle in the 50-50 split Senate.
During debate on the act Thursday, Rep. Porter delivered an impassioned speech accusing oil companies of driving their record profits by using their market power to unfairly increase prices.
“The oil and gas industry currently has more than 9,000 permits to drill for oil on federal land, but they are deliberately keeping production low to please their investors and increase their short-term profits,” she said. “Even when the price of crude oil falls, oil and gas companies have refused to pass those savings on to consumers.”
“Let me be clear: price gouging is anti-capitalist,” Porter continued. “It exploits a lack of competition, which is a hallmark of capitalism. It is an effort to juice corporate profits at the expense of customers. Energy markets are reeling because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Big oil companies, however, are using this temporary chaos to cover up their abuse.”
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (Vox) (NPR)
Lincoln College to Close for Good After COVID and Ransomware Attack Ruin Finances
Last year, 1,043 schools in the U.S. were the victim of ransomware attacks, including 26 colleges or universities, according to an analysis by Emsisoft.
One of the Only Historically Black Colleges in the Midwest Goes Down
After 157 years of educating mostly Black students in Illinois, Lincoln College will close its doors for good on Friday.
The college made the announcement last month, citing financial troubles caused by the coronavirus pandemic and a ransomware attack in December.
Enrollment dropped during the pandemic and the administration had to make costly investments in technology and campus safety measures, according to a statement from the school.
A shrinking endowment put additional pressure on the college’s budget.
The ransomware attack, which the college has said originated from Iran, thwarted admissions activities and hindered access to all institutional data. Systems for recruitment, retention, and fundraising were completely inoperable at a time when the administration needed them most.
In March, the college paid the ransom, which it has said amounted to less than $100,000. But according to Lincoln’s statement, subsequent projections showed enrollment shortfalls so significant the college would need a transformational donation or partnership to make it beyond the present semester.
The college put out a request for $50 million in a last-ditch effort to save itself, but no one came forward to provide it.
A GoFundMe aiming to raise $20 million for the college only collected $2,452 as of Tuesday.
Students and Employees Give a Bittersweet Goodbye
“The loss of history, careers, and a community of students and alumni is immense,” David Gerlach, the college’s president, said in a statement.
Lincoln counts nearly 1,000 enrolled students, and those who did not graduate this spring will leave the institution without degrees.
Gerlach has said that 22 colleges have worked with Lincoln to accept the remaining students, including their credits, tuition prices, and residency requirements.
“I was shocked and saddened by that news because of me being a freshman, so now I have to find someplace for me to go,” one student told WMBD News after the closure was announced.
When a group of students confronted Gerlach at his office about the closure, he responded with an emotional speech.
“I have been fighting hard to save this place,” he said. “But resources are resources. We’ve done everything we possibly could.”
On April 30, alumni were invited back to the campus to revisit the highlights of their college years before the institution closed.
On Saturday, the college held its final graduation ceremony, where over 200 students accepted their diplomas and Quentin Brackenridge performed the Lincoln Alma Mater.
Last year, 1,043 schools in the U.S. were the victim of ransomware attacks, including 26 colleges or universities, according to an analysis by Emsisoft.