Breonna Taylor Decision: What Does Brett Hankinson's Wanton Endangerment Charges Mean in The Fight for Justice for Breonna Taylor?

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Brett Hankinson, a former detective for the Louisville Metro Police Department, was the only officer indicted by the Jefferson County grand jury in the fatal police shooting death of Breonna Taylor. Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly and Detective Myles Cosgrove were not indicted.

Hankinson was not actually charged with the death of Breonna Taylor. The former detective was indicted on three counts of first-degree wanton endangerment, which is a class D felony, according to Kentucky state law.

What is Wanton Endangerment?

A person charged with wanton endangerment “wantonly engages in conduct which creates a substantial danger of death or serious physical injury to another person,” the law states. A person who is convicted could face up to five years in prison for each count.

Judge Annie O'Connell, who read the charges, said Hankison "wantonly shot a gun" into an adjacent apartment, The Louisville Courier Journal reported. This means that the grand jury did not find that Hankinson guilty of shooting into Taylor’s apartment the night she was killed, according to the publication.

Taylor’s neighbor, Chesey Napper, filed a lawsuit back in May, claiming the officers involved in the case “blindly” fired shots in her apartment, WDRB reported.

The lawsuit obtained by the news station stated that Napper, who was pregnant at the time, was sleeping in her apartment when the officers executed the search warrant on Taylor’s apartment. The suit stated that the officers fired "more than 25 shots into multiple homes.”

Attorney General Daniel Cameron said this was a “gut-wrenching, emotional case,” during a press conference following the decision. Cameron said the officers involved in the case “had no known involvement with the proceeding investigation or obtainment of the search warrant,” because the three were called in to help with issuing the search warrant.

During the press conference, Cameron said Mattingly and Cosgrove “were justified in their use of force after being fired upon by Kenneth Walker.”

Justice for Breonna Taylor

Ben Crump, the attorney representing Taylor and her family, called the charges on Hankinson “outrageous and offensive.”

“Jefferson County Grand Jury indicts former ofc. Brett Hankison with 3 counts of Wanton Endangerment in 1st Degree for bullets that went into other apartments but NOTHING for the murder of Breonna Taylor. This is outrageous and offensive!” Crump tweeted.

“If Brett Hankison's behavior was wanton endangerment to people in neighboring apartments, then it should have been wanton endangerment in Breonna Taylor's apartment too. In fact, it should have been ruled wanton murder!” he continued.

Carl Takei, senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s Criminal Law Reform Project, said in a statement sent to The North Star stated that “elected officials must listen to the cries of those communities and make sweeping changes — including divestment from these broken institutions and reinvesting in non-police alternatives — so that Black people no longer fear being murdered in their own home.”

“Today’s decision is not accountability and not close to justice. Justice would have been LMPD officers never shooting Breonna Taylor in the first place. The charges brought against Officer Hankison state that Hankison violated standard operating procedures when his “actions displayed an extreme indifference to the value of human life,”” Takei said.

“The choice to bring these charges alone and so late highlights the indifference to human life shown by everyone involved in Breonna Taylor’s murder. That indifference was shown by the other officers who executed the no-knock warrant alongside Officer Hankison, Attorney General Cameron who took six months to bring these lesser charges, and the system that allows these injustices to happen regularly. Until the need for real systemic change is embraced by our leaders, that indifference and disregard for the lives of Black people will continue to be commonplace.”