Four officers involved in the March 2020 police raid that killed Breonna Taylor were arrested by the FBI Thursday. Three of them are charged with violating Taylor’s civil rights, which carries a maximum of life in prison, if convicted.
The raid on Taylor’s Louisville apartment was the result of lies, the federal indictment alleged. A warrant for the no-knock police raid that led to Taylor’s death should never have been granted, and “Breonna Taylor should be alive today,” said U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland.
For Taylor’s family and her supporters in Louisville, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announcement was the beginning of justice that they believe had been denied to them. Only one officer involved in the 26-year-old Black woman‘s killing was charged under Kentucky law, and he was acquitted at trial.
“I’ve waited 874 days for today,” Tamika Palmer, Breonna’s mother said. “Today is overdue but it still hurts. They shouldn’t have been there and Breonna didn’t deserve that.”
For more than two years, the family and community leaders felt like justice was out of reach. “The last two years have been so heavy because there was no sense of closure,” Sadiqa Reynolds, the president of the Louisville Urban League who’s worked closely with the Taylor family, tells TIME. “We’ve really been left with this sense of disregard. There had been this heaviness over Louisville.”
DOJ: Police ‘falsified’ documents
Thursday’s federal charges may vindicate those who argued the Louisville Metropolitan Police Department (LMPD) raid on Taylor’s home was conducted on false pretenses—something that a Louisville police internal investigation had determined.
“Among other things, the federal charges announced today allege that members of LMPD’s Place-Based Investigations Unit falsified the affidavit used to obtain the search warrant of Ms. Taylor’s home, that this act violated federal civil rights laws, and that those violations resulted in Ms. Taylor’s death,” Garland told reporters on Thursday.
In March 2020, officers raided Taylor’s home using a no-knock warrant. Her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, believed intruders were breaking into the home and shot at the officers, hitting one of them in the leg. The officers then fired multiple times into the apartment, killing Taylor.
Taylor’s death, along with George Floyd’s murder two months later, led to widespread protesting against police brutality and systemic racism in the country.
The DOJ is alleging that former Detective Joshua Jaynes, Sgt. Kyle Meany, and Detective Kelly Goodlett worked together in getting the warrant for Taylor’s home even though they did not have probable cause. They told a judge that a former boyfriend of Taylor, their real target, was getting packages delivered to her home—but there was no evidence of that, according to the DOJ indictment.
“The indictment also alleges that Jaynes and Meany knew that the execution of the search warrant would be carried out by armed LMPD officers, and could create a dangerous situation both for those officers and for anyone who happened to be in Taylor’s home,” a DOJ statement said.
Goodlett and Jaynes are charged with writing a false warrant affidavit and then filing a false report to cover up the affidavit. The two allegedly met in a garage after Taylor was killed in the raid and agreed that they would lie to the investigators. Jaynes was fired from the department in January 2021.
Goodlett is charged with conspiracy. Jaynes is charged with civil rights violations, conspiracy, and falsification of records. Meany is charged with violating Taylor’s civil rights and lying to federal investigators.
In addition, Brett Hankinson was charged by the DOJ with violating Taylor’s civil rights by using excessive force. Hankinson was the only officer charged by the grand jury and was later fired by Louisville police.
Hankinson fired 10 shots through a window in Taylor’s apartment the night of the raid, though he was not the one who killed Taylor. He was found not guilty of state charges in March 2022, arguing that he thought his fellow officers were under fire.
The other officers who carried out the raid are not facing any charges, as they were not aware that the warrant was falsified, according to the DOJ.
A sense of vindication
“After two long years of relentless investigations, today’s indictments are a critical step forward in the process toward achieving justice for Breonna Taylor,” Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer said in a statement.
There’s a real sense of vindication on the ground in Louisville, Reynolds says—in large part because of fury over how the state investigation was handled.
When Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron took up on the case in 2020, he met with community leaders beforehand, including Reynolds. “We were assured that there would be a thorough investigation,” Reynolds said. “I was not prepared for what seemed like a lackluster investigation.”
Many community members believe that Cameron did not present all the information to the grand jury. Grand jurors have publicly said said that they felt Cameron misrepresented them when he announced that no serious charges were being brought against the department.
“It’s one thing to disagree with the outcome of a grand jury decision, it is another to feel that a grand jury didn’t get to hear the entire story,” Reynolds says.
She also believes that the federal charges never would have come under the previous Administration.
Reynolds says she and others in Louisville believe that the arrest of the officers—and the hefty federal sentences that they face, could be the beginning of a shift in how law enforcement is held accountable.
“I hope that we see a line of police officers not just in Louisville, but across the country who are willing to step up and tell the truth about what the bad apples are doing,” she says. “I hope that we will finally use these cases to look at the system and the corruption within the system.”