The U.S. DOJ announced in a press release today that police officers involved in the Kentucky shooting death of Breonna Taylor have been charged with federal felony civil rights violations. A federal grand jury in Louisville, Kentucky, returned two indictments that were unsealed today, and the Department of Justice filed a third charging document today, in connection with an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old woman who was shot and killed in her Louisville home on March 13, 2020, by police officers executing a search warrant.
“The Justice Department has charged four current and former Louisville Metro Police Department officers with federal crimes related to Breonna Taylor’s death,” said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland. “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.
“On March 13, 2020, Breonna Taylor should have awakened in her home as usual, but tragically she did not,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke. “Since the founding of our nation, the Bill of Rights to the United States Constitution has guaranteed that all people have a right to be secure in their homes, free from false warrants, unreasonable searches and the use of unjustifiable and excessive force by the police.
The first indictment charges former Louisville Metro Police Department (LMPD) Detective Joshua Jaynes, 40, and current LMPD Sergeant Kyle Meany, 35, with federal civil rights and obstruction offenses for their roles in preparing and approving a false search warrant affidavit that resulted in Taylor’s death. The second indictment charges former LMPD Detective Brett Hankison, 46, with civil rights offenses for firing his service weapon into Taylor’s apartment through a covered window and covered glass door. The third charging document — an information filed by the Department of Justice — charges LMPD Detective Kelly Goodlett with conspiring with Jaynes to falsify the search warrant for Taylor’s home and to cover up their actions afterward.
The first indictment — charging Jaynes and Meany in connection with the allegedly false warrant — contains four counts. Count One charges that Jaynes and Meany, while acting in their official capacities as officers, willfully deprived Taylor of her constitutional rights by drafting and approving a false affidavit to obtain a search warrant for Taylor’s home. The indictment alleges that Jaynes and Meany knew that the affidavit contained false and misleading statements, omitted material facts, relied on stale information, and was not supported by probable cause. 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. According to the charges, the officers tasked with executing the warrant were not involved in drafting the warrant affidavit and were not aware that it was false. This count alleges that the offense resulted in Taylor’s death.
Count Two charges Jaynes with conspiracy, for agreeing with another detective to cover up the false warrant affidavit after Taylor’s death by drafting a false investigative letter and making false statements to criminal investigators. Count Three charges Jaynes with falsifying a report with the intent to impede a criminal investigation into Taylor’s death. Count Four charges Meany with making a false statement to federal investigators.
The second indictment —against Hankison — includes two civil rights charges alleging that Hankison willfully used unconstitutionally excessive force, while acting in his official capacity as an officer, when he fired his service weapon into Taylor’s apartment through a covered window and covered glass door. Count One charges him with depriving Taylor and a person staying with Taylor in her apartment of their constitutional rights by firing shots through a bedroom window that was covered with blinds and a blackout curtain. Count Two charges Hankison with depriving three of Taylor’s neighbors of their constitutional rights by firing shots through a sliding glass door that was covered with blinds and a curtain; the indictment alleges that several of Hankison’s bullets traveled through the wall of Taylor’s home and into the apartment unit occupied by her neighbors. Both counts allege that Hankison used a dangerous weapon, and that his conduct involved an attempt to kill.
The information charging Goodlett with conspiracy contains one count. It charges Goodlett with conspiring with Jaynes to falsify the warrant affidavit for Taylor’s home, and file a false report to cover up the false affidavit.
All of the civil rights charges involve alleged violations of Title 18, United States Code, Section 242, which makes it a crime for an official acting under color of law — meaning an official who is using or abusing authority given to that person by the government — to willfully violate a person’s constitutional rights. A violation of this statute carries a statutory maximum sentence of life imprisonment where the violation results in death or involves an attempt to kill. The obstruction counts charged in the indictments carry a statutory maximum sentence of 20 years; and the conspiracy counts carry a statutory maximum sentence of five years, as does the false-statements charge.
The charges announced today are separate from the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division’s pattern or practice investigation into Louisville Metro Government and the Louisville Metro Police Department, which Attorney General Garland announced on April 26, 2021. The charges announced today are criminal against individual officers, while the ongoing pattern or practice investigation is a civil investigation that is examining allegations of systemic violations of the Constitution and federal law by LMPD and Louisville Metro. The civil pattern or practice investigation is being handled independently from the criminal case by a different team of career staff.