Grand Jury Tapes Raise New Questions About No-Knock Warrant Execution
Last week, Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron presented the results of his office’s investigation into the police killing of Breonna Taylor. In laying out the evidence they had gathered over months of investigating, he answered one of the most persistent questions about what happened that night:
“Evidence shows that officers both knocked and announced their presence at the apartment,” Cameron said. “The officer’s statements about their announcement are corroborated by an independent witness who was near in a proximity to apartment four,” where Taylor lived.
But what he didn’t mention was that three other neighbors said they didn’t hear any knocking or announcements, and the one witness who corroborated the statements offered three different answers each time he was interviewed.
The warrant that officers obtained to enter Taylor’s apartment on March 13 didn’t require them to knock or announce themselves. But the officers have long insisted that they did, an important distinction because of what happened when they finally gained access to the apartment: Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, believed they were getting robbed and he fired one shot at the officers, striking Sgt. Jon Mattingly.
Three officers returned fire, killing Taylor.
But the recordings of the grand jury proceedings that were released Friday cast doubt on Cameron’s assertion that the officers knocked and announced, and that this witness corroborates their story.
What Officers Say
What the tapes make clear is that the officers involved that night agree they gave Taylor and Walker plenty of warning of who they were and what they were doing there.
“There was probably six or seven different contacts of multiple banging on doors,” Mattingly said in a March 25 interview with LMPD’s Public Integrity Unit that was played for the grand jury. “And after each one, ‘Police, come to the door, search warrant.’”
Mattingly was knocking on the door alongside Detective Mike Nobles, who was on standby to ram down the door.
“It began as just, ‘Knock knock knock, police,’” Nobles said in a PIU interview. “I could hear talking, so I just figured I was going to make some contact. They could hear me.”
“They knock and they knock and they knock, and this goes on for nearly a minute,” Det. Myles Cosgrove recalled during a PIU interview. “And during that minute, I am shining my flashlight into the sliding glass door.”
Several officers mentioned in their testimony that they were knocking for so long and so loudly that other neighbors came outside to see what was going on.
“When we were knocking the first two times, neighbors from above had come out,” Lt. Shawn Hoover said in his PIU interview. “They were like, ‘What are y’all doing?’ Like, looking down at us. So [they] heard us upstairs knocking.”
Officers testified that Detective Brett Hankison was arguing with this neighbor at one point, telling him to go back inside, all while they’re still knocking and trying to get Taylor to open her door.
What Neighbors Say
Detective Herman Hall from the attorney general’s office told grand jurors that he had interviewed at least 15 of Taylor’s neighbors, including Cody Etherton, who lived next door.
“He knows for a fact he did not hear anyone say Louisville Metro Police Department or anything prior to being awakened,” Hall testified about Etherton. “He would have felt safer if he would have heard Louisville Metro Police Department announced because he was thinking that he was being robbed.”
Hankison fired several rounds that entered Etherton’s apartment, where he lived with his then-pregnant girlfriend and 5-year-old child. Those bullets were the cause of Hankison’s indictment on three counts of wanton endangerment.
Another neighbor was awake when the police showed up, and she said she didn’t know it was the police. She told Hall she heard no knocking or announcement.
Another neighbor, Jack Shuler, told Hall that he was watching television in his living room with the sliding glass door open.
“It was quiet outside when Shuler heard three quick pops — that was gunshots,” Hall testified.
‘Independent Witness’ Waffles
So who was the neighbor the police officers all recall arguing with about going back inside? And who is Cameron referring to when he said there was an “independent witness” who corroborated the officers’ stories?
Neither Cameron nor the officers used any specific names, but the grand jury tapes suggest they’re talking about Aaron Sarpee. He doesn’t live at the complex — he was there picking up his daughter that night.
He’s also not a native English speaker, and Hall testified that “it’s very hard to understand him.”
Sarpee was interviewed three times during the course of the investigation, and Hall of the attorney general’s office told the jurors about those interviews.
In the first interview with LMPD’s PIU investigators, a week after the shooting, he said he went outside that night and was told to go back inside. He could tell by their uniforms that they were police, but he said they did not announce themselves and “he did not hear anyone knocking on the apartment door.”
In a second interview, also with LMPD, about two months later, he said there were four or five men below the apartment stairs when he walked out.
“When he went back into his apartment, he heard gunshots, ‘Pop, pop, pop’,” Hall testified based on his review of the interview. “He heard the officers knocking on the door, and they were saying, ‘This is the cops.’”
It’s not clear if Sarpee was describing the order of events chronologically, but he did assert that the officers knocked and announced themselves.
About a month after that interview, Hall interviewed Sarpee himself. He again said that when he tried to leave the apartment, a group of men started screaming at him to go back inside.
“He did hear the words ‘police, police.’ The apartment door was closed when he heard them announcing,” Hall testified. “He did not hear any knocking, but did hear gunshots when he opened the door with his daughter.”
Assistant Attorney General Barbara Maines Whaley attempted to sum up Sarpee’s testimony for the grand jury.
“First interview he didn’t hear any knocking, and the second one he did hear knocking, and announcing of police,” she said. And in the third interview, “he did hear announcing of police…but no knocking.”
Hall responded: “yes ma’am. No knocking.”