In a stunning turn of events in the Breonna Taylor case in Kentucky, yesterday an anonymous grand juror filed a rare motion petitioning the court to release transcripts from the secret legal proceedings that culminated last week with Kentucky Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron concluding that neither murder nor manslaughter charges would be filed against Officers Jonathan Mattingly, Myles Cosgrove, or former Officer Brett Hankison. Hankison was charged with a property crime–of firing into an adjacent residence.
The three officers presented to Taylor’s home on March 13th allegedly to search for contraband belonging to her ex-boyfriend Jamarcus Glover, one who had not been at her residence in weeks. Taylor’s new boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, feared that burglars were entering the residence and according to the police, fired a warning shot that led to their return fire. There will be more on this point below.
Nevertheless, AG Cameron, a 34-year-old protege of Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and listed two weeks ago as a potential replacement to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (despite having been a lawyer for nine years), strode to the lectern and stated that prosecutors had presented both facts and legal definitions to a grand jury that found no fault with the officers who killed Breonna Taylor.
Now, the grand jury’s presentment is in doubt after yesterday’s filing, one in which the anonymous juror affirms that “there is a compelling public interest for these proceedings to be released of a magnitude the city and Commonwealth have never seen before that could not be confined, weaving its way across the country.” The motion adds that AG Cameron used the grand jurors “as a shield to deflect accountability and responsibility,” and that the juror fears Cameron “would attempt to utilize the court’s contempt powers … if there was a public disclosure that contradicted certain things that he stated happened during the proceedings, characterized the singularity of the decision in a different light, or raised doubts about charges that were presented during the proceedings.”
Cognizant that a Louisville judge had placed this unordinary motion on the fast track for a hearing this week, Cameron this morning conceded that he will, in fact, release the taped proceedings. In his statement, Cameron argued that the grand jury “is meant to be a secretive body, but it is apparent that the public interest in this case isn’t going to allow that to happen.”
Cameron is correct in one aspect–grand juries convene in secret and their deliberations are rarely ever released to defense attorneys–let alone the media or the public writ large. This tradition harkens back to English Common law where prior to the 13th Century, each shire or county within the realm maintained a group of 12 men who advised about individuals accused of larceny, robbery or murder. The twelve advisers would secretly provide names of the accused to the local sheriff in hopes that by shrouding the same, that it would prevent the accused from fleeing.
In 1215, when King John was forced to sign the Magna Carta at Runnymede, the concept of “due process” was first formed and as a result, each local sheriff would select 24 men that were called “le Grande inquest”–the predecessor of our modern grand jury. The old group of 12 men then became known as “petit” or small juries that would actually hear “indictments” rendered by the Grande Inquest, thus creating a dual system that exists in some form to this day in America per the U.S. Constitution and its Fifth Amendment that provides that “no person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury.”
While grand juries often get it right as far as indicting civilians for serious crimes, they typically get it wrong where Black people are victims of systemic racial injustices in America. Throughout the Jim Crow era, southern grand juries routinely exonerated white men who openly and brazenly lynched Black men, women and children. When white terrorists razed the Greenwood “Black Wall Street” section of Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1921, an all-white grand jury concluded that the Black World War I veterans who proceeded to the local jail to prevent 21 year old Dickie Rowland from being lynched for allegedly raping a white woman had “agitated” local whites and were the cause of the resulting three days of looting and murder. An all-white grand jury reached a similar conclusion in Rosewood, Florida two years later, thus setting the tone for injustice based on race.
But Kentucky AG Daniel Cameron provides a Black face to the modern racist practice of Blacks being killed by police officers who commit such crimes with the same impunity that terrorist white lynch mobs did in the 20th Century. Whether an officer slays a Black person for a traffic offense like improper lane change, a misdemeanor offense like selling loose cigarettes, or for resting in their home like Breonna Taylor, each of these crimes and the resulting exoneration of the criminals is a manifest injustice.
But what is most disturbing is to see AG Cameron lying due to his own ambition to remain safe in white spaces; in less than a week, it has been reported that 11 neighbors stated that they did not hear the police identify themselves before barging into Taylor’s home and that the one witness who claimed that he did hear such pronouncement changed his story nearly two months after Taylor was murdered. Thus the need to obtain these transcripts, because it defies all logic for 10 or more witnesses to say that they did not hear police identification, but for Cameron and his prosecutorial team to hang their hats on the inconsistent testimony of one witness who changed his story to fit the police “testi-lying.”
Another issue that clouds this case is that AG Cameron told reporters last week that his investigation “had ruled out friendly fire from ex-Louisville Metro Police officer Brett Hankison as the source of the shot that went through LMPD Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly’s thigh, prompting him and officer Myles Cosgrove to return fire, killing Taylor.” We now know that Kentucky State Police investigators have concluded no such thing, stating within their report that “due to limited markings of comparative value, the 9-mm bullet that hit and exited Mattingly was neither identified NOR eliminated as having been fired from (Breonna Taylor’s boyfriend) Kenneth Walker’s gun.”
As I often write, the time for begging whites in America to recognize the humanity of Black Americans must stop. Black Lives Matter, and it is long past time for police to stop killing Black people and for the judicial system to ensure that when they do, that they are held accountable just like ordinary citizens. Until that occurs, legal advocacy, political and social agitation on social media and in the streets through protests must continue so that we can force this nation to finally commit itself to is purported ideals of “Equal Justice under the Law.”