Prosecutor Made The Right Call In Dropping Charges Against Kenneth Walker

Commonwealth’s Attorney Tom Wine on Friday dismissed attempted murder and assault charges against Kenneth Walker, the man who injured a police officer when cops raided the apartment of his girlfriend, Breonna Taylor. Walker claims that he never heard officers identify themselves as police, and believed he was firing in self-defense when the front door of Taylor’s apartment was breached. Officers returned fire and killed Taylor, and the ensuing case has kicked off a storm of controversy in the city that’s led to charges of racism against the Louisville Police Department, helped lead to the retirement of the chief of police, and called into question the controversial practice of no-knock raids.

Wine says that after investigations by the FBI and the Kentucky Attorney General’s office into the shootings are completed, he could go back to a grand jury and ask for a new indictment, but added that if he does, Walker will be allowed to testify, which wasn’t the case when the case was first presented to a grand jury.

Wine also denied allegations of Walker’s lawyer, Rob Eggert, that prosecutors acted unethically when they failed to disclose to the grand jury that indicted Walker that he had told police he didn’t know the intruders were police officers.

The Courier Journal reported Thursday that a police sergeant who presented the case didn’t mention that or that Taylor was killed. But Wine noted that state law and the U.S. Supreme Court have held police do not need to present exculpatory evidence to a grand jury.

Still, Wine told reporters that more information on Walker’s statement to police should have been presented. And Wine said if the case is offered to a grand jury again, Walker will be invited to testify.

As New York State chief judge Sol Wachtler famously said, “a grand jury would indict a ham sandwich if that’s what you wanted.” Prosecutors don’t have to prove a case beyond a reasonable doubt in order to obtain an indictment, and as Wine noted, they aren’t required to inform grand jurors of any evidence that might cut against the State’s case.

Even as Wine announced the dismissal of charges against Walker, the prosecutor defended police officers from what he called a “a tremendous amount of false information that has been disseminated.” Officers weren’t wearing body cameras the night that they raided Breonna Taylor’s apartment in search of a suspect who had actually already been arrested about an hour beforehand miles away from the residence, and several neighbors have disputed the account of police who say they repeatedly knocked and announced themselves before breaking down Taylor’s door. On Friday, Wine said even Kenneth Taylor acknowledged hearing knocks.

He said he and Taylor were in bed watching a movie when they first heard banging at the door.

“She was scared to death, and me too,” he said.

He said they feared it might be a man she had dated, and that she yelled “at the top of her lungs, ‘Who is it?’”

He said there was no response. He said they heard more banging — “Boom! Boom! Boom! Boom!”

He said he was walking with his gun pointed towards the front door when it was blasted off its hinges.

He said he fired one shot at exactly that moment and aimed down.

“I didn’t want to kill anyone,” he said. “I just wanted to get them out of there.”

He said he and Taylor fell to the floor. She was bleeding.

“Then I saw it was police,” he said.

He acknowledged then that officers may have already identified themselves and that he may not have heard them.

Wine also shared the account by Louisville Police Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly, who was the officer shot by Taylor. Mattingly says that he did knock first without identifying himself as an officer, but when no one came to the door he and other officers repeatedly shouted that they were with the Louisville Police and had a warrant. When the door was breached, Mattingly reported that Taylor was in front of the door in a firing stance, and fired “like he was at a shooting range.”

Based on the evidence I’ve seen, the biggest question that needs to be resolved is whether or not police did actually announce themselves loud enough for Walker to have heard them. The officers on scene say they did. Walker says they did not, and so do several of Taylor’s neighbors. There’s no body camera footage that could help confirm either account, and so we’re left to judge for ourselves the likelihood that a Walker, a 27-year old with no criminal record, who wasn’t the subject of the search warrant, and who had no drugs on him, decided to engage in a shootout with police when they announced that they had a warrant and bashed through the front door of his girlfriend’s apartment.

To me, it seems much more likely that Walker did not hear police announce themselves, and believed that he was protecting and himself and his girlfriend against one or more home invaders. Based on the evidence at hand, I think it was entirely appropriate for Wine to dismiss the charges against Walker, and overdue as well.

That doesn’t necessarily mean the officers on scene are lying. They may believe that they were loud enough for Walker to hear them proclaim that they were police officers and had a warrant to search Breonna Taylor’s home. However, even if that is the case, it doesn’t absolve the department of several problems in how they handled the case from the outset, starting with the fact that the suspect that was the focus of the search warrant had already been arrested miles away from Taylor’s home about an hour before the raid began. With the suspect, who police believed was using Taylor’s apartment to possibly store drugs, in custody, and Taylor not suspected of any violent crime, officers could have used their discretion to not break down the front door at all, whether or not they knocked beforehand.

Several members of the Louisville City Council are now pushing to bar the use of no-knock warrants on drug possession cases, and the Gun Owners of America released a stinging rebuke of the practice on Friday. The head of the Louisville police union, meanwhile, is taking a hard line in the Walker case after a city council member called Walker a “hero” for protecting his girlfriend in what he believed was an act of self-defense.

Jessica Green, chairman of the public safety committee, also said at a hearing Wednesday that the attempted murder charge against Kenneth Walker should be dismissed as he was allegedly protecting himself and Taylor from what he believed was intruders.

“To say that I was disgusted and appalled by that statement is a dramatic understatement,” River City FOP president Ryan Nichols said at a press conference. “Calling someone that shot an on duty police officer in the official performance of his officials duties a hero is a slap in the face” to police everywhere.

“Statements like this can not be tolerated by city leaders.”

He called on Green to apologize to police.

In her own press conference, Green did not apologize for her comments.

“What I said yesterday is that I believe that Kenneth Walker was a hero because he acted to defend himself and significant other due to threats unknown,” she said. “I stand by that statement.”

Given the circumstances surrounding Breonna Taylor’s death, and Walker’s shooting of Sgt. Mattingly, I don’t believe that Green’s comments are a “slap in the face” to every police officer. She wasn’t praising Walker for shooting a cop. She was praising him for protecting himself and his girlfriend against what they believed to be home invaders. Still, Green’s comments may very well have been purposely phrased to generate a heated response and media headlines, and she certainly got her fair share of both.

At the moment, I’m leaning towards the theory that police did announce themselves beforehand, but that Walker didn’t hear them, perhaps because they weren’t as loud or as clear as they claimed. Based on what we know right now, I just don’t see a motive for Kenneth Walker to try to shoot it out with cops in an apartment they had a warrant to search, an apartment he didn’t own, and with nothing illegal inside. It doesn’t make sense to me, and I’m looking forward to learning the results of the investigation by the FBI and the Kentucky AG, which will hopefully provide answers to at least a few of the unresolved questions and shed some sunlight on what led to the death of Breonna Taylor.