Lawyer for Breonna Taylor's family calls for release of Kentucky grand jury evidence

LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY (REUTERS) – A civil rights lawyer representing Breonna Taylor’s family on Friday (Sept 25) demanded Kentucky’s state attorney-general release the evidence presented to a grand jury that decided against charging police officers with homicide in her death during a botched raid.

“Release the transcripts!” Ben Crump said, leading Taylor’s relatives and others in a chant outside the grand jury building and questioning whether Kentucky Attorney-General Daniel Cameron presented the grand jury with enough evidence against the white officers.

“There seems to be two justice systems in America. One for black America and one for white America,” Crump said.

Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear has also called on Cameron to make evidence in the case public.

In the US justice system, prosecutors present findings in secret to a panel known as a grand jury that must decide if the evidence is sufficient to charge a suspect. Since there are no presentations by attorneys for the suspect, the system gives prosecutors wide leeway in guiding the grand jury’s decisions.

Protests erupted in Louisville and other American cities following Wednesday’s announcement that the grand jury would not bring homicide charges against police officers involved in the fatal March 13 shooting of Taylor, who was black, in her home during the execution of a search warrant.

Instead, one officer was charged with wanton endangerment for stray bullets that struck a neighbouring apartment.

At a news conference on Friday, Interim Louisville Police Chief Robert Schroeder said he expected the crowds of protesters to grow over the weekend, and expressed concern about reports that several militia groups were planning to come to the city.

“Many of them say they are coming to help us. Let me be clear: That is not help we need, that is not help we want, and it does not help the situation,” Schroeder said.

Taylor’s slaying initially drew little national attention.

But it was thrust into prominence after George Floyd, a black man arrested for a non-violent offence in Minneapolis, died under the knee of a white police officer on May 25, igniting a summer of protests against racial injustice and excessive police force.

Taylor, 26, an emergency medical technician and aspiring nurse, was struck by six bullets moments after she and her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, were roused from bed in the commotion of the raid.

Walker fired one shot, wounding a police officer, saying he did not hear police identify themselves. Three officers responded by firing 32 rounds.

‘I AM ANGRY’

“I am angry… The system as a whole has failed her,” Taylor’s mother, Tamika Palmer, said in a statement read aloud by her sister.

“You robbed the world of a queen,” the statement said.

Crump, who has represented several families in high-profile cases of police killings, helped Taylor’s family win a US$12 million (S$16 million) settlement from the city of Louisville in a wrongful death lawsuit.

He questioned whether Cameron, a black Republican who was praised by US President Donald Trump for his handling of the case, was attempting to protect the police.

“Did he (Cameron) present any evidence on Breonna Taylor’s behalf or did he… try to justify the killing of Breonna Taylor by these police officers?” Crump asked.

Cameron has declined to release the grand jury evidence, in part because a separate federal investigation was ongoing.

Cameron’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday about Crump’s remarks.

But on Thursday, Cameron’s spokeswoman, Elizabeth Kuhn, said: “Releasing that information now would compromise the federal investigation and violate a prosecutor’s ethical duties.”

In the second night of Louisville protests following the decision, Thursday night and Friday morning were relatively calm after two police officers were shot and wounded on Wednesday.

The officers were recovering.

Police said on Friday they had arrested 24 protesters including state Representative Attica Scott, the only black woman in the Kentucky legislature. She is also a sponsor of the proposed “Breonna’s Law,” which would end “no-knock” warrants and require police to wear body cameras while warrants are served. The Bill is due to come up in the 2021 session.

Police also arrested Scott’s daughter, Ashanti Scott, and Shameka Parrish-Wright, a prominent activist. The three were charged with felony first-degree rioting and the misdemeanors of failure to disperse and unlawful assembly.

They were released on Friday morning after spending the night in jail, said Ted Shouse, an attorney for Parrish-Wright. They were arrested together when somebody nearby broke the window of a library and threw a flare into the building, but neither Parrish-Wright nor the Scotts were involved, Shouse said.

Attica Scott said the charges against her and her daughter were “ridiculous” and that she was detained before the curfew went into effect at 9pm.

Larynzo Johnson, 26, the suspect in the shooting of the two police officers on Wednesday night, pleaded not guilty on Friday to two counts of assault and multiple counts of wanton endangerment, according to Josh Abner, a spokesman for the Jefferson County attorney’s office.

Bail was set at US$1 million and he was assigned a public defender, according to a court filing.

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