Posted 10/10/20, edited 12/30/20


Volatile situations and imperfect cops guarantee tragic outcomes

Apartment small

     For Police Issues by Julius (Jay) Wachtel.

    Banged on the door, no response. Banged on it again no response. At that point we started announcing ourselves, police, please come to the door. So we kept banging and announcing. It seemed like an eternity.

     That, according to Louisville police sergeant Jonathon Mattingly, is how the infamous March encounter began.  In testimony before a Grand Jury, the supervisor whose bullet (according to the FBI) fatally wounded Breonna Taylor insisted that despite the search warrant’s “no-knock” provisions he and his companions, Detectives Myles Cosgrove and Michael Nobles and former Detective Brett Hankinson,  loudly announced their presence and only smashed in because no one promptly came to the door.

     As soon as they entered chaos erupted. Ms. Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, whose presence the officers didn’t expect “was standing in the hallway firing through the door.” One of his bullets pierced Sergeant Mattingly in the leg. He and detectives Cosgrove and Hankinson returned fire. Walker escaped injury, but bullets fired by Mattingly and Cosgrove fatally wounded Breonna Taylor, the apartment’s occupant of record. Meanwhile Hankinson’s barrage went wildly off the mark, peppering another apartment but fortunately striking no one.

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     Kenneth Walker said he thought the officers were criminals breaking in. He was arrested for shooting Sergeant Mattingly but ultimately escaped prosecution. (He blames cops for firing the shot that struck the officer.) In June the police chief fired Detective Hankinson, who was disciplined a year earlier for recklessly injuring a citizen. And on September 15 the city announced it was settling a claim filed by Ms. Taylor’s family for $12 million. That’s reportedly one of the largest payouts of its kind, ever.

     Grand jurors returned their findings one week later. Neither Mr. Walker nor the officers who unintentionally killed Ms. Taylor were charged. However, former cop Hankinson was indicted for discharging the fusillade that endangered other tenants. He pled not guilty and awaits trial.

     It’s not surprising that Ms. Taylor’s killing has taken on such significance. Compare it with two other recent cases: Mr. George Floyd, who died after being roughly handled by a Minneapolis cop, and Mr. Rayshard Brooks, who was shot dead by an Atlanta police officer during a foot chase. Mr. Floyd and Mr. Brooks fought police; Mr. Brooks went so far as to fire at his pursuer with the Taser he grabbed from another cop. In contrast, Ms. Taylor did absolutely nothing to warrant rough handling. She was in her own apartment, just standing there when officers opened fire. Her killing was clearly a lethal error.

     Law enforcement officers serve search warrants and engage in other high-risk activities every day. Many of these episodes involve dangerous characters, yet most conclude peacefully. However, since most research of police use of force focuses on episodes with bad endings, we know little about the factors that underlie successful outcomes. (That gap, incidentally, is the subject of your writer’s recent essay, “Why Do Officers Succeed?” in Police Chief.)

     Given the extreme circumstances that the officers encountered at Ms. Taylor’s apartment, return fire by Sgt. Mattingly and detective Cosgrove might have been unavoidable. Tragically, their rushed response proved lethally inaccurate. In “Speed Kills” we mentioned that blunders are likely when officers act hastily or impulsively. Consider the July 2018 episode when, after shooting his grandmother, a Los Angeles man led police on a wild vehicular pursuit. It ended at a retail store where the suspect bolted from his car and ran inside as he fired at the officers. They shot back, missing him but fatally wounding an employee.

     Lethal foul-ups also happen when suspects don’t shoot. In February 2019 late-arriving New York cops unleashed a barrage at an armed suspect who was fleeing the store he just robbed. Two plainclothes officers who were already on scene got caught in the middle: one was wounded and the other was killed. The suspect’s handgun turned out to be fake. Seven months later an NYPD officer repeatedly fired at a felon with whom he had physically tangled. That led arriving officers to mistakenly conclude that they were being shot at. So they opened fire, killing both their colleague and the suspect. His unfired revolver lay nearby.

     Police behavior is unavoidably influenced by the well-known risks of the job. And those are indeed substantial. According to the LEOKA more than two-thousand law enforcement officers (2,116) were assaulted with firearms in 2018. About 129 were injured (6.1 percent) and 51 were killed. Unfortunately, the LEOKA doesn’t offer detailed information about the encounters, nor of the outcomes for civilians. Last year the FBI launched an effort to collect data about all police uses of force that either involve their discharge of firearms or which lead to a citizen’s death or serious injury. So far, nothing’s been released. However, the Washington Post has been collecting information about police killings of civilians since January 2, 2015. As of October 1, 2020, their database has 5673 entries, one for each death. We downloaded the dataset. This table lists some of the pertinent findings.

WaPo data

Citizens were “armed” with a wide assortment of items, including cars, shovels and (yes) even pens. We included only guns and cutting instruments. Six percent (358) of those killed were unarmed.

     In 2017 four academics analyzed the Post’s 2015 data. Published in Criminology & Public Policy (Feb. 2017) “A Bird's Eye View of Civilians Killed by Police in 2015 - Further Evidence of Implicit Bias” concluded that race affected officer threat perceptions. “Controlling” for citywide violent crime rates, the authors concluded that non-Whites, and especially Blacks, were nonetheless significantly more likely to be shot. But more specific “places” such as areas or neighborhoods were not taken into account. As we noted in “Scapegoat” Parts I and II proactive policing normally targets areas within cities that are beset by violence, usually poverty-stricken neighborhoods that are disproportionately populated by non-Whites. As our tables in Part II demonstrate, once we “controlled” for location the influence of race and ethnicity on LAPD stops virtually disappeared.

     Of course, one need not attribute outcomes such as Ms. Taylor’s death – or the killings of Dijon Kizzee in Compton, Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta or George Floyd in Minneapolis – to racial animus to brand them as tragic mishaps. Posts in our Compliance and Force and Strategy and Tactics sections have discussed the forces that drive policing astray and suggested correctives. “Working Scared” stressed the role of personality characteristics such as impulsivity and risk tolerance. “Speed Kills” emphasized the advantage of taking one’s time – preferably, from a position of cover. Chaos, a chronic fixture of the police workplace that often leads to poor decisions was the theme of “Routinely Chaotic.”  And when it comes to preventives there’s de-escalation, a promising approach that’s at the top of every chief’s list.

Trap house small

     Back to Ms. Taylor’s death. On March 13, 2020 Louisville police executed search warrants at 2424/5/6 Elliott Ave. (pictured here) and at her apartment, 3003 Springfield Dr. #4 (top photo). According to police, Jamarcus Glover, Ms. Taylor’s one-time boyfriend, and his associate Adrian Walker (no relation to Kenneth Walker) were using the Elliott Ave. locations as “trap houses” (places where drugs are stored and sold.) Both were convicted felons out on bond awaiting trial for drug trafficking and illegal gun possession charges levied in December 2019.

     Here’s a summary of the justification provided in the search warrant:

  • Mr. Glover and Mr. A. Walker were pending trial on gun and drug charges.
  • In January 2020 police stopped Mr. A. Walker as he left the “trap house” and found marijuana and cash in his vehicle. In the same month a pole camera depicted numerous vehicles visiting the trap house during a brief period. There were many recorded and physical observations of suspicious behavior by both suspects in and around the trap house and of visits to a nearby rock pile they apparently used to stash drugs.
  • In January 2020 the affiant observed Mr. Glover and Mr. A. Walker making “frequent trips” between the trap house and Ms. Taylor’s apartment. Mr. Glover had listed her apartment as his address and was using it to receive packages. [Note: see 12/30/20 update.] On one occasion Mr. Glover was observed taking a package from the residence to a “known drug house.” Ms. Taylor’s vehicle was observed parked at the trap house several times.
  • In conclusion, the affiant asserted that his training and experience indicated “that Mr. J. Glover may be keeping narcotics and/or proceeds from the sale of narcotics at 3003 Springfield Drive #4 for safe keeping.”

     In late August the Louisville Courier-Journal and Wave3 News published detailed accounts about the alleged connection between Ms. Taylor and Mr. Glover. This story drew from a leaked police report, prepared after Ms. Taylor’s death, that describes the evidence detectives gathered before and after executing the March search warrants. It indicates that drugs, cash, guns and paraphernalia were seized from the trap houses and the suspects’ vehicles. There are also surveillance photographs and detailed transcripts of intercepted jailhouse calls made by Mr. Glover after his arrests in December and March. Here’s an outtake from a January 3, 2020 (pre-warrant) phone call between Mr. Glover and Ms. Taylor:

    1123 – J. Glover calls ***-***-**** (Breonna Taylor) from booking:
    J. Glover: “Call Doug (Adrian Walker) on Facebook and see where the fuck Doug at. He’s got my fuckin money, riding around in my motherfucking car and he ain’t even where he’s supposed to be at.”
    B. Taylor: “You said Doug?”   J. Glover: “Yeah, Big Doug.”
    B. Taylor: “I’ll call him…Why can’t I find him on Facebook? What’s his name on here?”
    J. Glover: “Meechy Walker.”
    1318 – J. Glover calls ***-***-**** (Breonna Taylor) from booking:
    J. Glover: “You talk to Doug (Adrian Walker)?”
    B. Taylor: “Yeah I did. He said he was already back at the trap… then I talked to him again just a minute ago to see if you had contacted him. They couldn’t post bond till one.”
    J. Glover: “Just be on standby so you can come get me… Love you.”
    B. Taylor: “Love you too.”

Here’s part of a post-warrant phone conversation between Mr. Glover and a domestic partner who bore his child:

    1307 – J. Glover calls ***-***-**** (Kiera Bradley – child’s mother) from his dormitory:
    K. Bradley: “So where your money at?”
    J. Glover: “Where my money at? Bre had like $8 grand.”
    K. Bradley: “Bre had $8 grand of your money?”  J. Glover: “Yeah.”
    J. Glover says to an unknown male that joined the call, “Tell cuz, Bre got down like $15 (grand), she had the $8 (grand) I gave her the other day and she picked up another $6 (grand).”
    K. Bradley and J. Glover are arguing over him not being honest and him having money at other people’s house. J. Glover says to K. Bradley, “Why are you doing this?”
    K. Bradley: “Cuz my feelings are hurt.”
    J. Glover: “Why cuz the bread (money) was at her house?”
    J. Glover: “…This is what you got to understand, don’t take it wrong but Bre been handling all my money, she been handling my money... She been handling shit for me and cuz, it ain’t just me.”

In a post-warrant call to Mr. Walker, Mr. Glover explains why police searched Ms. Taylor’s residence and why, according to Kenneth Walker (Ms. Taylor’s live-in boyfriend) the officers didn’t find any cash:

    1720 – J. Glover calls ***-***-**** (Male – likely Adrian Walker per Accurint) from his dormitory:
    J. Glover: “Where you at?”  A. Walker: “You know the spot, “E”.”
    J. Glover: “I just watched the news nigga… They tryin act like they had a search warrant for Bre’s house too.”
    A. Walker: “I know… The only thing I can figure out is they check that license plate. They been putting an investigation on a motherfucker.”
    J. Glover: They checked Bre’s license plate?”
    A. Walker: “That’s the only thing I can think of… A motherfucker pull up on the block in the charger, that’s the only thing I can think of.”
    J. Glover: “Who at no haters running their mouth?...That nigga (Kenneth Walker) didn’t have no business doing that shit. That nigga got Bre killed nigga.”
    A. Walker: “You got to see like the bigger picture to it though you feel me, it’s more to it than what you feelin like right now.”
    J. Glover: “I know, I know she was feelin me. At the end of the day everything stolen from me though, I swear I know that.”
    J. Glover: “…That man tell me, I watched you leave your baby momma’s house. Alright if you watched me leave my baby momma’s house, why would you execute a warrant at Bre’s house… Bre got that charger and all this shit… Bre’s paper trail makes sense for everything she got though.”
    J. Glover: “…I don’t understand how they serve a warrant for Bre’s house when nothing ties me to Bre house at all except these bonds.”
    A. Walker: “Bonds and cars and 2016… It’s just ties though… Look at the ties since 2016, ever since Rambo (homicide victim)… and the camera right there, they see a motherfucker pull up.”
    J. Glover: “Yeah she (Breonna Taylor) was out there the top of the week before I went to court.”
    A. Walker: “They didn’t even have to see her pull up, all they had to do is see that license plate… They done put two and two together… Then on top of that they go over there and find money.”
    J. Glover: “No, Bre don’t, Bre don’t, Bre don’t…Bro you know how Bre do… They didn’t find nothing in her house.”
    A. Walker: “I thought you said they found some money over there?”
    J. Glover: “It was there, it was there, it was there...They didn’t do nothing though that’s the problem... Kenneth said ain’t none of that go on.”
    A. Walker: “So they didn’t take none of the money?”
    J. Glover: “Kenneth said that none of that go on. He said Homicide came straight on the scene and they went to packaging Bre and they left.”

Mr. A. Walker and Mr. Glover were released pending trial. Mr. Glover has reportedly absconded.

     Go through the report. If genuine – and it certainly seems to be – it depicts Ms. Taylor as a knowing participant of Mr. Glover’s drug-trafficking enterprise. There is really no gentle way to put it.

     As a Fed your blogger obtained and participated in serving many search warrants. In his opinion, the March 2020 search warrant of Ms. Taylor’s residence seems well supported by probable cause. [Note: see 12/30/20 update]. Yet neither this writer, nor anyone he knows, was ever shot at while on the job, let alone had a partner wounded. How would we have reacted under such circumstances? Would we have instantly realized that the shooter “didn’t really mean it?” Could we have safely “de-escalated”? And if not, would we have accurately placed return fire?

     Set warrants aside. Consider a far more common cause of innocent deaths: police pursuits. Instead of getting into specifics, California law requires that agencies establish detailed policies about when and how to chase and train their officers accordingly. (Click here for LAPD’s policy.) Yet pursuits still continue to end poorly.

     Really, when it comes to the more fraught aspects of policing such as pursuits or search warrants the usual preventives – rules, training, supervision – can’t always be counted on to prevent horrific outcomes. Yes, there are other ways. Police occasionally abandon chases. As for search warrants, officers sometimes elect to watch, wait and intercept occupants as they leave. Naturally, doing that is resource-intensive, and should surveillance be detected it could lead to the destruction of evidence. Detaining persons also carries risk.

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     About 17 percent of Louisville’s residents live in poverty. In Ms. Taylor’s ZIP code, 40214, the proportion is about twenty percent. In 40211, where the “trap houses” were located, it’s about thirty-four percent. Jamarcus Glover and Adrian Walker were taking advantage of a deeply troubled neighborhood for their selfish ends. Sadly, Breonna Taylor had apparently lent a hand.

     Search warrants aren’t the first proactive strategy to come under challenge. Most recently, “Should Police Treat the Whole Patient?” discussed the back-and-forth over stop-and-frisk and other geographically targeted enforcement campaigns, whose intrusiveness and tendency to generate “false positives” has badly disrupted police-minority community relations across the U.S.

     Search warrants, though, are supposedly different. They’re based on articulated evidence of criminal wrongdoing and must be approved by a judge before execution. As your blogger discovered while a Fed, they’re the stock-in-trade of serious criminal investigations. Without this tool officers would be hard-pressed to combat major sources of drugs or guns. They’ll undoubtedly play a key role in “Operation Legend,” that new Federal-local partnership we’ve heard so much about. Of course, it’s also essential that police avoid endangering the lives of innocent citizens. Perhaps it’s time to revisit some of our more cautionary essays; say, “First Do No Harm” and “A Delicate Balance.”

     Yet in our ideologically charged, perhaps irreparably fractured climate, turning to the usual remedies (i.e., training, tactics, supervision) may not do. Breonna Taylor’s characterization as an innocent victim of police overreach has added a bucketful of fuel to the fire. We’re talking “defund” on steroids. So by all means let’s quit pretending. Level with the inhabitants of our poorer, crime-stricken places about the risks of even the best-intentioned proactive policing. Give them an opportunity to opt out of, say, drug investigations and such. Of course, be sure to inform them of the likely consequences. Considering what our nation is going through, it seems to be the least we can do.


4/28/21  With specific reference to Breonna Taylor, the Louisville resident who was accidentally shot and killed by officers executing a search warrant at her apartment, DOJ announced it will conduct a “pattern-or-practice” investigation to determine whether Louisville P.D. uses “unreasonable force, including with respect to people involved in peaceful expressive activities,” performs “unconstitutional stops, searches, and seizures,” or “unlawfully executes search warrants on private homes.”

4/26/21  George Gascon, L.A.’s new, progressively-minded D.A., halved the size of his agency’s “hardcore gang” prosecutive team. Renamed the “Community Violence Reduction Division,” it will continue to deal with “the most prolific violent offenders.” But instead of following a “purely prosecutorial model,” its arsenal of tools will now include “prevention, intervention and community involvement efforts.” Prosecutors are objecting, and police are so far keeping mum.

3/14/21  A Jefferson County (Louisville) judge permanently barred the prosecution of Kenneth Walker for firing the round that struck Sgt. Mattingly. Walker, who legally possessed the weapon, insists that he did not know the intruders were police. “I am a legal gun owner and I would never knowingly shoot a police officer. Breonna and I did not know who was banging at the door, but police know what they did." Walker has filed a lawsuit against Louisville alleging “assault, battery, false arrest and imprisonment, malicious prosecution, abuse of process and negligence.”

3/12/21  Louisville settled the lawsuit filed by Breonna Taylor’s family for $12 million. It also pledged to make substantial changes in police practices and improve the quality of its force. To help accomplish the latter it is increasing rookie pay by 29 percent. That would raise it to $45,000, which is still relatively low. Former cop Brett Hankinson, the only Louisville officer facing charges (three counts of wanton endangerment), had been suspended by a prior agency. Hankinson went on to accumulate a serious number of demerits in Louisville, where he gained a reputation for being aggressive.

3/10/21  An online poll of 1,165 American voters disclosed “a stark divide” between Black and White opinions on race and policing. While a decided majority of Blacks (64 percent) felt that police had murdered George Floyd, only 28 percent of Whites agreed. “Fully funding” police was endorsed by 65 percent of Whites and 37 percent of Blacks. Similar Democratic/Republican splits were also evident.

2/24/21  Acting on complaints that the city’s police officers disproportionately stop Black motorists and pedestrians, the Berkeley (CA) City Council unanimously approved a measure that prohibits officers from making stops for minor infractions such as expired tags. “Transformative” changes, including slicing the police budget in half and tuning over traffic enforcement to civilians, are planned by summer. According to the police union president, officers will become “filing clerks.”

1/6/21  Louisville PD fired Detectives Cosgrove and Gentry. Sgt. Mattingly was exonerated for use-of-force violations, and three other officers connected with the case received reprimands or one-day suspensions. In a decision that has sparked controversy, Louisville selected Erika Shields as its new permanent chief. Ms. Shields resigned as Atlanta police chief after the shooting of Rayshard Brooks.

12/30/20  Louisville police chief Yvette Gentry has moved to fire Detective Cosgrove. According to ballistics, his bullet also proved fatal to Ms. Taylor. In addition, Chief Gentry is firing Detective Joshua Jaynes, who obtained the search warrant for Ms. Taylor’s residence. His affidavit stated that he was told by a postal inspector that Ms. Taylor’s former boyfriend, Jamarcus Glover, was currently receiving packages at her residence. Instead, that information allegedly came through other officers. (Click here, here and here for images of the termination letter, and here for the images’ source.)

11/26/20  Breonna Taylor’s death is leading to a tightening of no-knock policies elsewhere. In Minneapolis, where George Floyd was killed, new rules require that officers yell “police” and “search warrant” even when “no-knock” has been authorized. To go further requires approval of the police chief and an extreme situation, such as the rescue of a hostage.

10/28/20  Bodycam video reveals that the Waukegan (IL) officer who initially encountered Tafara Williams and Marcellis Stinnette in a parked vehicle recognized Mr. Stinnette and knew that he had a warrant (click here for the clip.) But when he tried to arrest Mr. Stinnette, Ms. Williams abruptly took off at a high rate of speed. Another officer pursued the car until it ran off the road. That officer did not immediately turn on his bodycam, so his claim that Ms. Williams backed her car at him can’t be visually confirmed. But he accused her of doing that moments after he shot the couple (click here for the clip.)

Under the authority of Presidential Executive Order 13929 (6/16/20) DOJ issued regulations today requiring that within ninety days all law enforcement agencies in the U.S. be certified by an authorized credentialing agency that their use of force policies (a) comply with all laws, and (b) prohibit chokeholds except when the use of deadly force is legal. These assessments should also include reviews of policies and procedures, including use of force training, de-escalation, duty to intervene when officers are acting improperly, shooting at moving vehicles, and recruitment and promotion.

10/23/20  Midnight Tuesday a Waukegan (IL) officer responded to a call about a suspicious parked vehicle. But the car, which was occupied by a man and a woman, drove away. Another officer found the vehicle parked nearby and approached on foot. That’s when its driver, Tafara Williams, 20, started backing up the car. Fearing he would be run over, the officer opened fire, badly wounding Ms. Williams and killing her passenger, Marcellis Stinnette, 19. Ms. Williams denied she was trying to hurt the officer. This shooting led to demonstrations and a comparison to other recent lethal police-citizen encounters. A criminal history check revealed that a defendant whose name and age matched Mr. Stinnette had a considerable record in Waukegan, including stolen vehicle and burglary. Click here for a case printout.

10/21/20  In his first media interview, Sgt. John Mattingly addressed Breonna Taylor’s mother: “There's no way I could ever tell you enough how much I wish that hadn't taken place.” And although Breonna Taylor’s boyfriend said he fired at the ground as a scare tactic, Mattingly said he “pushed out with two hands looking straight at me...Our postures were the same, looking at each other, when he fired that shot.” Sgt. Mattingly said that a quick, surprise entry might have avoided the bloodshed.

In a joint announcement with Minneapolis police chief Medaria Arradondo DOJ unveiled a “National Response Center Initiative” intended to help Minneapolis and police across the U.S. “adapt to the wide range of challenges” posed by gangs, drugs and social problems such as homelessness and “enhance and reform policies and practices to prevent the use of excessive force.”

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