LOUISVILLE, Ky. — When he ran for attorney general of Kentucky, Daniel Cameron never expected to one day hear from Oprah Winfrey, Beyoncé and LeBron James. But now that the Republican has their attention, he says he remains committed to “doing the responsible thing” in the investigation into Breonna Taylor’s death.
He just has to figure out what that is.
Cameron, the state’s first African American attorney general, must decide whether three Louisville police officers will be criminally charged for their actions in the March shooting death of Taylor. The 26-year-old Black emergency medical technician was killed when officers entered her apartment with a no-knock warrant during a drug investigation. No drugs were found, and Taylor’s family has questioned the legitimacy of the warrant.
Since then, Taylor’s name has been on the lips of demonstrators nationwide, and her death has become part of a national reckoning over racism and police brutality.
The case landed in Cameron’s lap in mid-May after a local prosecutor recused himself, just as public impatience intensified for the officers to be charged.
Protesters have gathered outside Cameron’s suburban Louisville home and at Kentucky’s Capitol in Frankfort to demand justice for Taylor. Beyoncé wrote to Cameron, saying the officers “must be held accountable for their actions.” Winfrey was behind publicizing the case on billboards in Louisville.
Cameron, 34, a protege of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell — and tagged by some as his heir apparent in the U.S. Senate — recently met with Taylor’s mother, Tamika Palmer, acknowledging the enormity of her loss even as he asked her to be patient.
Afterward, Palmer withheld judgment about where Cameron is headed.
“He wants to have the right answer, so he doesn’t want to rush through it,” she told reporters. “For me, I’m trying to accept that and be patient with that. Because I definitely want him to come up with the right answer.”
The right answer, she believes, is clear. Ben Crump, Palmer’s attorney in a lawsuit against the three officers, said he and Palmer believe Taylor was murdered by the police.
“I absolutely expect there to be charges based on the evidence,” he said. “We believe that the people who caused her death should be held accountable.”
Cameron, meanwhile, has maintained an outward calm without tipping his hand on what he’ll ultimately decide. He has consistently avoided setting timelines for the investigation, stressing patience as his office methodically works to “make sure that we get this right.”
Cameron revealed earlier this month that he’s waiting for information on ballistics tests being conducted by the FBI.
Taylor was shot multiple times when officers burst into her apartment in the early morning hours of March 13. The warrant had been approved as part of a narcotics investigation into a suspect who lived across town.
Some legal experts have said prosecutors might face significant obstacles to bringing homicide-related charges against the officers. Taylor’s boyfriend was with her at the apartment and fired a shot at Louisville police Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly after the door was broken down. Mattingly was struck in the leg and returned fire, along with other officers outside the apartment.
Taylor, unarmed, was shot several times in her hallway and died at the scene.
The officers were not wearing body cameras and the department said there’s no video of the raid. Her boyfriend was initially charged, but those charges were later dropped.
As for the outside pressure, Cameron said recently that “we have got blinders on” as his office pursues a “thorough and fair investigation.” He vows to leave “no stone unturned.”
“I have from day one said that our responsibility is to the facts and to the truth,” he said in a recent interview. “And so regardless of who raises or expresses their views on this case, it’s not going to deter us from doing the responsible thing here. Which is to undertake a thorough investigation, which would respect all of the parties involved in this matter.”
After making history in last year’s election, Cameron has followed a conservative course, defending abortion restrictions and speaking out against efforts to defund police departments. He has challenged coronavirus-related executive actions by Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear in a case to be heard by Kentucky’s Supreme Court. But the Taylor case will place an indelible mark on his time as the state’s chief law enforcement officer.
During the interview, Cameron spoke in personal terms about the tragedy, recalling time he spent with his mother after a recent church service.
“That quality time together, you can’t place a value on it,” he said. “Ms. Palmer is not able to do that with Breonna. And so that pained me.”
Scott Jennings, a Kentuckian and former adviser to President George W. Bush, describes Cameron as a “cool customer” who “never gets too high or low.” Jennings said Cameron won’t cut corners to meet an “artificial timetable.”
Asked if Cameron should have done anything differently, Jennings said the attorney general might have “relieved some public pressure” if he had let the public know sooner that he was waiting on ballistics tests.
Democratic U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth, who represents Louisville, said Cameron has to be “totally and completely transparent with the Taylor family and with the American people, providing all information and evidence he used to reach his decision.”
“Justice has been owed to Breonna Taylor and her family for far too long,” Yarmuth said.
Christopher 2X, a Louisville anti-violence activist, has met with Cameron about the investigation. The attorney general looks to be “on top of trying to get to the bottom” of what happened, collaborating with the FBI in a way that “makes sense,” 2X said.
“This is a different process, and it’s welcomed,” he said.
Cameron is matter-of-fact about what he signed up for as attorney general.
“I recognized when I ran for the office of attorney general that there would be … challenges and that there are things that you cannot predict,” he said. “But you have confidence in your abilities. You have confidence in the abilities of the team that you put around you.”