WASHINGTON — Newly released documents from the internal investigation by Louisville, Kentucky, police of the shooting death of Breonna Taylor show that even after protests erupted nationwide and the case had been turned over to a special prosecutor, the police department was actively gathering negative information about Taylor’s boyfriend.
The Louisville Metro Police Department was pursuing the information about the man, Kenneth Walker, while it was also investigating its own officers for shooting and killing Taylor.
The documents, part of thousands of pages and hundreds of hours of audio and video released to the public Wednesday, also show that an officer involved in the raid continued to search for a justification for it after Taylor’s death.
Taylor, 26, an emergency room technician, was killed after midnight on March 13 when officers used a battering ram to raid her apartment seeking evidence in a narcotics investigation. The target of the investigation, an ex-boyfriend of Taylor’s named Jamarcus Glover, did not live at that address.
Walker, who by then was Taylor’s boyfriend, fired a shot at the front door, striking one officer, according to police. Walker said he believed the raid was a home invasion. Officers opened fire, hitting Taylor six times. Officers insist that they knocked and announced who they were.
On the night of Taylor’s death, Walker was arrested and taken in for questioning. He told investigators that in addition to his licensed handgun, he once owned an AR-15 but “had to sell it because I was broke.” He told police that he smoked marijuana from “time to time,” including on the day of the shooting, but that he had curtailed his use because he had applied for a job with the U.S. Postal Service.
One of the newly released documents, an investigative memo dated July 2, details how an investigator from the Public Integrity Unit, often dubbed the department’s internal affairs team, began examining pictures and text messages from Walker’s phone in late May.
That was two months after the shooting, when Taylor’s death had begun to attract heightened attention from media and activists.
Two pictures from Walker’s phone show Walker and Taylor with an AR-15, according to the memo.
According to the memo, internal affairs officers also found text messages indicating that Walker was selling marijuana and pills from October 2019 through March, according to the memo. The memo quoted a message from Walker’s phone dated March 6, a week before Taylor was killed, that seemed to say Walker had sold “11 pills” for $6 apiece in a restaurant parking lot. The memo quotes a text exchange in February about Walker’s sale of marijuana for “$25 for a half quarter.”
Investigators also indicate that they believed he may have been involved in a robbery, although the message they point to is garbled. They concluded that Walker’s potential drug sales and robbery “may have contributed to Walker’s actions on March 13, 2020.”
Walker’s attorney and law enforcement experts questioned the relevance of the information to the investigation, as well as whether it could indicate a conflict of interest on the part of investigators.
“It’s just a cover-up,” said Steven Romines, the attorney representing Walker in a civil suit against the police department. “And it reflects the fact that over two months into the investigation of Breonna Taylor’s death, LMPD [was] more interested in including unsupported allegations to smear Kenny Walker than it [was] in actually finding the truth.”
Romines denied that Walker had dealt drugs or committed a robbery. “All they are trying to do is smear him after the fact to justify their actions,” he said.
Tyler Izen, a veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department, one of the nation’s highest-profile and most scrutinized forces, said Los Angeles police take measures to avoid apparent conflicts of interest during internal investigations of police-involved shootings. Izen, a retired supervising detective and former union president, said the police department divides inquiries into parts handled by different investigators.
For example, an administrative team determines whether the officer broke policies. A second unit examines whether the officer used excessive force and should face criminal charges. A third investigates the actions of the suspect.
“Some of this is just astounding,” Izen said after reviewing the Louisville police memo. “I do not know why you would have an internal affairs investigator also investigating the crime, because all it does is take away your credibility. It’s victim-blaming all over again.”
A day after police began the review of Walker’s phone data, chief Jefferson County prosecutor Tom Wine announced that he was dropping all charges against Walker. According to the newly released internal documents, the police department was not given a heads-up that the prosecutor’s office was dropping charges.
The postal inspector
The investigation of Walker’s phone and suspected drug dealing came only after internal affairs began to uncover serious problems with the warrant for Taylor’s home and how it was executed.
To obtain the warrant, police Detective Joshua Jaynes had written in a sworn affidavit submitted to a Jefferson County judge that, two months earlier, he had seen Glover, the target of the narcotics investigation, leave Taylor’s apartment with a “suspected USPS package in his right hand.” Jaynes added that he had “verified through a U.S. Postal Inspector” that Glover “has been receiving packages” at Taylor’s home.
But Jaynes never spoke to a postal inspector, the documents from the internal investigation reveal. In fact, the documents say, Louisville police do not have a working relationship with the postal inspector’s office “due to previous incidents.”
Instead, the documents say, Jaynes had several colleagues reach out to the nearby Shively Police Department asking officers to contact the postal inspector. Two of the officers who reached out to Shively police were involved in the raid that night, including Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly, who was shot in the leg by Walker.
Shively detectives told Louisville detectives repeatedly that the postal inspector had no record of any questionable packages addressed to Glover, according to interviews detectives gave to the Public Integrity Unit investigators in mid-May.
Jaynes told investigators that Mattingly “nonchalantly” informed him that Glover “just gets Amazon or mail packages there.”
Jaynes told investigators that he did not pursue it further because “what I saw on my own two eyes just reaffirmed that he was getting mail there.”
After Taylor’s death, Jaynes continued to ask about the packages, which were a key justification for the warrant, Shively police Sgt. Tim Sayler said. In April, Jaynes reached out to Sayler, asking again whether packages for Glover were going to Taylor’s address.
“You wrote a search warrant on it saying it was delivered there, but now you’re asking a month later?” Sayler told investigators, describing his thoughts when Jaynes asked about the packages after the shooting. “It looks like you’re trying to cover your ass, is what it appears to me.”
Public integrity investigators ultimately concluded that the wording in Jaynes’ sworn affidavit was “misleading,” according to their report, and that Jaynes’ behavior “should be reviewed for criminal actions.”
Louisville police and a lawyer for Jaynes did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Internal tensions at the LMPD
Interviews with officers released as part of the document dump Wednesday show that even within the police department there were questions about how the raid was carried out.
Lt. Dale Massey of the SWAT team, who arrived on the scene within minutes of the raid, called the fatal shooting “an egregious act.”
“It seemed like there was no target identification whatsoever for those rounds that were shot inside the apartment,” Massey said in an interview with the internal affairs officers, which was first reported by Vice News.
SWAT was working with the department’s Criminal Interdiction Division to execute a warrant that night at another address where Glover was alleged to be selling drugs. (Glover has been charged, and as of September, his attorney was negotiating a plea deal with prosecutors.)
But Massey said SWAT was never told that detectives from the Criminal Interdiction Division planned to carry out a simultaneous raid at Taylor’s home.
Had he known that, Massey said, “I would have advised them 100 percent not to do it until we were done doing what we had to do.”
As they looked into the shooting, Public Integrity Unit investigators felt pressure to reveal details of their investigation to the head of the Criminal Interdiction Division, according to the documents.
On May 14, the internal affairs unit held an online briefing with top brass from the department, according to police documents. Just before the meeting, they were told that among those attending would be the head of the Criminal Interdiction Division, Maj. Kim Burbrink.
The internal affairs officers objected because Burbrink headed up the unit being investigated, but they were overruled. As the briefing began, according to the documents, Burbrink “began asking pointed questions” about whether the Public Integrity Unit had missed evidence, and she defended her officers.
Deputy Police Chief Robert Schroeder, who became interim chief, later apologized to the internal affairs officers for Burbrink’s comments and said that including her was a mistake, according to the documents.
The day after the meeting, Burbrink provided the officers involved in the shooting with an “update,” according to the documents.
“It’s totally improper,” said Kirk Burkhalter, a professor at New York Law School who spent two decades as a New York police detective. “The head of the unit may end up becoming a target. It’s quite possible that’s where the investigation could lead you.”