There’s one phrase that Breonna Taylor’s mother keeps repeating to describe her now deceased 26-year old daughter, who was shot to death by three officers with the Louisville Metro Police Department; she was “simply amazing.”
Tamika Palmer characterizes her oldest daughter as a young woman who was “full of life and who loved helping people.” It’s why she enjoyed her job as an EMT, working for two different hospitals as a first responder much needed to those suffering from the coronavirus pandemic. Breonna wanted to try a few roles in health care, according to Palmer, with the eventual intent of becoming a registered nurse. It’s a goal that was sparked during her teenage years as she wanted so badly to take care of her ailing grandmother. Now, Breonna was at the start of making that dream a reality, becoming the first on the scene to provide medical assistance to those in need.
Palmer worried about Breonna working during the pandemic knowing that the rate of COVID-19 infections back in March, particularly within the Black community, were on the rise.
“She never complained about it,” says Palmer. “I talked to her about staying safe and washing her hands and all she would say is, ‘Mom it will be ok. Whatever is going to happen, will happen.’ I gotta do what I gotta do to help.”
It was the last conversation Palmer had with her daughter before getting a call from Breonna’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker early in the morning on March 13. He told Palmer, that somebody was trying to break in and that he thought that Breonna had been shot. There was so much commotion going on that Palmer says not even Walker knew what had happened at first.
Once the dust settled, one thing was clear. Breonna had been shot no fewer than eight times. According to the lawsuit that Palmer has filed against Louisville police detectives Brett Hankison, and Myles Cosgrove, along with Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly, the three officers involved. They are accused of firing inside her apartment more than 20 times.
The details of that early morning encounter have now become public. The Louisville Metro Police Department have their version while Palmer's attorneys, including Sam Aguiar, Lonita Baker and civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump, have another. What they agree upon is that Taylor and her boyfriend had been in bed when plainclothes officers shot into their apartment. They were there looking for a suspected drug dealer, Taylor's former boyfriend, who was already in custody several miles away. The police say he was using her address to pick up suspicious packages and then taking them to a known drug house.
There is now debate on whether or not the officers had a "no-knock" search warrant signed off by a judge, which allows them to enter the home without announcing themselves. According to the police, the officers say they knocked several times and didn’t hear an answer, despite having the “no-knock” warrant, prompting them to then aggressively enter the apartment with a battering ram.
The family’s attorneys all say they have eyewitness accounts from neighbors who admit there were no knocks heard nor any announcement or warning made by the police indicating that they were trying to get into the apartment before the shooting began. In fact, the lawsuit alleges that several shots were fired by police into the home from outside on the patio.
As a result, Walker initially believed that this was a home invasion attempt and as a licensed gun owner, acted in self-defense by returning fire. In doing so, he allegedly shot Mattingly in the leg and is now being charged with attempted murder of a police officer. Walker is out on house arrest.
It was shortly after that Walker was able to make the call to Breonna’s mother about the incident. Palmer says her first instinct was to get to Breonna’s apartment to see what was going on.
“My first thought was to get to my child. There was an officer at the end of the road, and I explained to her that I needed to get in there, that something was going on with my daughter,” said Palmer. “She said I needed to get to the hospital and that there were two ambulances; one took the officer and the other took whoever was hurt. Of course, I rushed to the hospital and when I got there and explained to the woman doing intake what I was doing there, she told me [Breonna] was not here. I said, well I will wait because she must still be on the way.”
After two hours at the hospital, Palmer decided to go back to her daughter’s apartment because she knew something was wrong. This time, she was able to get close enough to the parking lot of the building and ask again about the whereabouts of her daughter.
“I stood out there for what felt like an eternity,” said Palmer.
A detective eventually came out but only to ask her questions about Breonna and Walker’s relationship and whether or not anyone would want to hurt either of them.
“I told him Kenny would never do anything to harm Breonna and I kept asking where is Kenny? Where is Breonna?” said Palmer.
It wasn’t until nearly noon that morning that Palmer says the detective came out again.
“I said where is Breonna. Somebody needs to tell me where Breonna is. I need to see Breonna,” said Palmer fighting the emotional wave that takes over her each time she speaks about the horrific moment.
“That’s when he told me she was in the house. I knew then what that meant.”
Next Steps In #JusticeForBre
More than two months after Breonna’s death and with Palmer and her daughter, Ju'Niyah Palmer, getting nowhere with the LMPD, a national outcry for justice has now come about via social media. It has finally propelled Breonna Taylor’s story into the headlines sparking a #JusticeForBre movement that has ensured that no one will forget Breonna’s name or how she was killed. Her mother says, it helps.
“I don’t feel alone anymore. I feel like people are finally starting to listen and know that something went wrong and that this was not handled appropriately,” said Palmer.
Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer and Metro Police Chief Steve Conrad have asked for the Justice Department, and the FBI to review the police department’s investigation. The LMPD's Public Integrity Unit (PIU) which investigates criminal complaints made against its officers, is also investigating the complaint and Kentucky’s Attorney General Daniel Cameron has been asked to come in as a special prosecutor.
Lonita Baker, who represents Palmer, says that’s not enough.
“Our main concern is that an outside agency comes in to investigate, whether that be the state police or federal agents,” said Baker. “We want an independent investigation. Right now, the LMPD has ask for a PIU investigation to be reviewed by the FBI, but we want more than just a review. We want an independent agency to do their own investigation so that the LMPD is not investigating themselves.”
“It seems like for two months they did everything to try to sweep it under the rug,” said Crump, who also represents the family of Ahmaud Arbery, the 25-year-old who was killed by two white men as he jogged near his home in Glynn County, Georgia.
“Arresting Kenny Walker for attempted murder even though he is an African American man who was trying to defend his castle, defend his woman and defend their lives. It begs the question do African Americans have the right to the second amendment? You want it to be an independent prosecutor someone who is divorced from the Louisville Metropolitan Police Department who we know have given false information on a warrant per the U.S. Postal Inspector," he continued. "We just don’t believe that people who are connected to Louisville Metro Police Department are going to be impartial. They are going to try to justify this execution of Breonna in the sanctity of their own home.”
The LMPD Remains Under Fire
Crump and the other members of the legal team have reason not to believe the LMPD. A detective working on the drug case issued an affidavit saying that he had seen Breonna’s ex-boyfriend drive away from her apartment with a USPS package and that he had verified “through a U.S. Postal Inspector” that this individual has been receiving packages at that location in the past.
On Friday, May 15, WDRB reported that Tony Gooden, the U.S. postal inspector in Louisville, discounted that claim saying that another officer asked about suspicious packages being consistently delivered to Breonna’s address in January and he concluded that was indeed false. There were no suspicious packages. That revelation prompted Crump to issue a statement the next day thus questioning the reasoning for the “no-knock warrant” in the first place.
"This revelation validates what we already knew: This young woman was brutally and unjustifiably killed by Louisville police, who supplied false information on the warrant they used to enter her home unannounced. Gooden further stated that ‘no packages of interest were going there.’ We will continue to demand transparency from the Louisville police on behalf of Breonna’s family,” said Crump in a statement.
Until then, Breonna’s mother, younger sister, Walker and the rest of her family are trying to get through the hard days, depending on one another and prepare for the long haul that is to come.
“We’ve seen this happen to other families not knowing that it would ever be a part of our lives,” said Palmer. “I’m pretty sure that no one is ever prepared for this. Breonna’s death broke us. She was a big part of our lives. I hope that this never happens to anyone else. No one should ever have to go through this. No-knock warrants should be banned. It makes any sense and body cams should always be used. This is how you avoid stuff like this.”
Palmer just wants people to understand one thing.
“My daughter would do anything for anybody. She was just simply, amazing.”
Photo Courtesy of Attorney Benjamin Crump