A Kentucky court on Tuesday ordered the release of new records from the grand jury investigation into the officers who killed Breonna Taylor and gave permission to the grand jurors to speak freely about what occurred during the controversial proceeding.
An anonymous juror sued Kentucky late last month, seeking the release of grand jury transcripts, recordings, and reports and asking for a declaration of rights affirming their ability to speak out about the proceeding. In her 10-page opinion, Jefferson Circuit Court Judge Annie O’Connell dismissed the request for a declaration of rights as improperly filed, but she granted the motion to release additional records from the grand jury and made clear that this entitled all jurors to speak publicly.
Judge O’Connell wrote that in this case “the historical reasons for preserving grand jury secrecy are null” because of the high degree of publicity around the case and the government’s conduct. On September 23, the grand jury returned an indictment for wanton endangerment against the former Louisville Police Detective who shot wildly into an adjacent apartment, but no charges were returned against any other officers involved in the execution of the search warrant—the officers who shot Breonna Taylor.
Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron spoke about the grand jury proceedings at a press conference, framing it as a vindication of the principle that the officers were justified and acting in self-defense. The anonymous juror seeking the release of new records perceived Attorney General Cameron’s comments as a misinterpretation of the grand jury’s decision, lacking the context of what charges and evidence were presented to the jurors.
Judge O’Connell wrote that the state government’s argument that preserving the secrecy of the grand jury required silencing the jurors was undermined by Cameron’s statements to the press: “When considering the Attorney General’s swift compliance with the trial court’s order to release the grand jury recordings, coupled with Attorney General’s multiple public statements and characterizations about the grand jury and the resulting indictment, the Commonwealth’s objection now reads as theatrical sturm und drang.”
The opinion reasoned that there were “additional interests to consider in making this decision: the interest of the citizens of the Commonwealth of Kentucky to be assured that its publicly elected officials are being honest in their representations; the interest of grand jurors, whose service is compelled, to be certain their work is not mischaracterized by the very prosecutors on whom they relied to advise them; and, the interest of all citizens to have confidence in the integrity of the justice system. Considering those interests, there is no doubt that justice requires disclosure of the grand jury proceedings in this case.”
The anonymous grand juror responded to the successful motion by releasing a statement clarifying what the grand jury’s ruling had meant and what it had not: “The grand jury was not presented any charges other than the three wanton endangerment charges against Detective Hankison. The grand jury did not have homicide offenses explained to them. The grand jury never heard anything about those laws. Self defense or justification was never explained either […] The grand jury didn’t agree that certain actions were justified, nor did it decide the indictment should be the only charges in the Breonna Taylor case.”