Breonna Taylor shooting ‘had nothing to do with race,’ officer says in exclusive interview

Darcy Costello

Tessa Duvall
 
| Louisville Courier Journal

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LMPD Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly speaks out in exclusive interview

Mattingly spoke exclusively to The Courier Journal and ABC News Tuesday in an interview with ABC’s Michael Strahan and with Courier Journal reporters.

MONTGOMERY, Ohio — A Louisville officer at the center of the fatal police shooting of Breonna Taylor said her death is a tragedy — but it shouldn’t be lumped in with the slayings of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery that have sparked protests from coast to coast.

Jonathan Mattingly, the Louisville Metro Police sergeant who was shot in the same attempted drug raid that cost Taylor her life, spoke exclusively to The Courier Journal and ABC News on Tuesday north of Cincinnati. 

“This had nothing to do with race,” he said. “Nothing at all.”

Mattingly, 44, described publicly for the first time what happened the night police tried to serve a search warrant shortly before 1 a.m. March 13 at Taylor’s apartment in Louisville, looking for drugs and cash as part of a larger narcotics operation.

In the wide-ranging interview that lasted roughly four hours, Mattingly slammed city and police leadership for not more swiftly moving to correct the “false narratives” that surrounded Taylor’s death.

He said misinformation — such as that police were at the wrong apartment, that Taylor wasn’t listed on the search warrant and that she was asleep in her bed when she was shot — has stirred public anger, protests and vitriol and cast he and other officers as murderers.

“Because this is not relatable to George Floyd. This is nothing like that,” Mattingly said. “It’s not Ahmaud Arbery. It’s nothing like it. These are two totally different types of incidences. It’s not a race thing like people wanna try to make it to be. It’s not.

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“This is not us going, hunting somebody down. This is not kneeling on a neck. It’s nothing like that.”

Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, was accused of passing a counterfeit $20 bill in Minneapolis and killed May 25 when a white officer knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes. The officer, Derek Chauvin, has been charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter.

Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man, was chased and fatally shot while jogging Feb. 23 near in Glynn County, Georgia. Gregory and Travis McMichael, a white father and son, were charged with murder in May.

‘She didn’t deserve to die’

Mattingly is one of three officers who fired their weapons at Taylor’s apartment while attempting to serve a search warrant after her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, fired at them. Walker later said he didn’t know it was police at the door.

Police say Walker’s bullet struck Mattingly in the left thigh, which severed his femoral artery and required emergency surgery.

Mattingly, along with former Detective Brett Hankison and Detective Myles Cosgrove, fired 32 shots into the apartment, hitting Taylor six times and killing her in her hallway.

None of the officers faces criminal charges for her death, though Hankison does face three counts of wanton endangerment for shots that penetrated a neighboring apartment where three people were home.

Taylor’s death — and the subsequent lack of charges against the officers — has ignited 146 consecutive days of protests in Louisville and touched off demonstrations across the country.

Mattingly said Floyd’s death was a case of misconduct and the abuse of power. Taylor’s death was neither, he said.

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But what it did do, he said, was fit a convenient narrative, for the “(Ben) Crumps and the Sam Aguiars, to inflame people to get the end result they wanted.”

Crump and Aguiar are attorneys for Taylor’s family, and Crump has been involved in many civil cases involving the high-profile deaths of Black Americans, including Arbery and Floyd.

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Mattingly said every cop’s biggest fear is shooting an innocent person. He reflected on a warrant from a decade earlier during which a suspect shot at him through a door.

Mattingly didn’t shoot back, and he later learned a baby and little girl were asleep inside the apartment.

“You want to do the right thing,” Mattingly said. “You want to be the one who is protecting, not up here looking to do any damage to anybody’s family. That’s not anybody’s desire that I’ve worked with.”

When Taylor died on March 13, Mattingly’s fear came true.

“She didn’t deserve to die,” he said. “She didn’t do anything to deserve a death sentence.”

Regardless of any connection to a narcotics investigation, Mattingly said police weren’t there to act as the judge, jury and executioners that night.

“What we were being was someone who’s defending their lives against gunfire coming at them,” he said.

But, Mattingly said, police weren’t at Taylor’s house by “happenstance.”

“There’s a reason the police were there that night,” he said. “And if you’re law-abiding citizen, the only contact you’ll probably ever have with the police is running into them in Thorntons or if you get a speeding ticket. Other than that, unless you know them, you’re not really dealing with the police.

“And I think that’s part of the problem because the people who say there’s all this injustice and all that are the people who deal with the police in negative connotations. So naturally, their view of the police is going to be skewed and not good.”

Mattingly also said he believes Walker knew police were at the door, partly because you don’t have “that loud of a knock, that loud of an announce, that long — and people not know it’s police.”

“Everybody knows the police knock,” Mattingly said. “When that took place for that long — and they had that much time to think and react and formulate a plan — I don’t know he didn’t hear us. We were talking 20 feet away through a thin metal door.

“So, my opinion, yes, he heard. But I’m not the end-all, be-all.”

‘I don’t want people to think we’re hiding’

Mattingly said he no longer expects to return to the Louisville Metro Police Department, despite initially wanting to return to work. 

Asked what changed, the sergeant pointed to leadership, including the mayor’s office, and the public perception of him by some. He said his name has been so smeared that it likely would be unsafe for his family for him to return. 

Plus, he said he’d reached his 20-year mark with the department, giving him the possibility of retiring. 

He doesn’t plan to do that, however, until after LMPD’s Professional Standards Unit investigation is completed in the officers’ conduct that night at Taylor’s apartment. 

“I don’t want people to think we’re hiding,” he said. 

Mattingly added his plan in the future is to try to help others, including police officers, who face similar types of incidents. 

“There is no playbook for this. There is no guidebook that says when you’re in these types of incidents, here’s what you do, here’s what your family needs to do, here’s who you need to call,” Mattingly said. “There’s nothing.”

‘Then it got out of control’

Mattingly fired some of his sharpest criticisms at Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer and his administration.

He said he begged the mayor’s office to release evidence or factual information but was told officials didn’t want to “set precedent” for future cases.

“My response to that was, ‘So you’re willing to let the city burn down to not set a precedent for another case?’” Mattingly recalled. “A lot of (the) flames that have come up, a lot of this stuff could have been diverted. Now, would people still have a problem with it? Yes. But I think with the truth coming out, then you wouldn’t have as much distrust.”

As Taylor’s death started to gain attention, Mattingly said “each day that passed” without misinformation being rectified was “adding fuel to the fire.”

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He pointed specifically to claims that Taylor was asleep, that officers were at the wrong home or that Taylor didn’t know Jamarcus Glover, Taylor’s ex-boyfriend who was a main target in the narcotics investigation the led to the attempted search of Taylor’s home, which he said would have been possible to clarify without harming the case. 

“It fell on deaf ears, and politics, in my opinion, played a big part of it,” he said, declining to elaborate on who specifically he urged to speak out.

“There’s a reason that the fire wasn’t put out early, that he (Fischer) let it simmer until it got to where it was at, and then it got out of control, and I don’t think he knew how to reel it back in,” Mattingly said.

Asked what message he would have for Fischer, Mattingly said: “I don’t appreciate him coming in my hospital room and talking about my son. And then turning around and never addressing the fact that my son’s life was threatened and never being the type of leader he should have been, standing behind what we did.”

In a statement, Fischer said: “I deeply appreciate and respect the difficult and often dangerous job that our police officers do. My focus from the start of the Breonna Taylor case has been to get to the truth — for Breonna, her family and our larger community, which obviously includes the men and women of LMPD. That requires letting the legal process play out, no matter how challenging it may be. In the meantime, we will continue to move forward and take steps toward healing, reform and progress.”

Mattingly, a married father of four, said he and his family have been victims throughout this ordeal, too.

The family has received threats deemed credible enough by the FBI to suggest they leave their home at 11 one night. A few days ago, one man threatened to kidnap, tie up and torture his young son.

“That’s not stuff that you’re just gonna go, ‘Ah, no big deal. Ah, just go on,'” he said.

‘A very ugly look on the city’

Mattingly, a Louisville native, grew up in the Portland neighborhood of the city’s West End.

His father was the pastor at Shawnee Baptist Church on Bank Street, and he went to the church’s school, Northside Christian Academy.

“I didn’t understand the racial injustices as a kid because my friends were Black,” Mattingly said. “Just, it didn’t click to me that there was this, this visceral hate out there. I didn’t know that. So when somebody calls me a racist, I do (find) it offensive.”

Mattingly specifically called out Crump for being an “agitator.”

Crump is based in Tallahassee, Florida, and has been connected to a number of high-profile civil cases of Black Americans killed by police, including Michael Brown, Tamir Rice and Floyd.

Crump came to Louisville, “stirring up all this stuff and then leaving your city. He didn’t have to pick the pieces up,” Mattingly said. “He simply comes in, causes problems, throws out all these either direct lies, or these innuendos, and leaves people hanging, and then he disappears.”

Mattingly said if city leadership had quashed misinformation sooner, people would have a “totally different” understanding of what happened.

“Would everybody be pleased? No,” he said. “But you can’t please everybody.”

Downtown could take years to recover from the protests that have carried on for more than 140 consecutive days, Mattingly said. He’s worried about the businesses that have taken a financial hit.

“They’ll try to blame it on coronavirus, but that’s not the case,” he said. “I think it’s put a very ugly look on the city. I don’t know what it’s gonna take to recover from that.”

Follow Darcy Costello and Tessa Duvall on Twitter: @dctello and @TessaDuvall. 

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