Judge Lifts Jurors’ Gag Order in Breonna Taylor Case

By N. Jamiyla Chisholm Oct 21, 2020

Jefferson county circuit court judge Annie O’Connell lifted the gag that bound jurors in the Breonna Taylor case from speaking publicly in a ruling yesterday (October 20), NBC News reports.

In the 10-page ruling, O’Connell wrote

As applied in this case, this Court finds that the traditional justifications for secrecy in this matter are no longer relevant and that the ends of justice require disclosure. First, the individual subject of indictment in this matter, Brett Hankison, has already been charged and arraigned. …  The identities of other law enforcement officers involved in the execution of the search warrant at Breonna Taylor’s home are already known to the public. Thus, whether this grand jury considered charging any other officers involved, or whether any future grand jury were to investigate or consider charges against those officers, their identities are not secret. This is a rare and extraordinary example of a case where, at the time this motion is made, the historical reasons for preserving grand jury secrecy are null. 

O’Connell’s ruling is an about-face from Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron’s October 7 push to keep jurors silenced. According to the Washington Post, Cameron will not appeal. As Colorlines reported on October 8, an anonymous grand juror from Taylor’s trial asked a judge to release the case’s secret recordings, transcripts and reports, and to allow jurors to speak freely, with which Cameron vehemently disagreed.

On April 13, four plainclothes officers forced entry into 26-year-old Taylor’s home after midnight and shot her dead in her hallway. No officer was charged with Taylor’s death, but former Louisville Metro Police Department (LMPD) detective Brett Hankison was indicted on “wanton endangerment” of Taylor’s neighbors. 

The Post noted that Anonymous Grand Juror #1—as identified in the O’Connell ruling—wasn’t the only juror who wanted to speak out, and that Juror #1 said wanton endangerment was the only charge presented during proceedings, NBC News reported. [Emphasis Colorlines.]

In a statement, Juror #1 wrote that “questions were asked about the additional charges and the grand jury was told there would be none because the prosecutors didn’t feel they could make them stick,” and that “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.” Cameron had reportedly said the LMPD was “justified in their use of force.” 

Nonetheless, some of the jurors wished to share what happened behind the scenes and they are now legally allowed to do so, even as Judge O’Connell noted that her decision was rare. She wrote:

There exist 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. 

Read the complete ruling here.