Chief Conrad Presser - 10-22-19

FILE: LMPD Chief Steve Conrad speaks during a news conference on Oct. 22, 2019, in Louisville, Ky.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – In the hours after Louisville police officers shot and killed Breonna Taylor, then-Chief Steve Conrad testified he was told by two of his commanders that Taylor had fired at officers as they raided her home and she was on the floor in a “prone position holding a rifle.”

“And she was the one directing the fire, you know, at them,” Conrad said in an interview with the department’s Public Integrity Unit on March 18, five days after the shooting.

He was also told that a man in the apartment at one point said “the woman was in fact the shooter.”

The interview, conducted by Sgt. Amanda Seelye and Sgt. Jason Vance, shows that Conrad was given wrong information immediately after the shooting and raises questions about his scrutiny of the events at Taylor's apartment.

Neither Seelye nor Vance asked Conrad to explain the discrepancy during the 21-minute interview, including whether he followed up with the officers in the intervening days.

Nor was the ex-chief asked what he knew about the shooting at the time of the interview. The investigators' unit handles officer shootings and probes possible criminal actions by police.

The testimony is the first detailed description of what the former chief was told about the raid in the hours after it occurred. WDRB News obtained a transcript of it Saturday.

Numerous court documents, interviews and other records since made public confirmed that there was no rifle found at the scene and Taylor's boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, fired one shot with a handgun at police. Taylor did not fire a weapon.  

In addition, while Conrad was at the hospital to see Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly, who had been shot during the raid, he said he saw Det. Brett Hankison walking around, which the chief acknowledged was unusual because someone from the public integrity unit “is usually tasked with keeping up with the officers involved.”

“…It’s just so contrary from what I’ve seen in previous officer-involved shootings. I mean, they, ah-ah, my experience is they are brought to the Public Integrity by, you know, members of – of this unit.”

Conrad also said he believed Hankison took his dog home before coming to the hospital.

Conrad said he heard Hankison was fearful he would lose his job and told him, “Man, I hope you’re ok,” he said in the interview. “You know, we’ll work through this.”

He said Hankison was “visibly shaking. You know, not kinda – not scared – not scared but that – that kind of nervous sort of energy that you have after – after something traumatic, you know, happens.”

It was Hankison, Conrad said, who told him a man had shot at police, which was “contradictory of what I had heard” from two commanding officers, Lt. Col. Josh Judah and Lt. Les Skaggs.

“I wrote that down later because that was 100% you know contradictory of what I had heard from (Judah) and what I had heard from Skaggs," he said. "I was concerned at this point about this conflicting information.”

Judah, he said, was at the scene while giving information to Conrad.

Conrad also said, however, that he understands misinformation can be passed along inadvertently in the immediate aftermath of a chaotic situation. 

The chief told the PIU investigators that he didn’t ask Hankison any questions because “I didn’t end up wanting to have to do this.”

It is unclear if Conrad meant he didn’t want to have to testify about what Hankison might have told him. 

Mayor Greg Fischer fired Conrad in June after learning that police officers did not record body-camera footage of the fatal shooting of David McAtee, a Black man, in west Louisville during protests over Taylor's death.

Kenneth Walker was dating Taylor and with her after midnight on March 13 when police raided her apartment on Springfield Drive near Pleasure Ridge Park. Walker, a licensed gun owner, told police he fired one shot when he believed intruders had burst into the home.

Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron, whose office investigated the shooting and presented the case to a Jefferson County grand jury this week, said Walker fired the shot that hit Mattingly and there is no evidence to support he was hit by another officer.

Mattingly, Hankison and Det. Miles Cosgrove all fired their weapons during the raid.

But attorneys for Walker argue all available ballistics information “is at best inconclusive” as to whether the shot Walker fired hit Mattingly.

The raid was part of a broader, simultaneous series of raids connected to a narcotics investigation of Jamarcus Glover, whom Taylor had previously dated. 

Walker has said he "would never knowingly shoot a police officer. Breonna and I did not know who was banging on the door, but the police know what they did. The charges brought against me were meant to silence me and cover up Breonna's murder.”

In the interview with PIU, Conrad said he was told that police had a warrant for Taylor’s apartment and knocked and announced, ramming through the door when nobody answered.

Cameron announced that officers both knocked and announced their presence when entering Taylor’s apartment on March 13. Cameron said that was corroborated by an “independent witness” who was close by.

But a motion filed in Saturday in Walker's civil lawsuit against the city argues that 11 other witnesses have said they never heard police announce themselves. And the witness Cameron relied upon initially told police he did not hear officers announce themselves, according to the motion. 

Officers in the undercover unit were not wearing body cameras, leading to a dispute over how clearly police announced their presence. The warrant Judge Mary Shaw signed allowed officers to enter without knocking, although police have said they identified themselves and knocked for at least 45 seconds. 

Police shot and killed Taylor, a 26-year-old emergency room tech and former EMT, during an undercover raid on her apartment on Springfield Drive as part of a series of raids elsewhere that targeted narcotics trafficking. She was struck six times, according to Cameron.

Nothing illegal was found in her apartment. Neither she nor Walker was the target of the early-morning raid. 

The main target — drug suspect Jamarcus Glover — had been arrested miles away before police arrived at her apartment complex near the Southwest Family YMCA, attorneys say.

On Wednesday, a Jefferson County grand jury charged Hankison with three felony counts of wanton endangerment for shooting into a nearby apartment during the raid. 

Each charge carries a prison sentence of 1 to 5 years, if convicted.

Mattingly and Cosgrove were not charged.

Taylor’s death touched off Louisville’s racial justice protests and gained national prominence as demonstrations spread across the U.S. in response to the death of George Floyd, a Black Minneapolis man who died after a white officer, Derek Chauvin, knelt on his neck as he pleaded, “I can’t breathe.”

Mattingly and Cosgrove have been reassigned; Fischer announced in June that interim Police Chief Robert Schroeder was firing Hankison, although the former detective has appealed to the police merit board that he once served on.

Schroeder told Hankison in a termination letter that he violated the department's policies on using deadly force and following rules and regulations. Hankison's conduct in Taylor's shooting, the chief concluded, was "a shock to the conscience." 

"I am alarmed and stunned you used deadly force in this fashion," Schroeder wrote. 

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Jason Riley is a criminal justice reporter for WDRB.com. He joined WDRB News in 2013 after 14 years with The Courier-Journal. He graduated from Western Kentucky University. Jason can be reached at 502-585-0823 and jriley@wdrb.com.