Metro Louisville

Former Louisville detective Myles Cosgrove, who an FBI ballistics report said fired the shots that killed Breonna Taylor, told the Police Merit Board on Tuesday he believes his actions that night were justified.

Cosgrove was one of the officers who attempted to enter Taylor’s apartment during a middle-of-the-night raid in March 2020. He was fired from the Louisville Metro Police Department in January for failing to properly identify a threat when he fired his gun 16 times. Cosgrove is currently appealing his firing to the Merit Board.

Testifying in his own defense, Cosgrove recounted the events leading up to the fatal raid on Taylor’s home. He said he was assigned to monitor the perimeter of the property, but moved toward the apartment door as another officer attempted to beat it down with a sledgehammer.

“He had no way to defend himself should that door open,” he said. “[He] has no way to defend himself because he’s holding this heavy tool in his hand.”

Cosgrove told investigators and the board that he saw a “shadowy mass” or “form” on the other side of a hallway after police forced the door open. He talked about seeing a “vivid white light” and another officer, Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly, falling to the ground next to him. Cosgrove testified that he did not see a gun, but attempted to fire at the mass. 

Investigators found Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, fired one shot at police as they broke down the apartment door, later saying he thought they were intruders. Cosgrove then returned fire.

Former Interim Police Chief Yvette Gentry testified last month that Cosgrove’s own statements led her to write in her termination letter that he failed to “properly identify a threat and to assess whether an ongoing threat existed.” But Cosgrove told the board that he knew he was being shot at.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that that is the form that is firing at me, from directly in front of me,” he said.

Cosgrove said the entire encounter lasted “a handful of seconds” and he stopped shooting when Mattingly had moved out of the doorway to a safer location. He said he believed his actions that day were reasonable and nearly every other officer would have done the same.

Asked by his lawyers about how the case has affected his life, Cosgrove held back tears.

“I’ve had to relocate,” he said. “I had to pull my kids out of school. We receive death threats to this day. We receive hate mail. My kids were stalked and the department abandoned me.”

Both his attorneys as well as lawyers for Louisville Metro asked Cosgrove to explain some of the statements he made to investigators in three separate interviews conducted after the shooting. Cosgrove told investigators last year that the shooting was “movie-like” and saw a round shape attached to the tall mass that was shooting at him. He also said he could not feel his hands and repeatedly told investigators he only fired four shots, not 16.

Cosgrove said Tuesday that these were attempts to put the interviewer in his shoes.

“I was asked by the interviewer to tell the truth, like I was today,” he said. “I’m trying to tell the interviewer exactly what’s happening to me in those tiny little bits of time.”

Assistant County Attorney Brendan Daugherty, who is representing Louisville Metro, has argued before the board that Cosgrove violated the department’s use of force policy.

“The policy explicitly states that the officer must be able to justifiably articulate his or her actions,” Daugherty said last month. “The policy further requires that the person against whom the force is used pose an immediate threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or another person.”

Taylor did not pose an immediate threat, Daugherty argued. The 26-year-old Black woman was unarmed, and died in her hallway after being shot multiple times.

‘Force science’ trainer says Cosgrove acted ‘admirably’ in Taylor killing

Before Cosgrove took the stand, his lawyers called Michael Musengo, a former law enforcement officer and instructor at the Force Science Institute, a research, training and consulting center to testify.

Musengo testified that Cosgrove’s statements to investigators are consistent with a normal human reaction: tunnel vision or selective attention.

“Once we intently focus on something with one sense or one domain, in this case it would be vision, by Detective Cosgrove’s description, it’s at the expense of all other stimuli,” he said. “So, the harder we focus on something, the more the other things that we normally would be able to observe while scanning under normal conditions tend to diminish.”

As the third day of the employment hearing started on Tuesday morning, it was unclear whether Musengo would be allowed to testify as an expert witness. He told the board that he has no formal degree and has never conducted research. Musengo is being paid roughly $13,000 by Cosgrove, including a $5,000 retainer fee and a $275 hourly rate.

The field of “force science” is also itself controversial, with some academics saying its foundation studies lack basic elements of legitimate research and draw conclusions unsupported by data.

Mark Dobbins, the board’s attorney, said he did not think a court would allow Musengo to be certified as an expert witness at a trial, but he recommended the board do so in this employment hearing. Brenda Harral, the board chair, accepted that recommendation.

Musengo told the board during his testimony that officers experience and react to stress in different ways, and described the situation at Taylor’s apartment that night as “about as much stress as you can have in that short amount of time.”

“Understanding the complexities and the challenging nature of these incidents from being involved in them, it’s admirable,” Musengo said.

In addition to explaining Cosgrove’s comments to investigators, Musengo testified that the level of force the former detective used was typical in police shootings. He said when someone is “assaultive” toward police, the officer will respond strongly until they believe the assault has stopped.

The Police Merit Board hearing is expected to conclude Wednesday. The board will decide whether to uphold Cosgrove’s termination or reinstate him.

Roberto Roldan is the City Politics and Government Reporter for WFPL.