The former Louisville officer who the FBI said fired the shot that killed Breonna Taylor is now fighting for his job back.
Myles Cosgrove was fired from the Louisville Metro Police Department in January for failing to properly identify a threat when he fired his gun during a middle of the night raid on Taylor’s apartment. Cosgrove was one of three officers who fired their guns as they attempted to enter her home.
Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, fired one bullet at police, saying later he thought they were intruders. They returned 32 shots. Cosgrove fired half of those, including two that struck Taylor. An FBI ballistics report said Cosgrove’s bullets killed her.
Cosgrove is now appealing his termination to the Metro Louisville Police Merit Board, a seven-member body of civilians and officers that reviews discipline and employment decisions. The board could decide to uphold his firing or overturn it and issue a new punishment, if necessary.
Setting up the arguments
Tuesday’s Police Merit Board hearing opened with arguments from lawyers for Louisville Metro and Cosgrove. They spoke at the River City FOP Lodge 614, the headquarters for Louisville’s police union, with members of the public and journalists in the audience.
Lawyers agreed ahead of time not to debate whether Cosgrove violated LMPD policy by not wearing a body camera during the raid on Taylor’s home. Both parties also agreed that Cosgrove would not have gotten more than a one-day suspension for that infraction alone.
Assistant County Attorney Brendan Daugherty, who is representing Louisville Metro, argued Cosgrove’s behavior on the night of March 13, 2020, violated the department’s use of force policy. He described to the board what officers are required to know before using their firearm.
“The policy explicitly states that the officer must be able to justifiably articulate his or her actions,” he said. “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 said. The 26-year-old Black woman was unarmed, and died in her hallway after being shot multiple times.
In the Jan. 5 letter informing Cosgrove of his firing, then-Police Chief Yvette Gentry wrote there was a failure on the part of the former detective to “properly identify a threat and to assess whether an ongoing threat existed.”
Gentry justified her decision by pointing to statements Cosgrove made to internal investigators and the Kentucky Attorney General’s Office. Cosgrove repeatedly told investigators that the target or threat he was firing at was a “shadowy mass” with “flashing light.” He could not say how many shots he fired. And when asked if the shadow appeared to have its hands up or not, Cosgrove said he could not see that level of detail.
Daugherty hammered those points again during the first day of the hearing, arguing Cosgrove clearly couldn’t articulate a specific threat that justified deadly force.
“LMPD officers are taught and trained that they are accountable for every single shot they fire,” he said.
In the termination letter, Gentry said internal investigators found Cosgrove fired in three directions during the raid on Taylor’s apartment.
Cosgrove’s attorneys, however, argued his return fire was justified because there was an immediate threat to his safety. Cosgrove’s partner, Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly — who retired from LMPD this summer — was struck in the leg by the shot Walker fired as the officers tried to enter the apartment.
Attorney Scott Miller said his client Cosgrove believed he saw muzzle flashes, not just flashes of light, which indicated someone was shooting at him. That’s why he had to return fire, Miller said.
“Breonna Taylor’s death was tragic, we all know that,” he said. “Officer Cosgrove did not violate LMPD’s policy; rather, he acted in accordance with policy during a high-stress, rapidly evolving situation in which he was shot at.”
Cosgrove reasonably believed there was a lethal threat to himself or others, which is what the law and department policy require, his lawyers said. Miller compared LMPD’s disciplinary actions after the shooting to moving the goalpost in the middle of a game.
“Officers do not get the benefit of applying facts learned after the fact,” he said. “LMPD, however, has that luxury of 20/20 hindsight …. They made the determination that one round was fired [by Walker]. But those, you will learn, are things that not a single officer on the scene knew that night.”
Miller added that LMPD’s case relies on Cosgrove knowing the trajectory of rounds, the ratio of rounds fired and the ability to “reassess in microseconds,” things he said can’t be done or determined in real-time.
Both sides will call witnesses
A Police Merit Board hearing is conducted much like a real court case: Lawyers make arguments and call witnesses to testify before the board. The board chair, with the guidance of a board-appointed lawyer, acts like a judge, deciding whether to allow certain testimony or evidence.
LMPD Sgt. Andrew Meyer was Louisville Metro’s first witness. Lawyers for the city called him to discuss the internal investigation into the shooting. Meyer is a member of the Professional Standards Unit, which investigates potential policy violations.
Meyer said he found Cosgrove was not able to properly identify a threat during the deadly raid.
“You know there’s a threat because there is a flash of light and your partner is down, but who has done this act?” Meyer said. “For the people in that apartment to be safe, I need to know who before I start pulling that trigger and he’s not seeing that kind of detail. He was unable to tell who that threat was.”
Cosgrove’s hearing will continue Wednesday, with three other dates already scheduled for early December, if needed. LMPD is expected to call former chief Gentry to the stand, while Cosgrove’s lawyers say they’ll call an expert witness on stress and use-of-force to testify.