Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer described an article linked to the Breonna Taylor case that was published briefly on the Courier Journal’s website on Tuesday as “reckless” in an unsolicited statement sent to news media Tuesday morning.
Shortly after the article was published, the Courier Journal’s editor removed it from the website, later saying it was “prematurely published” and didn’t meet the newspaper’s standards for publication. The article was published again at 5:23 p.m.
The article alleged close connections between Taylor and an ex-boyfriend, Jamarcus Glover, who police have accused of dealing drugs, and who was a focus of the investigation that prompted the warrant LMPD was serving when officers shot and killed Taylor in her home in March.
The Courier Journal’s report cited an undated report prepared by the LMPD after the shooting and phone records from calls Glover and others made in jail. It is not clear how the Courier Journal obtained the report or other materials referenced in the article; the attorney general’s investigation into the shooting is still ongoing and LMPD has refused to release documents from the case, a decision the newspaper has sued over.
The article was published around 6:30 a.m. on the newspaper’s website. By the time Fischer issued a statement condemning it around 8:30 a.m., someone had already taken it down without explanation or an editor’s note.
In his statement, Fischer noted that the investigation is confidential until it is complete.
“It is deeply reckless for this information, which presents only a small fraction of the entire investigation, to be shared with the media while the criminal process remains ongoing. It would be unjust to draw conclusions about this case before the investigation is complete and the full truth comes out. And, efforts to sway opinion and impact the investigation by releasing select information are wrong and divisive, at a time when our city needs unity more than ever before,” he wrote.
Editor Rick Green did not return a request for comment, but addressed the incident in tweets Tuesday morning following Fischer’s statement, as well as in a note added to the top of the final story. On Twitter, Green said he “unpublished” the article to make “thorough final edits.”
— Rick Green (@EditorRAG) August 25, 2020
The editing process is timely & thoughtful with triple-checking of every word, fact, quote & detail. It was not complete. Someone posted without knowing it wasn’t ready. Not misleading; just a rare misstep. Thx for writing @Su__spencer https://t.co/MbggLGwfTz
— Rick Green (@KentuckyRAG) August 25, 2020
The article, which remained available throughout the day in cached versions online, said the police report “provides no new evidence justifying Taylor’s fatal shooting.” Yet it detailed LMPD’s argument that she was more involved with Glover, than previously disclosed. Even while the article cited an anonymous law enforcement official saying Taylor “did not deserve to die,” the original version included the source following it up by saying: “But criminal activity always has consequences.”
Kelly McBride, NPR’s public editor and senior vice president at the Poynter Institute, said if a publication removes an article for being published prematurely, it should offer a complete explanation for doing so online and in print. When the Courier Journal first removed the article, it sent readers to an error message.
“First of all, you wouldn’t want to just like take it down and send people to a 404 [error] … because you know people have tweeted it out and linked to it already,” McBride said. “So the best practice is to put a note up that says, we took this story down because, and then give them the honest answer for why you took it down and, if you are planning to put it back up, when you are planning to put it back up.”
Lawyers for Taylor’s family did not respond to requests for comment.
Fischer responded to reporters’ questions about the article during a Tuesday morning press conference focused on COVID-19 in the city.
“What is clear is that Breonna Taylor should not be dead, period. That is a tragedy that our city [wishes] never happened,” he said. “So any information that comes out to try to impugn her character is not relevant … to the investigation.”
Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron is reviewing the police’s internal investigation and investigating independently to determine whether the officers who fired their weapons that night — Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly and officers Myles Cosgrove and Brett Hankison — should face criminal charges. The FBI is also independently investigating the incident.
Those agencies, as well as city and police officials, have argued for months that no additional information should be released until the criminal investigations are complete, in order to protect the integrity of those proceedings. To that end, lawyers for Taylor’s family entered an agreement with attorneys for the city and police to keep evidence in their wrongful death lawsuit confidential.
The Metro Council’s government oversight committee has also agreed to steer clear of topics that could interfere with those investigations as it attempts to conduct its own investigation into actions and decisions by the Fischer administration this year.
Fischer did not directly address whether he asked the newspaper to remove the article. He said this morning’s statement was meant to express that the community is seeking justice and truth.
“I think it’s reckless for information like this to come out. It’s not helpful to the city or the investigation at all,” he said. “And I think it’s unjust to draw conclusions from just pieces of information and not the whole case.”
In a tweet, Green said Fischer’s concerns had “absolutely” nothing to do with the story’s removal. “The story wasn’t complete & I apologize it got posted before I signed off on it. I listen to readers; not complaints or opinions of mayors,” Green wrote.
It absolutely did not @Foggy_Winders. The story wasn't complete & I apologize it got posted before I signed off on it. I listen to readers; not complaints or opinions of mayors. Again, sorry for the @courierjournal miscue. https://t.co/YqMUAl5svz
— Rick Green (@KentuckyRAG) August 25, 2020
LMPD Interim Chief Robert Schroeder also addressed the report in a media briefing Tuesday evening. “We want to protect the integrity of all of our investigations,” he said. “This kind of leak and this kind of reporting is simply not helpful to the process. It seems irrelevant to the goal of getting justice, peace and healing for our community.”
The coverage of these allegations that Taylor was closely linked to a drug dealer came hours before a group called Until Freedom led a large protest its leaders said would be peaceful. It’s also the fourth day of the controversial BreonnaCon event series in Louisville held in her memory. LMPD interim police chief Robert Schroeder designated Tuesday an “All Work-Day,” canceling time off and requiring personnel to be available for duty, due to the planned demonstrations.
Since late May, protesters in Louisville and beyond have called for the officers who killed Taylor to be fired, arrested and charged. So far, one of the officers who fired his weapon that night, Hankison, has been fired. The other two remain on paid leave.
Taylor’s fatal shooting occurred as officers served a middle-of-the-night warrant as part of a broader narcotics investigation focused on Glover, the ex-boyfriend at the center of the LMPD report the newspaper wrote about. No drugs were found in Taylor’s apartment. Her boyfriend Kenneth Walker, fired a shot as plainclothes officers broke down the door, striking one who underwent surgery and recovered. Walker later told investigators he did not know it was police entering.
His shot prompted officers to return fire, with five bullets hitting and killing Taylor.
This post has been updated to reflect that the Courier Journal re-published the story on Tuesday evening.