More than two years after police officers killed Breonna Taylor during a late-night raid of her apartment in Louisville, Ky., the Justice Department announced a series of federal charges on Thursday against four of the officers involved in the operation that set off racial justice protests across the country.
Federal prosecutors accused three officers of knowingly including false information in an affidavit used to justify the raid and a fourth officer of firing blindly into Ms. Taylor’s apartment from outside, sending bullets flying into a unit next door where an unsuspecting family slept.
The indictments unsealed on Thursday do not charge either of the two white officers who shot Ms. Taylor, a Black 26-year-old emergency room technician whose former boyfriend the police were investigating for possibly selling drugs. But the charges are the most aggressive effort yet to hold police officers accountable in a case that has become a rallying cry for the Black Lives Matter movement.
The officer accused of firing into Ms. Taylor’s apartment, Brett Hankison, had been tried and acquitted on state charges of endangering her neighbors — the only officer to have faced charges until now. None had been charged for what prosecutors say was the use of false information to obtain the search warrant that authorized officers to burst into Ms. Taylor’s home as she slept next to her new boyfriend.
The police used a battering ram to force their way through the door of the apartment shortly after midnight on March 13, 2020. Ms. Taylor’s boyfriend, who feared they were intruders, fired a shot that struck one of the officers in the leg. Three officers returned fire, spraying the apartment with more than 30 bullets, six of which struck Ms. Taylor. She was pronounced dead at the scene.
“Breonna Taylor should be alive today,” U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said at a news conference announcing the charges. He said that the officers’ false statements on the search warrant affidavit had set in motion the events that led to Ms. Taylor’s death.
The Justice Department has been investigating the Louisville Police Department for more than a year, reviewing complaints of the regular use of unreasonable force and whether police officers who break the department’s rules are held accountable.
The indictments announced on Thursday could result in the first criminal penalties against the officers involved — two of whom have been fired, with the other two recommended for firing — but they fell short of public demands during months of protests to prosecute the two officers who shot and killed Ms. Taylor.
Mr. Garland noted that none of the officers who carried out the raid had been aware that the warrant they were executing had been based on false claims.
Prosecuting the two officers who shot Ms. Taylor could be difficult, some legal analysts have said, because they were returning fire during what they believed to be a legitimate law enforcement operation.
Ms. Taylor’s mother, Tamika Palmer, said the federal charges vindicated her longstanding claim that the police had no right to enter her daughter’s home.
“What we’ve been saying was the truth, that they shouldn’t have been there,” she said, later adding, “I’ve waited 874 days for today.”
The case led to intense protests in Louisville and helped spur marches and rallies across the United States as anger boiled over after a series of police killings of Black people, including George Floyd in Minneapolis two months later.
Louisville fired its police chief amid protests over Ms. Taylor’s death and reached a $12 million settlement with her family in which the city also agreed to a series of reforms, such as ensuring that ambulances were stationed nearby during future police raids. Louisville also banned “no knock” warrants, which allow police officers to enter a home without announcing themselves; several other cities and states similarly moved to limit or ban their use.
A judge had initially signed off on a no-knock warrant for entering Ms. Taylor’s apartment but the officers were later instructed to knock and identify themselves. Whether the police actually identified themselves has long been in dispute. None of the officers had activated their body cameras, and, while officers said they had announced themselves as the police, Ms. Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, said he and Ms. Taylor heard no response when they asked who was at the door.
In one of the new federal indictments, Mr. Hankison is now charged with depriving Ms. Taylor, her boyfriend and three of their neighbors of their rights by firing 10 bullets through a window and sliding glass door that were both covered by blinds.
Stew Mathews, a lawyer who represented Mr. Hankison in the state case, said he understood that Mr. Hankison was preparing on Thursday morning to surrender on the new charges and that he expected Mr. Hankison would contest them.
The other three officers — two detectives and a sergeant — are accused of including information they knew to be false in an affidavit submitted to a judge in order to obtain the search warrant, and then lying to cover up what they had done.
One of the detectives, Joshua Jaynes, who was fired over his role in the raid, had sent a draft of the affidavit to Kelly Goodlett, a fellow detective, in which prosecutors said he falsely claimed to have verified that Ms. Taylor’s former boyfriend was receiving packages at her address. In fact, according to prosecutors, there was no evidence of such packages.
Ms. Goodlett knew that the claim was false, the charging document said, but did not object to it; she is also accused of adding a “misleading” claim that the former boyfriend was using the address to Ms. Taylor’s apartment as his current address.
The third officer charged, Sgt. Kyle Meany, led the unit handling the investigation and approved the affidavit despite knowing that it contained the false information, which violated Ms. Taylor’s rights, according to the indictment. He was also charged with lying to the F.B.I. by falsely claiming that the Police Department’s SWAT team had requested a no-knock warrant, which prosecutors said was false.
The federal prosecutors also allege that Mr. Jaynes and Ms. Goodlett met in Mr. Jaynes’s garage as scrutiny of the case began to mount and tried to cover their tracks. They made a plan to falsely tell investigators that a sergeant had informed them that packages were being sent to Ms. Taylor’s apartment for her former boyfriend, according to the charges. They ultimately told that lie to multiple agencies, the charges said, including the Police Department’s internal affairs unit, the Kentucky attorney general’s office and the F.B.I.
Mr. Meany and Ms. Goodlett did not have lawyers listed in court records. A lawyer who had represented Mr. Jaynes in the past did not respond to requests for comment.
Mr. Jaynes was charged with conspiring to impede the federal investigation, falsifying records and violating Ms. Taylor’s constitutional right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure. Mr. Meany was also charged with a civil rights violation and lying to the F.B.I. Ms. Goodlett was charged with conspiring to falsify the affidavit for the search warrant and hinder the subsequent investigation into the raid.
Mr. Meany and Ms. Goodlett were still employed by the Louisville Metro Police Department as of Thursday, though the city’s police chief, Erika Shields, said she had moved to fire both of them after the charges were announced.
“It is critical that any illegal or inappropriate actions by law enforcement be addressed comprehensively in order to continue our efforts to build police-community trust,” the department said in a statement.