What Is ‘Wanton Endangerment,’ And Why is it Important to the Breonna Taylor Decision

Former Louisville police officer Brett Hankinson was charged, just not for the shooting of Breonna Taylor.

On Wednesday, Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron announced that only one officer, former LMPD officer Brett Hankison, would be charged in connection with the March 13 shooting death of Breonna Taylor. However, these charges, three counts of wanton endangerment, were filed due to Hankison firing shots into apartments of three of Taylor’s neighbors — not Taylor home specifically.

So what is wanton endangerment? State of Kentucky statute 508.060 describes wanton endangerment as when a person “under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life…wantonly engages in conduct which creates a substantial danger of death or serious physical injury to another person.” The law was established on New Year’s Day, 1975.

Judge Annie O’Connell cited that Hankison “wantonly shot a gun” into three apartments. However, the ruling suggests that the other two officers, Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly and Detective Myles Cosgrove, were not acting in error when they fired into Taylor’s apartment, despite the officers erroneously searching for a suspect who’d already been apprehended by police before the raid.

Officers found no drugs at the scene, and charges against Kenneth Walker, Taylor’s boyfriend, were dropped. Walker’s lawsuit against the city says Walker, a legal gun owner, fired one shot only after officers didn’t respond after he asked who was at the door. Walker’s attorney, Steve Romines, says photographs of the one round Walker fired did not show indication of touching blood.

Wanton endangerment is a fourth-degree (Class D) felony, carrying a penalty of between one to five years in prison for each count. A warrant has been issued for Hankison’s arrest, with bail set at $15,000. “For a sense of scale,” tweeted Jamiles Lartey of the Marshall Project, “unauthorized use of a credit card involving a sum of money between $500 and $1,000 is also a fourth-degree felony.”


Back in May, one of Taylor’s neighbors, Chesey Napper, sued the LMPD, saying officers nearly struck a man in her apartment. At the time, Napper was pregnant and had another child in the home.

“I can’t make it make sense in my head,” wrote Lonita Baker, the Taylor family’s attorney in the civil suit, on Facebook. “Wanton endangerment to a neighboring apartment constitutes wanton endangerment to Breonna.”

“3 counts of Wanton Endangerment in 1st degree for bullets that went into other apartments,” tweeted Taylor’s family attorney Benjamin Crump, “but NOTHING for the murder of Breonna Taylor. This is outrageous and offensive!”


Torry Threadcraft

Torry Threadcraft is a writer who covers music, sports, and culture. You can find his daily ramblings and culinary takes at @dreadcraft.

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