Editor’s Note: Sonia Pruitt is a retired Montgomery County, Maryland, police captain. She is the founder of The Black Police Experience, which promotes the education of the intersection of law enforcement and the Black community. She is also a professor of criminal justice at Howard University in Washington, DC, and at Montgomery College in Maryland. The opinions expressed in this commentary are her own. Read more opinion at CNN.
Three years ago, Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old Black woman, was fatally shot by officers of the Louisville Metro Police Department (LMPD) in Kentucky as they executed a middle-of-the-night raid of her apartment during a drug investigation of her former boyfriend.
Shortly after midnight, a team of four police officers used a battering ram to force their way into Taylor’s home, where she slept alongside her then-boyfriend Kenneth Walker on March 13, 2020.
Walker, who at the time was armed with a legally owned gun, alleges that officers did not announce themselves before entering the home, which LMPD disputes. Fearing that the police were intruders, he fired his weapon, striking one officer in the leg. Police returned fire, killing Taylor. At around the same time that night, Taylor’s former boyfriend, Jamarcus Glover, was being taken into custody in a police operation in another part of town.
No drugs were found in Taylor’s home and there was never any indication that Taylor, an emergency medical technician, was involved with drugs. A subsequent federal investigation found that LMPD officers had used false information to obtain the search warrant, in violation of Taylor’s Fourth Amendment rights.
One of the officers in that botched raid was Myles Cosgrove, who fired the shot that fatally wounded Taylor. An FBI investigation determined that bullets fired by Cosgrove and another officer, John Mattingly, struck Taylor and that Cosgrove likely fired the fatal shot.
Neither officer was charged by a 2020 state grand jury in Taylor’s death. A two-year investigation by the FBI also cleared both men. In 2022, the US Justice Department filed federal charges against four officers involved in the raid, but Cosgrove was not among them. Nevertheless, Cosgrove was fired from his job as a police officer for having violated use of force procedures during the raid and for failing to activate his body-worn camera during it.
This week, it was revealed that Cosgrove has been hired as a sheriff’s deputy in nearby Carroll County, a stone’s throw from where he fired the shot that took Taylor’s life. News of his hiring has elicited an outcry from the public – and disgust and disappointment from Taylor’s mother, Tamika Palmer, who said in an interview, “I’m scared for the people of Carroll County.”
Palmer’s fear is not unwarranted. While Cosgrove was not held criminally liable for Taylor’s death, the administrative violations he was found to have committed were egregious enough to cause his termination from LMPD. That should have been sufficient to keep him from donning a Carroll County Sheriff’s Department badge – or ever again serving as a law enforcement officer in any capacity.
Police reform advocates across the country have been calling for the decertification of police officers found guilty of misconduct, to prevent them from “wandering” to other law enforcement agencies. Cosgrove being hired as a sheriff’s deputy makes clear why such a rule is needed.
But for such a standard to be put into place, every state would have to be on board. Failing that, sympathetic law enforcement executives, such as Sheriff Ryan Gosser of Carroll County, who gave Cosgrove his new job, are free to employ individuals who not only should no longer be in law enforcement, but who might even be responsible for reckless and unnecessary deaths.
Gosser cited Cosgrove’s “experience” as the reason he was hired. Cosgrove’s attorney says the ex-officer was never indicted, and was being used as a “scapegoat.” The lawyer also maintains that Cosgrove was justified in shooting back when he was fired on. Neither man suggested that they understand just how egregious the violations by Cosgrove were.
Neither Cosgrove nor his attorney have spoken about how it is incumbent upon officers to be certain of who is present in a home by conducting sufficient surveillance of the home prior to a raid. And neither Cosgrove nor his lawyer have shown sufficient empathy in the death of a blameless young woman killed by Cosgrove’s gun, as if she were just collateral damage in a questionably conducted war on drugs. The faulty and misleading search warrant used in this raid became, in effect, Breonna Taylor’s death warrant.
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Some have argued that Cosgrove has a right to find gainful employment to take care of his family. I would maintain, as a former police captain, that there is other employment for an ex-officer found culpable in an unwarranted death besides in the area of law enforcement.
Cosgrove’s hiring only underscores how our broken law enforcement culture elevates bad apples, even after watershed moments like Taylor’s death and that of George Floyd, who died under the knee of police officer Derek Chauvin in Minnesota.
Accountability should be more than just a catch word uttered by law enforcement leadership in public. It should be accompanied by a vow to protect the lives of innocent community members during police encounters. Our humanity tells us that it is important to give second chances. But Myles Cosgrove’s second chance shouldn’t run the risk of future harm to more innocent citizens.