Body-camera footage and images of the night Breonna Taylor was killed in 2020 were shown in front of diners at a Kentucky restaurant this week during an event in which a GOP women’s group hosted one of the officers who fired into Taylor’s apartment, according to an NAACP chapter and accounts from patrons.
The Republican Women’s Club of South Central Kentucky held a dinner event Tuesday at Anna’s Greek Restaurant in Bowling Green, Ky., for Jonathan Mattingly, a former sergeant with the Louisville Metro Police Department who was among the officers who conducted the botched no-knock raid at Taylor’s Louisville apartment in search of her ex-boyfriend. Mattingly, who was one of the officers who fired into the 26-year-old Black woman’s apartment the night she died, was cleared of wrongdoing in an internal police investigation and retired in 2021 to become a conservative author and pundit.
Cayce Johnson, a Bowling Green resident who was dining at Anna’s on Tuesday, told The Washington Post that after Mattingly was introduced with “raucous applause” from the event’s attendees one floor above them, the former sergeant played a presentation featuring footage and images of the night Taylor was killed. After the lights were dimmed in the restaurant, diners who were not affiliated with the event could hear and see the graphic descriptions of Taylor’s killing, Johnson said.
“You could hear the gunshots in the footage,” Johnson, 34, said Saturday. “Our dinner was completely hijacked. We couldn’t hear ourselves at that point.” She added, “It makes me nauseous to think about now.”
Katelyn Jones, another Bowling Green resident dining at Anna’s, recounted her frustration in a Facebook post about how the group was featuring “one of the cops that killed Breonna Taylor there and had some kind of loud, tribute/ rally to support him while we were eating.”
“It was extremely disrespectful disturbing and loud,” she wrote of the footage of the gunshots. “It was so loud and nobody wants to hear or see police footage, especially of the murder of an innocent Black woman while they are trying to enjoy their meal.”
Representatives with the Republican Women’s Club of South Central Kentucky did not immediately respond to The Washington Post’s requests for comment early Saturday. The GOP group’s Facebook page was inaccessible Saturday morning. Before the event, the group said in a statement to Spectrum News in Louisville this week that it had invited Mattingly to speak at its event “to obtain a firsthand account” of what happened the night Taylor was killed.
“These events may be controversial, however, we believe Sgt. Mattingly has the right to share his experience,” the group said in a statement to Spectrum. “Other individuals with firsthand experience relating to this case are welcome to request an opportunity to speak to our organization as well.”
Mattingly, who did not immediately respond to The Post’s request for comment Saturday morning, wrote on Facebook that he enjoyed his time at the event, saying, “Food was amazing and staff was even better!” After Jones replied to his post by thanking him “for ruining my family’s and everyone else’s dinner,” Mattingly offered to pay for her family’s dinner and said he meant no harm in his presentation.
“That was not the intent,” he wrote on Facebook.
Anna’s Greek Restaurant did not immediately respond to The Post’s email or voice mail requesting comment Saturday morning. Its Facebook page also was inaccessible early Saturday. No one answered a phone call to a number listed for Vilson Qehaja, who is listed in state records as the business owner.
The event was moved to Anna’s after it was scheduled to be held at Bowling Green Country Club, which had declined to host it “upon being made aware of the guest speaker,” reported the Louisville Courier-Journal. It was also going to feature an appearance by Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles, a 2023 gubernatorial candidate in the state’s Republican primary. But the candidate backed out due to what his office described as “the controversial nature of another speaker at this event,” according to Spectrum News.
The GOP group’s event at the Greek restaurant has been met with backlash, including from the Bowling Green-Warren County chapter of the NAACP.
“It is beyond reprehensible to subject anyone, let alone children and customers of African American descent, to such indecent exposure, graphic and upsetting images while they were attempting to enjoy their meal,” Ryan Dearbone, president of the NAACP chapter, said in a statement Thursday. “Such disturbing occurrences must not be tolerated especially in places of public accommodation. At a minimum, these acts are devoid of humanity and violate the most fundamental principles of human decency.”
The Bowling Green-Warren County NAACP addresses the incidents which took place at an event held featuring former LMPD Officer Jonathan Mattingly at Anna’s Greek Restaurant on Tuesday, January 17, 2023. pic.twitter.com/2Vqj9W7wkI— BG-Warren Co. NAACP (@naacp_bgwc) January 19, 2023
Tuesday night was shaping up to be a fun one for Johnson, who had made a reservation for eight people at Anna’s to welcome back some friends. Johnson said she caught part of a report about how Mattingly would be speaking somewhere, but thought nothing of it.
“I didn’t catch the location,” she said. “I had no idea it was happening in my town, put on by people in the community.”
Johnson and her party noticed a buffet event was being held upstairs for an estimated 80 people. They thought it was funny and weird that the event was raffling off a chocolate cake, she said. But after a woman at the event made a joke about covid-19 over the sound system blaring throughout the restaurant, Johnson wondered what kind of an event was happening.
It didn’t take long for her and her group to realize Mattingly was the guest of honor and what he was talking about: March 13, 2020, and the no-knock raid that killed Taylor. Johnson’s party, which featured two people of color and a veteran with PTSD, were rocked by what they were hearing and seeing.
“We were just sick and in shock, and we didn’t know what to do,” Johnson told The Post.
Johnson said sheand her party found Qehaja, the owner of Anna’s, and expressed their concerns about how their dinner was disrupted by what was supposed to be a private event. Cellphone footage obtained by The Post shows a man, whom Johnson identified as Qehaja, shrugging his shoulders in response to their concerns.
“I have no idea what’s happening,” the man replies.
Johnson’s group specifies that the event featured gunshots from Taylor’s killing,then the man responds, “I have nothing to do with that.” At one point in the video, loud bangs from the presentation can be heard in the background.
After another member of Johnson’s party asked whether he knew it was Mattingly speaking in his restaurant, the man in the video addressed the question with an unrelated question: “You’re being served, right?”
The event from the GOP women’s group came five months after the Justice Department filed federal civil rights charges against four former Louisville police officers in Taylor’s killing. Former detectives Brett Hankison, Joshua Jaynes and Kelly Goodlett and former sergeant Kyle Meany face the first federal counts stemming from Taylor’s death, amid mounting anger from civil rights activists and Taylor’s family.
In the four days since the dinner, Johnson said it has been hard for her or any of her friends to sleep after hearing the gunshots that killed Taylor over what was expected to be a nice night out.
“The GOP women’s group should apologize to Breonna Taylor’s family and the people who were present that night and subjected to that,” Johnson said. “Why they wanted to give Jonathan Mattingly of all people a platform to speak about Breonna Taylor, I don’t know. It’s disgusting.”