Wanton Endangerment Meaning: Here’s What It Means and How to Use It

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Have you ever heard of the phrase “wanton endangerment?” You may have heard the phrase on the news or maybe on your favorite cop TV show, but there is much more to this short phrase than the definitions of its two words. 

Today, we’re going to talk a little about wanton endangerment. This article will help you understand wanton endangerment, what the phrase means, how it works in the justice system, and more. Let’s get started.

What Is the Definition of Wanton Endangerment?

Wanton endangerment is a crime. It has two somewhat unfamiliar words, but here is what the phrase means, according to Kentucky state law:

  • Showing extreme indifference to the value of human life by recklessly engaging in behavior that creates serious danger and risk of injury or death to another person. 

This definition applies to first-degree wanton endangerment. Essentially, wanton endangerment is when you behave in such a way that shows a disregard for human life that recklessly or wantonly puts somebody else in serious danger. 

In most states, this crime is called by a different name: reckless endangerment. Only in the state of Kentucky is the crime called wanton endangerment. In Kentucky, it is a class D felony for which a person could be sentenced to up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000. 

Wanton Endangerment in the News Today

The Breonna Taylor case in Louisville, Kentucky brought wanton endangerment as a phrase to the center stage between 2020 and 2022. 

On the night of March 13, 2020, the Louisville police department, under a no-knock warrant searching for drugs, broke into Breonna Taylor’s house. Upon seeing Taylor’s boyfriend with a gun, the police officers opened fire, discharging several rounds into the walls of Taylor’s apartment and Taylor herself, leading to the death of Breonna Taylor. 

The public was outraged, and millions of protestors called for the officers involved to be charged with murder. But, in September of 2020, Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron determined that there was no evidence to indicate that a criminal violation from the officers led to Ms. Taylor’s death. Therefore, Cameron brought no charges against any officers.

However, the Kentucky state government settled a lawsuit from Taylor’s family for $12 million to settle the wrongful death of Breonna Taylor. 

In addition, Taylor’s boyfriend was not found guilty of attempted murder of the officers because he was engaging in self-defense.

Where Wanton Endangerment Comes In

Even though Cameron found no fault in the officers, the Grand Jury decided that officer Brett Hankison had a wanton endangerment charge brought against him for firing ten shots into the walls and neighboring apartments. 

After the trial, Hankison was acquitted of the counts of wanton endangerment brought against him, so he received no punishment. But after an internal investigation by the police department, Hankison was let go from the department because his actions created substantial danger. 

The Results of the Trial

Because of the trial and the protests surrounding it, there have been some changes to Kentucky law. Since then, no-knock search warrants have been banned in the state with the passing of Breonna’s Law.

This case was also at the center of the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020, which gave the phrase even more usage. 

Where Did the Phrase Wanton Endangerment Come From?

Let’s look at the history of each word in the phrase wanton endangerment to understand its definition better and be able to use it in your writing

The word wanton is a combination of a few different pieces. The first is the 14th-century Middle English word wan, which means “lacking, deficient.” And the second piece comes from the Middle English word towen, which means to train, discipline, or to pull. So, the word wanton literally translates to “lacking in discipline” but could also translate to “badly trained.” 

The word endangerment has several pieces. The first is the Latin prefix en, meaning “into” or “in.” 

Then, we have the word danger. This comes from the Middle English daunger, which means “arrogance” or “the power of a master.” The word evolved in the 14th century to mean the definition we know today. 

What Are Some Examples of Wanton Endangerment in a Sentence?

Here are some example sentences that use the phrase wanton endangerment.

Officer Hankison was found not guilty of wanton endangerment. 

Jonathan Mattingly and Myles Cosgrove weren’t charged with anything in the Breonna Taylor case, and Brett Hankison was only charged with wanton endangerment!

The crime of wanton endangerment only exists in Kentucky, but in states like New York, it’s called reckless endangerment. 

I get that her actions were reckless, but to say that she was guilty of wanton endangerment seems excessive. 

My uncle has been in prison for the past four years on counts of wanton endangerment. 


Wanton endangerment is a criminal charge, and there are many details and nitty-gritty regarding this phrase’s definition. The regulations and even definitions of the phrase might vary from state to state or country to country. Now that you know more about wanton endangerment, you can better understand when you see it in the news.


508.060 Wanton endangerment in the first degree | Kentucky Legislature

Trial begins for a former officer charged in the raid that killed Breonna Taylor | NPR

WANTON | Meaning & Definition for UK English | Lexico