Former Louisville police officer Brett Hankison is charged with violating the civil rights of Taylor and her neighbors during the fatal raid in 2020.
The resulting police shooting of Taylor, a Black woman, followed less than three months later by the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd, a Black man, helped spark social justice demonstrations across the country.
Authorities in Louisville say Hankison fired five gunshots through a bedroom window and another five shots through a sliding-glass door. Investigators determined that the fatal shot that killed Taylor was probably fired by another detective, Myles Cosgrove.
Cosgrove and John Mattingly, another former officer who also fired shots that struck Taylor, have not been charged in the case. Cosgrove was fired from the police department for his role in the raid; Mattingly retired in 2021.
Hankison was charged with federal civil rights violations because he used excessive force without legal cause, prosecutors said, putting Taylor, an emergency room technician, her boyfriend and several neighbors in jeopardy. Hankison was the only officer who faced state charges in connection with the raid, and he was acquitted by a jury on all three counts of felony wanton endangerment last year.
The Justice Department, after a two-year civil investigation into the Louisville police department, announced in March that officers had engaged in systemic civil rights abuses and excessive-force misconduct in the years leading to Taylor’s death.
Civil rights advocates, however, have expressed frustration that none of the officers directly involved in the apartment raid has been convicted of a crime.
Prosecutors have described officers from the Louisville police department’s Place-Based Investigations unit as pursuing a reckless narcotics trafficking case in the city’s West End, allegedly conspiring to falsify information on a search warrant affidavit even though they knew it could place occupants of Taylor’s apartment in danger.
Former detective Kelly Goodlett pleaded guilty in August 2022 to federal charges of falsifying a search warrant and trying to cover up the circumstances of what happened. Two other former officers, Kyle Meany and Joshua Jaynes, face federal charges similar to those that existed against Goodlett.
In May, a judge granted attorneys for Meany and Jaynes more time to go through thousands of pages of potential government evidence.
When the Justice Department indicted Hankison and the three others last year, lawyers for Taylor’s family called the charges “a huge step toward justice.” Her mother, Tamika Palmer, said at the time that the indictments were “overdue but it still hurts.”
Four officers involved in Breonna Taylor’s killing face federal charges
U.S. District Judge Rebecca Grady Jennings will preside over the trial, which is set to begin with jury selection Monday at the Gene Snyder Federal Courthouse in Louisville. Court officials said the trial could last three to four weeks.
Taylor, 26, was killed in the early morning raid when plainclothes police officers burst into her apartment to carry out a search warrant in a drug probe. While the officers knocked, there is disagreement about whether they identified themselves as police.
Kenneth Walker, Taylor’s boyfriend, fired a shot with his legally owned gun, striking Mattingly in the leg. Walker said he did not realize the people who had entered the apartment were law enforcement officers. Cosgrove and Mattingly both fired back, striking Taylor; none of the shots fired by Hankison hit anyone.
Hankison’s attorney, Stewart Mathews, told jurors in the state case that his client had fired into the apartment because he believed his “brother officers” were in danger and was seeking to protect them. He said he hopes the federal jury will agree that Hankison was not acting recklessly.
“The federal case is entirely separate from the state case. It’s like starting from scratch,” Mathews said in an interview last week. “Hopefully, it will be the same outcome.”
Prosecutors have charged Hankison with willfully using unconstitutional force for firing shots through Taylor’s patio door, covered with blinds and a blackout curtain. He is also accused of depriving several residents of a nearby apartment of their rights after bullets punctured the walls of their unit.
If convicted, Hankison faces a maximum sentence of life in prison since the violation he is charged with resulted “in death or involves an attempt to kill,” according to the Justice Department. The obstruction counts carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, and the conspiracy counts and false-statement charge carry a maximum sentence of five years in prison.
Legal experts said the case may be difficult for federal prosecutors to win because juries have traditionally sided with officers who are accused of using excessive force after they have experienced shots being fired at them.
“If someone opens fire on an officer, that has historically justified any sort of police response whatsoever, no matter what it is,” said Daniel J. Canon, a civil rights law professor at the University of Louisville.
Canon said the Justice Department appropriately issued charges, but that “it is going to be hard to convince a jury to convict.”
Read the full article here