After a week of testimony, closing arguments are set for Thursday in the trial of former Louisville Metro Police Detective Brett Hankison for his role in the fatal March 2020 raid on Breonna Taylor’s apartment.
Hankison, 45, is charged with three counts of wanton endangerment as prosecutors say he fired 10 shots indiscriminately into Taylor’s home during the raid, endangering a man , a pregnant woman and her 5-year-old son next door. Hankison pleaded not guilty and his lawyers argued that he acted to defend his fellow officers in a chaotic situation.
The charges stem from the failed raid in which police shot and killed Taylor, a 26-year-old black emergency medical technician, in her own home in the middle of the night.
Combined with the murders of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery, Taylor’s death has sparked widespread protests about how the justice system treats black citizens as well as particular criticism about the dangers of no-knock warrants.
In court, prosecutors called 26 witnesses as they argued Hankison fired blindly into the apartment in a direction perpendicular to the source of the shot. His shots traveled through Taylor’s apartment and into the neighboring apartment, prosecutors said.
“An inch or two more and I would have been shot,” testified neighbor Cody Etherton.
On Wednesday, Hankison spoke out and defended his decision to open fire, at times choking on tears. He testified that he fired what he believed to be a muzzle flash armed with a rifle in an attempt to protect his fellow officers.
“It looked to me like they were being executed with that gun,” Hankison said. “I fired back through the sliding glass door, and that didn’t stop the threat.”
He did not realize at the time, he testified, that there was another apartment directly behind Taylor’s. No guns were found at the scene. In her opening statement, Kentucky Assistant Attorney General Barbara Whaley said only a Glock pistol was found inside the apartment.
Hankison is the only officer charged in connection with the incident, but the charges do not relate to Taylor’s death. Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron declined to press charges directly related to Taylor’s death, saying officers were justified in their use of force because Taylor’s boyfriend Kenneth Walker III had first shot an officer, thinking they were intruders.
Two other officers who were part of the botched raid, former Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly and former Detective Myles Cosgrove asserted their Fifth Amendment right not to testify. They have not been charged in the case, but may be the subject of an ongoing federal investigation.
How we got here
The incident began on March 12, 2020, when as part of a narcotics investigation, a Jefferson County Circuit Court judge approved five search warrants for locations linked to the ex-boyfriend of Taylor, Jamarcus Glover, including at Taylor’s home.
Early the next morning, Hankison, Mattingly, and Cosgrove were part of a team that executed a no-knock warrant at Taylor’s home. They broke down the front door, surprising Taylor and Walker.
Thinking they were intruders, Walker grabbed a gun he legally possessed and fired a shot as officers came through the door, hitting Mattingly in the leg.
This sparked a volley of returning fire from officers, including Hankison, who had moved outside the apartment. Taylor, who was standing in a hallway with Walker, was shot multiple times. Walker was not injured.
“Someone kicked in the door and shot my girlfriend,” Walker said in a 911 call.
Walker was initially charged with attempted murder of a police officer and first-degree assault, but prosecutors later decided to drop the charges.
Taylor’s death and the lack of charges against the officers involved led to months of protests in Louisville. Her story took on greater prominence later in the spring amid nationwide protests and chants of “Black Lives Matter” and “Say Her Name.”
None of the three officers who opened fire in the raid still work for the police department. Hankison was let go at the end of June 2020, Cosgrove was let go in January 2021 and Mattingly retired in April 2021.
In June 2020, the Louisville Metro Board unanimously passed an ordinance called “Breonna’s Law”, prohibiting no-hit search warrants. The city of Louisville also agreed to pay Taylor’s family $12 million as part of a settlement.
On the stand Wednesday, Hankison denied any wrongdoing but expressed remorse for the way the raid unfolded.
He said he felt “horrible” when he learned his bullets had passed through Taylor’s apartment and into the house next door. He described the incident as a “tragedy” that “didn’t have to happen”.
Finally, he testified that he felt empathy for the neighbor, then spoke to Taylor’s family.
“Mrs. Taylor’s family, she didn’t need to die that night -” Hankison said, before being cut off with an objection. The words caused some members of the public seated in the gallery to gasp and sob.
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CNN’s Theresa Waldrop contributed to this report.