LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The only Louisville Metro Police officer to face criminal charges for his role in the shooting that left Breonna Taylor dead will soon stand trial in Jefferson County Circuit Court.
Brett Hankison faces three counts of wanton endangerment in the March 13, 2020, shooting — but not for endangering Taylor.
Instead, his charges stem from shots he fired into Taylor’s apartment through covered glass that penetrated into a next-door unit with three people inside.
He has pleaded not guilty and is free on bond.
Taylor, a 26-year-old Black woman and emergency room technician, was fatally shot by officers as they tried to serve a search warrant at her apartment around 12:40 am, looking for drugs and cash as part of a larger narcotics investigation.
Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, fired one round from his legally owned handgun after officers used a battering ram to force open the apartment’s front door. Walker’s bullet struck Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly in his thigh, severing his femoral artery.
In response, Mattingly fired six rounds, detective Myles Cosgrove fired 16 and Hankison fired 10. Six of those bullets struck Taylor, with Cosgrove firing the fatal shot, the FBI concluded.
None of Hankison’s rounds struck Taylor, and no one has been charged with Taylor’s death.
The shooting touched off protests in Louisville and in major cities across the nation.
The trial has been delayed due to COVID-19, but jury selection begins friday and the trial is expected to last into March. Here’s what you need to know.
Who is Brett Hankison?
Brett Hankison was a Louisville police officer for about 17 years before his June 2020 firing stemming from the Taylor shooting. His last role was as a detective in the Criminal Interdiction Division.
Hankison was one of three officers — alongside Mattingly and Cosgrove — to fire his weapon at Taylor’s apartment, accounting for 10 of the 32 rounds officers fired that night. He is the only officer facing criminal charges.
Hankison joined LMPD in 2003 after working for the Lexington, Kentucky, police department from 1999 through 2002. Upon his resignation in Lexington, Hankison’s supervisor wrote he would “not recommend him for reemployment” because of his “actions in violation of standing orders, refusal to accept supervision and general poor attitude toward the Division of Police and its command staff.”
While at Louisville Metro Police, Hankison received multiple commendations for professionalism, as well as several violations of department policy.
After Taylor’s case became national news, multiple women came forward on social media accusing Hankison of sexually assaulting them. Hankison was also twice investigated by LMPD’s Public Integrity Unit for accusations involving sexual misconduct; both cases found no wrongdoing.
Before his firing, Hankison was also an elected member of the Louisville Police Merit Board, chosen by his fellow officers.
Why was Brett Hankison charged but other officers weren’t?
Hankison faces three counts of first-degree wanton endangerment, a class D felony that carries a penalty of one to five years in prison. He has pleaded not guilty.
In announcing the charges against Hankison, Attorney General Daniel Cameron said his office found Mattingly and Cosgrove were justified in returning fire because Walker, Taylor’s boyfriend, shot first.
But while Mattingly and Cosgrove fired from the apartment’s front door, Hankison shot from the side of the apartment, through a covered sliding glass door and window, meaning he couldn’t see his target.
In the announcement, Cameron said the “grand jury agreed“That Mattingly and Cosgrove were legally justified for shooting.
However, after an anonymous grand juror came forward Seeking the right to speak publicly about the proceedings, Cameron’s office conceded “the only charge recommended (to the grand jury) was wanton endangerment” against Hankison for the bullets that went into the occupied apartment next to Taylor.
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Who will testify at Brett Hankison’s trial?
According to documents filed in court, Hankison will testify on his own behalf.
The defense also plans to call all six other officers at the shooting scene — Mattingly, Cosgrove, Tony James, Mike Nobles, Mike Campbell and Shawn Hoover — as well as other LMPD officers, including SWAT Sgt. Brandon Hogan, Hankison’s supervisor Sgt. Luke Phan and firearms trainer Lt. Steve Lacefield.
Hogan was among the SWAT officers who responded in the aftermath of the shooting at Taylor’s apartment. In interviews with investigators, SWAT officers were critical of what unfolded at Taylor’s home, calling it an “egregious act.”
Hogan said officers are taught to be “accountable for every round” fired.
“If you do not have good target ID, identification and ID that they are a threat, you cannot shoot,” he said. “Whatever position you may be in, you still cannot fire into an unknown.”
What do we know about the attorneys in the case?
The Attorney General’s office is acting as the special prosecutor after Jefferson County Commonwealth’s Attorney Tom Wine recused himself because he was, at the time, prosecuting Taylor’s boyfriend for shooting Mattingly.
Barbara Maines Whaley and Jim Lesousky were the special prosecutors tasked with investigating the Taylor case, and both have made appearances at Hankison’s hearings since the indictment.
They are both career prosecutors and are among the most experienced in Kentucky.
Hankison is represented by Stew Mathews, a Cincinnati attorney who is no stranger to controversial cases.
Mathews also represented University of Cincinnati police officer Ray Tensing through two murder trials in the shooting of Sam DuBose in 2015. Both trials of Tensing ended in hung juries, and the Hamilton County Prosecutor’s Office declined to try Tensing at third time.
How often are police officers convicted for on-duty shootings or deaths?
Though there have been recent, high-profile examples of officers being convicted for on-duty crimes — Derek Chavin for the murder of George Floyd and Kimberly Potter for the manslaughter of Daunte Wright — these cases are not the norm.
Between 2005 and June 2021, 142 non-federal law enforcement officers were arrested for murder or manslaughter, according to Philip Stinson, a Bowling Green State University criminology professor who tracks police misconduct.
Seven of those officers were convicted of murder, 37 more were convicted of lesser offenses and 53 were acquitted. Forty-five criminal cases remained ongoing as of June 2021.
Are more charges possible in the Breonna Taylor shooting?
Cameron made it clear in September 2020 he would not be pursuing further criminal charges in connection with the events at Taylor’s apartment that night, including the search warrant that contained an untruthful statement.
However, the FBI’s investigation into Taylor’s death remains open. Whether that probe results in any criminal charges remains to be seen.
Reach Tessa Duvall on Twitter: @TessaDuvall.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism