Saturday, March 2

Jury deliberates | Was Hankison ‘doing his duty’ or putting lives at risk during Breonna Taylor raid?

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — Former Louisville police detective Brett Hankison “was doing his duty” the night of the Breonna Taylor raid, trying to save fellow officers after “this went terribly wrong” and Taylor’s boyfriend fired at police, Hankison’s attorney told a jury Thursday.

“His actions were not criminal, and he does not deserve to be sent to prison for what happened March 13, 2020,” attorney Stewart Matthews said in his closing arguments on the sixth day of Hankison’s wanton endangerment trial.

But Assistant Attorney General Barbara Whaley countered that Hankison’s “wanton conduct could have multiplied one tragic death – Breonna Taylor – by three, easily.”

Hankison’s “wild shooting,” blindly firing from outside Taylor’s apartment, put the lives of the family next door in danger, as three bullets flew into their apartment, Whaley told the jury.

“By grace, they are still alive,” Whaley said, showing a picture of Cody Etherton, Chelsey Napper and her small child. “He was aware of the risks of shooting blindly and he disregarded that risk.”

A little before noon, both sides finished their closing arguments and a jury of eight men and four women began deliberating whether to find Hankison guilty of three felony wanton endangerment charges, each carrying a sentence of one to five years in prison.

Both Mathews and Whaley reminded jurors that the case is not about the controversial death of Breonna Taylor or civic right violations by police, which set off protests for months and resulted in the termination or other discipline of several officers involved in the raid and its planning.

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In fact, Mathews told jurors that while the case is about the family next door, they have filed a civil suit and will likely be compensated for what happened to them.

Mathews blamed the shooting on Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, who fired his 9mm one time, hitting Mattingly in the leg. Walker has said he believed the couple was being robbed.

Hankison, Mathews said, didn’t even know the couple’s apartment was there, adjacent to Taylor’s. All Hankison knew, Mathews said, was that fellow officers were under fire, he believed from an assault rifle, and that one officer had been shot.

“A reasonable person would do exactly what Brett Hankison did,” he said in his closing arguments, which lasted less than 30 minutes.

Whaley scoffed at this, telling jurors there it wasn’t possible that any officer could go to Taylor’s apartment and not notice the adjoining one.

“There is no way that he didn’t know there was another apartment,” she said, her closing lasting more than an hour. 

She also bristled at another argument put forth by Mathews, that Hankison believed officers were under fire from an assault rifle. 

No assault rifle or bullets were found, and no other officers mentioned one, she said.

In addition, she said, the only people with long rifles at the scene that night were the officers told to bring them by Hankison after the shooting had ended. That action also put Etherton at risk as officers pointed the rifles at him, Whaley told the jury.

Attorney General Daniel Cameron found that Walker fired a single shot from a 9mm pistol.

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Hankison testified Wednesday that as police entered the home, he saw a “large muzzle flash” — which he believed at the time came from an assault rifle — as well as a figure in a shooting position. Sgt. John Mattingly, a friend of Hankison’s who is now retired, immediately went down, yelling that he had been shot.

But Whaley disputed his account, saying he never entered the apartment and “if he had been there, he would have shot then, with an active threat.”

Hankison testified he retreated from the doorway of the apartment once the shooting started to get out of the “fatal funnel” and into a safe place to return fire.

He fired ten shots through a sliding glass door and a window into Taylor’s bedroom.

Whaley said the drapes and curtains were closed and given it was night, Hankison would not have been able to see what he was shooting at, putting not only neighbors but other officers at risk. 

That some of the shots went into another apartment was “collateral damage,” Mathews said. “He did what he had to do.”

During his testimony Wednesday, Hankison repeatedly choked up while describing the events of the night Taylor was killed, but stood firm that he did nothing wrong.

“Absolutely not,” he told the jury, saying he “clearly identified an active threat” and was “protecting” fellow officers.

Taylor, a 26-year-old Black woman, was fatally shot by two other officers.

No drugs were found in the home. The city of Louisville paid $12 million to Taylor’s family and implemented numerous reforms in the police department to settle a wrongful death lawsuit. No one was charged in her death.

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During his testimony, Hankison twice said he was “shook” upon learning certain information after the shooting.

First, Hankison said officers were told that Taylor was in the apartment alone and upon learning that Walker had fired and she had been killed, Hankison said, “that kind of shook me. There was only supposed to be one person in that apartment and now there was allegedly a girl dead inside and that’s not why we were there.

“We were there to get documents and/or items related to a boyfriend that was drug trafficking.”

And he subsequently learned that among his 10 shots, some went into a neighboring apartment, nearly hitting one man while a woman and small child were nearby in bed. Hankison said he didn’t even know there was an apartment next to Taylor’s where he was firing.

“I felt horrible,” he said. After watching the couple, testify during this trial, Hankison said “he felt sincere empathy for them.”

“… That was something, if my daughter was shot at, or if bullets came into our house, that would be very concerning and I apologize to her for that.”

Hankison described the entire incident as a tragedy and said Taylor “didn’t need to die that night.”

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