A Kentucky jury has cleared a former police officer who fired shots during the 2020 drug raid that ended in Breonna Taylor’s death.
The jury on Thursday found Brett Hankison not guilty of three counts of wanton endangerment for firing shots that ripped into a neighboring apartment. Hankison was the only police officer charged in the raid that ended with Taylor’s death.
Hankison, 45, had been charged with three counts of wanton endangerment, punishable by one to five years in prison, for firing shots during the raid that went through a sliding-glass side door and a window of Taylor’s apartment and into a unit next door where a couple and small child lived.
Taylor, a 26-year-old emergency medical technician who had been settling down for bed when officers broke through her door, was shot multiple times and died at the scene.
Kentucky attorney general David Cameron’s prosecutors asked a grand jury to indict Hankison on charges of endangering Taylor’s neighbors, but declined to seek charges against any officers involved in Taylor’s death. Protesters who had walked the streets for months were outraged.
Taylor’s name, along with George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery – Black men who died in encounters with police and white pursuers – became rallying cries during racial justice protests seen around the world in 2020.
Hankison did not appear outside the courtroom after the verdict was read. But his attorney Stewart Mathews said he and his client were “thrilled.”
Assistant Kentucky attorney general Barbara Maines Whaley said she respected the jury’s verdict but had no further comment. Taylor’s mother, Tamika Palmer, and a group of friends and family left without commenting after the verdict.
Hankison testified during the trial that he saw a muzzle flash from Taylor’s darkened hallway after police burst through the door and thought officers were under heavy fire, so he quickly wheeled around a corner and sprayed 10 bullets, hoping to end the threat.
But in closing arguments Thursday, prosecutors cast doubt on what Hankison said he saw, challenging whether he could have looked through Taylor’s front door when police broke it open with a battering ram.
“He was never in the doorway,” Whaley told the jury. Referring to Taylor she added: “His de ella wantedon conduct de ella could have multiplied her death de ella by three, easily.”
Whaley also reminded the jury that none of the other officers who testified recalled Hankison being in the doorway before the gunfire began. All the shells from his weapon were found in the parking lot, among a row of cars.
She said while other officers were in the line of fire of a single shot fired by Taylor’s boyfriend, Hankison was “over here, shooting wildly through sliding-glass doors covered with vertical blinds and drapes”.
Hankison’s attorneys never contested the ballistics evidence that showed he fired 10 times into the side of the building. The former narcotics detective admitted to firing through Taylor’s patio doors and bedroom window, but said he did so to save his fellow officers. Asked if he did anything wrong that night, he said “absolutely not”.
Hankison was fired by Louisville police for shooting blindly during the raid.
The former narcotics detective testified that he believed the muzzle flash he saw at the front door was from a long rifle or AR-15, and he said he thought his fellow officers were “being executed”.
Defense attorney Stewart Mathews told the jury in his closing argument Thursday that Hankison thought he was doing the right thing and is not a criminal who belongs in prison.
“He did what he thought he had to do in that instant. This all happened in such a short span,” Mathews said.
A 20-year veteran K-9 officer assigned to handle a drug-sniffing dog during the raid, Hankison said he was positioned behind an officer with a battering ram, and could see the shadowy silhouette of a person “in a shooting stance” with what looked like an AR-15 rifle as Taylor’s door swung open.
No long gun was found – only the handgun of Taylor’s boyfriend Kenneth Walker, who told Louisville Police investigators he thought intruders were breaking in.
The killing of Taylor loomed over the trial, though prosecutors insisted in opening statements that the case wasn’t about her death or the police decisions that led to the 13 March 2020 raid. Jurors were shown a single image of her body, barely discernible at the end of the hallway.
The jury of 10 men and five women was selected after several days of questioning from a pool expanded to about 250 people. Before deliberations, the jury was reduced to eight men and four women after three alternates were dismissed. The judge declined to release details about their race or ethnicity.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism