Officer Acquitted of Endangering Breonna Taylor's Neighbors During Raid

Officer Acquitted of Endangering Breonna Taylor’s Neighbors During Raid

Brett Hankison, the only officer charged as a result of the police raid, fired 10 bullets into Ms. Taylor’s apartment. Three pierced a wall and flew into another apartment where a family slept. 

The only officer to be charged for his actions during the fatal police raid on Breonna Taylor’s apartment was found not guilty on Thursday of endangering three of Ms. Taylor’s neighbors by firing bullets into their home during the botched operation.

Jurors acquitted the former officer, Brett Hankison, whose bullets did not strike anyone, on three counts of wanton endangerment after deliberating for about three hours on Thursday.

Mr. Hankison, a longtime detective for the police department in Louisville, Ky., estimated that he had taken part in nearly 1,000 raids in his police career but had never fired his gun while on duty until the March 2020 raid, during which another officer fatally shot Ms. Taylor.

The police had a warrant to raid the apartment in search of evidence that her former boyfriend had been selling drugs, but the warrant was based on shoddy surveillance and officers believed Ms. Taylor would be alone at home. Instead, Ms. Taylor was asleep in bed with her current boyfriend, Kenneth Walker.

Officers banged on the door and told investigators that they identified themselves as police officers, though Mr. Walker said he and Ms. Taylor did not hear them say anything. When the officers burst into the apartment, Mr. Walker later said, he believed that they were intruders. He fired a shot from his handgun toward the doorway, striking an officer in the thigh.

The Killing of Breonna Taylor

The death of Breonna Taylor, a Black woman, in March 2020 fueled national protests over police brutality.

  • What Happened: Ms. Taylor was shot by police in Louisville, Ky., during a botched drug raid. Here is what to know about her death.
  • Victim’s Profile: The 26-year-old woman hoped to become a nurse. An ex-boyfriend’s run-ins with the law entangled her as she tried to move on.
  • Visual Investigation: A 3-D model of the scene and an analysis of the events show how shoddy police work led to the fatal outcome.
  • Her Legacy: After Ms. Taylor’s killing, protests demanding justice rocked Louisville for months. Black engagement in Kentucky politics soared.
  • The Aftermath: A police officer was acquitted of wanton endangerment of her neighbors. No one was charged for causing Ms. Taylor’s death.

Two police officers immediately returned fire, spraying the apartment with bullets, striking Ms. Taylor, a 26-year-old Black woman who worked as an emergency room technician. Her death was among several police killings that set off a wave of protests in 2020.

As the first two officers fired, Mr. Hankison ran away from the doorway to the side of the building and fired 10 shots into Ms. Taylor’s apartment through a window and sliding-glass door. Three of the bullets traveled through Ms. Taylor’s apartment and into a neighboring unit where a pregnant woman, her boyfriend and her 5-year-old son had been sleeping.

The woman, Chelsey Napper, testified at trial that it felt as if bullets were “flying everywhere” as she frantically went to check on her son and cowered with him on the floor. The bullets struck Ms. Napper’s kitchen table, a wall and a glass patio door.

Mr. Hankison testified that when he heard the 22 bullets fired by his two fellow officers, he mistakenly thought that they were engaged in a gunfight with someone inside the apartment; he also wrongly interpreted the sound of the handgun fired by Mr. Walker as coming from a much more dangerous, semiautomatic rifle. He said he believed that someone was firing at the officers as they tried to help the officer who had been shot in the leg.

“I knew they were trying to get to him, and it appeared to me that they were being executed with this rifle,” Mr. Hankison said.

The police chief of the Louisville Metro Police Department fired Mr. Hankison three months after the raid, saying he had violated department policy by shooting “blindly” into the apartment through the window and door, which were covered by blinds. Mr. Hankison testified that he had fired in response to seeing muzzle flashes illuminate the window, not knowing that they were coming from the officers’ weapons.

The Kentucky attorney general’s office, which led the prosecution of Mr. Hankison, did not pursue charges against either of the officers whose bullets struck Ms. Taylor, Detective Myles Cosgrove and Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly. Mr. Cosgrove, who the F.B.I. said fired the fatal shot, was eventually fired from the department, as was a detective who prepared the search warrant. Mr. Mattingly, the officer whom Mr. Walker shot, retired last year.

In closing arguments on Thursday, Mr. Hankison’s lawyer, Stew Mathews, sought to shift blame for what happened partly to Mr. Walker, who he said was the “common denominator” of the case because he had fired at the officers as they entered the apartment.

In response, Mr. Hankison “did what he thought he had to do in that instant,” the lawyer said. Mr. Mathews reiterated that Mr. Hankison did not know there was another apartment behind Ms. Taylor’s that his bullets might reach. He said jurors could not find Mr. Hankison guilty if he did not know about that risk.

The crime of “wanton endangerment,” a felony, required jurors to find that Mr. Hankison “wantonly” did something to create a substantial danger of death or serious injury to the neighbors and did so with “extreme indifference to the value of human life.”

In prosecutors’ closing argument, Barbara Whaley, an assistant attorney general, focused on the fear that Ms. Napper felt with her family as they hid in their apartment. She said it would have been “obvious” to Mr. Hankison that there was an apartment behind Ms. Taylor’s because its front door was right next to hers.

And, referring to Ms. Taylor, Ms. Whaley said that Mr. Hankison’s “wanton conduct could have multiplied her death by three.”

“By grace, they’re still alive,” she said.

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