No justice? Ex-cop to go on trial for Breonna Taylor raid

Former Louisville police officer Brett Hankison faces felony charges for firing wildly on night Breonna Taylor was killed.

photo provided by the Louisville Metro Police Department shows Officer Brett Hankison.
Lawyers for former Louisville Metro Police Officer Brett Hankison want to ban news outlets from part of the jury selection process [File: Louisville Metro Police Department photo via AP]

Jury selection was set to begin on Friday in the criminal trial of a former Louisville police officer involved in the botched police raid that left Breonna Taylor dead.

Former officer Brett Hankison is charged with three felony counts for allegedly firing his police service weapon wildly into Taylor’s neighbour’s apartment during the March 13, 2020 incident.

Taylor, a 26-year-old Black woman, was shot five times by Louisville police. She had been sleeping and bled to death in the hallway of her apartment after police entered her home in a mistaken drug raid. Hankison is the only officer to face charges in the case, although he did not fire the rounds that killed Taylor and he is not charged in her death.

Two hundred fifty potential jurors are scheduled to gather at a Louisville courthouse on Friday to fill out questionnaires before being selected to hear evidence in Hankison’s criminal trial. The jury selection process is expected to take weeks.

Taylor’s killing by police sparked street protests in Louisville and helped propel nationwide Black Lives Matter protests that rocked the United States in 2020. Hankison’s trial – a rare criminal proceeding against a police officer – will draw national attention from activists seeking police reforms.

There have been murder convictions in only three other racially charged cases that fuelled the 2020 protests. In November, three white men were sent to prison for the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, a Black jogger in Georgia. Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was sentenced to 22 years in prison for killing George Floyd. Kimberly Potter was found guilty of manslaughter in the shooting of Daunte Wright.

But Hankison’s upcoming trial may be the only criminal case that arises from the deadly raid on Taylor’s home.

The Louisville officers were serving a no-knock warrant as part of a series of raids targeting a suspected drug dealer and former boyfriend of Taylor’s. But he was not with Taylor that night, and police found no drugs or cash in her two-bedroom apartment. The warrant police used to enter her home was later found to be flawed.

Tamika Palmer, center, the mother of Breonna Taylor, leads a march through the streets of downtown Louisville on the one year anniversary of her death.
Tamika Palmer, centre, the mother of Breonna Taylor, led a march through the streets of downtown Louisville on the anniversary of her daughter’s death in Louisville, Kentucky [File: Timothy D. Easley/AP Photo]

During the raid, Hankison went to the rear of the apartment and fired 10 shots through Taylor’s patio door, according to an FBI ballistics report. Three of the shots went through a wall that connected to a neighbour’s apartment and one allegedly whizzed by the neighbour’s head.

Whatever the verdict in Hankison’s trial, it is likely to disappoint Black Lives Matter protesters who took to the streets of Louisville for months to say Taylor’s name. “Arrest the cops who killed Breonna Taylor,” was a common refrain.

Two former officers who fired shots that struck Taylor have not been charged. Myles Cosgrove, who state investigators said likely fired the fatal shot, was fired last January along with fellow detective Joshua Jaynes, months after Hankison was forced out. And Jonathan Mattingly, who was wounded in the leg by a bullet fired by Taylor’s boyfriend, retired last June.

“There are definitely people who want to see some form of justice and will take any piece of that,” Shameka Parrish-Wright, a local organiser in Louisville who was arrested at one of the Taylor protests, told The Associated Press.

Hankison’s trial “is a piece of that, but it’s not the original thing we set out for. We were asking for all those officers to be fired, arrested and prosecuted,” Parrish-Wright said.

Following the protests, Louisville banned the use of so-called “no-knock warrants” like the one used in the deadly raid, and the governor signed a law limiting the use of such warrants throughout the state.

The Louisville Metro Police Department underwent a regime change after the raid, and there is a continuing, broad federal investigation into possible racial biases within the department. The city paid $12 million to settle a wrongful death lawsuit brought by Taylor’s mother.

Hankison’s trial “is not justice for Breonna,” said Amber Brown, who joined hundreds of days of protests in downtown Louisville on behalf of Taylor.

“Nothing that’s going on in that courtroom has anything really to do with Breonna,” Brown said. “He’s not being charged with the bullets that went into her body.”

If convicted, Hankison faces one to five years in prison for each of the three wanton endangerment counts. The charges were the only criminal indictments issued by a special grand jury convened by Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron that finished its work in September 2020.

The outcome was controversial, and some members of the grand jury later complained that they were kept from considering harsher charges for the other officers.

Source: AP