Former US police detective Brett Hankison testified in his own defence on Wednesday about the botched police raid in Louisville, Kentucky, that left Breonna Taylor dead in March 2020.
Hankison said the gunfire began with a muzzle flash that illuminated a shadowy silhouette, and he thought it was someone firing an automatic rifle at his fellow officers.
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Hankison is on trial for firing bullets that went into an adjacent apartment, endangering a pregnant neighbour, her young child and her boyfriend.
None of the police officers involved in the killing of Taylor, a 26-year-old unarmed Black woman, who was sleeping in her bed during the raid, have been charged with her death.
Asked if he did anything wrong during the raid, Hankison replied: “Absolutely not”, even though he acknowledged firing into the window and patio door. As for Taylor, he said, “She didn’t need to die that night.”
Breonna Taylor’s mother, Tamika Palmer, then stormed out of the courtroom.
Hankison said that as a police battering ram broke open Taylor’s door, the blast of a gun lit up the apartment’s hallway and his fellow officer fell wounded in the doorway. He said he thought the muzzle flash matched that of a long rifle, but no rifle was found in the apartment.
“The percussion from that muzzle flash I could feel,” Hankison said, apparently struggling to maintain his composure as he described police sergeant Jonathan Mattingly going down from a bullet wound.
Taylor’s shooting by police serving a narcotics warrant at her home sparked months of Black Lives Matter protests in Louisville and across the United States, as demonstrators called for the officers to be charged in her death.
Prosecutors cast doubt on whether Hankison could see through the front door and why he retreated to fire into the side of Taylor’s apartment.
Hankison testified earlier in the day that he decided “to get out of that fatal funnel as quickly as possible and get to a location where I can return rounds”, so he ran around a corner where he could see more muzzle flashes through a sliding glass door and a bedroom window, despite their closed blinds and curtains.
“I knew Sergeant Mattingly was down and I knew they were trying to get to him and it appeared to me they were being executed with this rifle,” Hankison said. “I thought I could put rounds through that bedroom window and stop the threat.”
Investigators later determined only one round was fired by Taylor’s boyfriend, who said he thought an intruder was breaking in. The other 32 bullets fired in the raid came from police.
During an hour-long cross-examination, a prosecutor asked Hankison why, if he saw a threat, he did not fire when he was at Taylor’s front door.
“You knew you had to respond, but you didn’t respond,” said Barbara Maines Whaley, an assistant state attorney general.
“I didn’t respond because we were in that funnel,” Hankison replied.
“Weren’t you concerned if you fired through the sliding door you might hit your fellow officers?” Whaley asked. “Absolutely not,” Hankison replied.
“Did you feel guilty about leaving your fellow officers in the fatal funnel?” Whaley asked.
“No,” Hankison replied.
Hankison was one of only two witnesses called by his lawyer before they finished his defence on Wednesday. Closing arguments are scheduled for Thursday.
Hankison is charged with three counts of wanton endangerment, a felony that carries a sentence of one to five years.
The prosecution finished presenting its case on Tuesday with testimony from Chelsey Napper, who called 911 after Hankison’s gunfire ripped through her apartment, which shared a common wall with Taylor’s.
Hankison is charged with endangering Napper, her five-year-old son and her boyfriend, Cody Etherton, while his fellow officers shot at Taylor’s boyfriend during the raid next door.
Hankison was fired by police for shooting “blindly” during the raid on March 13, 2020. He fired 10 shots, none of which hit Taylor or her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker.
Walker told investigators that he had fired a single shot with a handgun because he thought intruders were breaking in. Walker’s bullet hit Mattingly in the leg, and Mattingly and another officer, Myles Cosgrove, opened fire in response, killing Taylor.