Breonna Taylor: Louisville detective acquitted in botched raid

Acquittal clears law enforcement of all criminal activity from 2020 incident that rocked the US

Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old emergency medical technician who was unarmed at the time of her death, was killed during a botched raid in 2020. AP

A Kentucky jury on Thursday acquitted a white former detective of endangering the neighbours of Breonna Taylor during a botched night-time raid that killed the black woman in her home, clearing law enforcement of all criminal liability in a case that rocked the US in 2020.

Detective Brett Hankison, whose stray bullets hit a neighbouring apartment in the city of Louisville during the execution of a so-called no-knock search warrant, was the only officer charged in the case.

The Jefferson County Circuit Court jury began deliberations on Thursday after the one-week wanton endangerment trial.

The death of Taylor, a 26-year-old emergency medical technician who was unarmed at the time of her death, was one in a trio of cases that fuelled a summer of protests against racial injustice and police violence two years ago, when the country was reeling from the still-new coronavirus pandemic.

Former Louisville Police officer Brett Hankison talks about seeing a subject in a firing stance in the apartment as he is cross-examined. AP

Other cases recently saw convictions in the killings of two black men from 2020: George Floyd in Minneapolis and Ahmaud Arbery in Brunswick, Georgia.

Those convictions had offered a measure of justice after black activists and victims have said their protests against racial violence were largely ignored before the advent of mobile phone video.

Taylor's death on March 13, 2020, at first drew little national attention but was thrust into prominence after a Minneapolis police officer killed Floyd by pinning a knee to his neck on May 25, 2020. A passer-by's video of Floyd's death was seen around the world.

Around that time, video surfaced showing the February 2020 shooting death of Arbery, who was chased by three white men in Brunswick, Georgia, and shot dead.

In Taylor's death, a grand jury cleared the two white officers who shot her but charged Mr Hankison for endangering neighbours in the adjacent apartment. A grand juror on the case later said Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron only presented the wanton endangerment charges against Mr Hankison to the grand jury.

Taylor's family in 2020 won a $12 million wrongful death settlement from the city of Louisville.

Mr Hankison took the witness box in his own defence on Wednesday, choking up several times and wiping a tear.

After police broke in, Taylor's boyfriend fired one shot from a handgun that wounded an officer in the leg. That officer and another returned fire, shooting 22 times.

Mr Hankison gave evidence that he mistakenly believed his fellow officers were coming under heavy fire from a rifle, so he returned fire from outside the apartment, shooting 10 times through a sliding glass door.

“It appeared to me they were being executed with this rifle,” Mr Hankison said. No rifle was found.

Kentucky Assistant Attorney General Barbara Whaley had told the jury the case was not about Taylor but whether Mr Hankison exhibited “extreme indifference to human life” by endangering Taylor's neighbours.

Some of his shots pierced a wall in the neighbouring apartment occupied by a child, a pregnant woman and a man who was hit by falling bits of drywall.

Mr Hankison's lawyer, Stew Mathews, said the case came down to why the officer opened fire.

Police wanted to search the home in connection with a drug investigation in which Taylor's ex-boyfriend was a suspect.

Updated: March 03, 2022, 8:51 PM
EDITOR'S PICKS