LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — Former Louisville police detective Brett Hankison, the only officer charged in the controversial raid that killed Breonna Taylor, was found not guilty on three counts of wanton endangerment by a Jefferson County jury Thursday.
The jury of eight men and four women deliberated for about three hours after hearing five days of testimony. A judge told Hankison he was free to leave.
“Justice was done, the verdict was proper and we’re thrilled,” said attorney Stew Mathews, who represented Hankison. “He was doing his job as a police officer. … The jury felt like you go out and perform your duty and your brother officer gets shot, you have a right to defend yourself. Simple as that.”
Asked if Hankison would speak with the media, Mathews said, “I doubt it.”
Mathews also said he and Hankison have not talked about whether he still wants to be a police officer.
Hankison was visibly shaking and emotional as the verdict was read.
Assistant Attorney General Barbara Whaley, the lead prosecutor, said “we respect the jury’s verdict” but did not comment further.
Taylor’s family did not comment as they left the courthouse. Attorney Sam Aguiar, who represented Taylor’s family, said he was surprised and disappointed with the verdict.
The charges stem from a botched March 13, 2020, raid of Taylor’s home in the middle of the night, in which police officers busted down her door to serve a search warrant related to a drug dealer who lived ten miles away.
When police burst in, Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, fired a shot that hit Sgt. John Mattingly in the leg. Walker has said he believed the couple were being robbed.
Multiple Louisville Metro Police officers returned fire, killing Taylor, 26. No drugs were found in her home.
After the verdict, Mattingly, who has since retired, tweeted “Not Guilty. Thank you Jesus!”
While several officers were fired or disciplined for the raid, Hankison was the only one indicted by a grand jury after Attorney General Daniel Cameron and his prosecutors presented the case in September 2020. Cameron declined to press charges against Mattingly and the officer who fired the fatal shot, Myles Cosgrove, saying they were “justified” in returning a shot fired by Walker.
Mayor Greg Fischer issued a statement after the verdict saying he appreciated the work the jury did but “today’s decision adds to the frustration and anger of many over the inability to find more accountability for the tragic events of March 13, 2020.
“While the conduct considered in this case was not specific to Breonna Taylor’s death, the fact remains that she should not have died that night, and I know that for many, justice has still not been achieved,” he said.
In addition, Fischer said the city is “focused on ensuring this never happens again, with a singular determination to build greater trust between LMPD and the larger community they are sworn to protect and serve.”
Both the prosecution and defense repeatedly reminded jurors that the case is not about the controversial death of Taylor or civil right violations by police, which set off protests for months in Louisville and around the country.
The trial was about Hankison firing 10 times from outside Taylor’s apartment through a sliding glass door and Taylor’s bedroom window, with three bullets flying into an adjacent apartment where Cody Etherton, Chelsey Napper and her 5-year-old child lived.
During his testimony Wednesday, Hankison repeatedly choked up while describing the events of the night Taylor was killed but stood firm that he did nothing wrong.
“Absolutely not,” he told the jury, saying he “clearly identified an active threat” and was “protecting” fellow officers.
Upon learning he shot into another apartment, Hankinson testified he “felt horrible.” And after watching the couple testify during this trial, Hankison said “he felt sincere empathy for them.”
“… That was something, if my daughter was shot at, or if bullets came into our house, that would be very concerning and I apologize to her for that.”
Hankison described the entire incident as a tragedy and said Taylor “didn’t need to die that night.”
Whaley told jurors that Hankison’s “wanton conduct could have multiplied one tragic death — Breonna Taylor — by three, easily.”
The prosecution put on more than two dozen witnesses over five days, including Etherton and Napper as well as several police officers involved in the raid.
Mathews blamed the shooting on Walker, who fired his 9mm one time, hitting Mattingly in the leg, saying later he believed the couple was being robbed.
Hankison testified he wasn’t part of the investigation leading up to the raid and didn’t even know the adjacent apartment was there. All Hankison knew, Mathews said, was that fellow officers were under fire, he believed from an assault rifle, and that one officer had been shot.
“A reasonable person would do exactly what Brett Hankison did,” Mathews said in his closing arguments, which lasted less than 30 minutes.
Whaley scoffed at this, telling jurors there it wasn’t possible for any officer could go to Taylor’s apartment and not notice the adjoining one.
“There is no way that he didn’t know there was another apartment,” she said.
She also bristled at another argument put forth by Mathews, that Hankison believed officers were under fire from an assault rifle.
There were no assault rifle or bullets found and no other officers mentioned one, she said.
In addition, she said, the only people with long rifles at the scene that night were the officers told to bring them by Hankison after the shooting had ended. That action also put Etherton at risk as officers pointed the rifles at him, Whaley told the jury.
Attorney General Cameron found that Walker fired a single shot from a 9mm pistol.
Cameron said in a statement after the verdict that “we appreciate the hard work of our prosecutors and respect the decision of the jury.”
Hankison testified Wednesday that as police entered the home, he saw a “large muzzle flash” — which he believed at the time came from an assault rifle — as well as a figure in a shooting position. Sgt. Mattingly, a friend of Hankison’s who is now retired, immediately went down, yelling that he had been shot.
But Whaley disputed his account, saying he never entered the apartment and “if he had been there, he would have shot then, with an active threat.”
Hankison testified he retreated from the doorway of the apartment once the shooting started to get out of the “fatal funnel” and into a safe place to return fire.
No drugs were found in the home. The city of Louisville paid $12 million to Taylor’s family and implement numerous reforms in the police department to settle a wrongful death lawsuit. No one was charged in her death.
During his testimony, Hankison said he was “shook” upon learning that Taylor had been killed.
Hankison said officers were told that Taylor was alone in the apartment.
“There was only supposed to be one person in that apartment and now there was allegedly a girl dead inside and that’s not why we were there,” he told jurors, repeatedly choking back tears. “We were there to get documents and/or items related to a boyfriend that was drug trafficking.”
Louisville police sought out a search warrant for Taylor’s home as part of a broader narcotics investigation that focused on other drug suspects, including Jamarcus Glover, who had previously dated Taylor.
Glover received probation and left the state as part of a guilty plea in October to drug charges.
Police believed Glover was using her apartment to receive packages, according to an affidavit for a search warrant that also claimed that Taylor’s 2016 Chevrolet Impala was observed several times outside a “drug house” on Elliott Avenue in the Russell neighborhood.
Several police reforms were initiated in response to Taylor’s death, including banning no-knock warrants, creating a Civilian Review and changing search warrant and currency seizure policies.
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