Ex-cop's trial for Taylor raid offers new chance for justice
This undated photo provided by Taylor family attorney Sam Aguiar shows Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Ky. (Photo provided by Taylor family attorney Sam Aguiar via AP)
Dylan Lovan, The Associated Press
Published Friday, January 28, 2022 8:16AM EST
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - When hundreds of potential jurors gather at a Louisville courthouse on Friday, they'll find out for the first time that they could be chosen to preside over the only criminal trial to arise from the botched police raid that left Breonna Taylor dead.
The former Louisville officer facing trial, Brett Hankison, was not charged in Taylor's shooting death. Instead, he is standing trial on three lower-level felony charges for allegedly firing his service weapon wildly into Taylor's neighbor's apartments during the March 13, 2020, raid.
Whatever the verdict, the trial could leave a bad taste in the mouth of protesters who took to the streets of Louisville for months to say Taylor's name as part of racial injustice demonstrations that exploded around the country that year. “Arrest the cops who killed Breonna Taylor,” was a common refrain.
The upcoming trial may be the only criminal case that arises from the deadly raid on Taylor's home.
“There are definitely people who want to see some form of justice and will take any piece of that,” said Shameka Parrish-Wright, a local organizer in Louisville who was arrested at one of the Taylor protests. 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, who is running for Louisville mayor, said many feel it was a tragedy that no officer was charged for Taylor's death.
There have been murder convictions in two other racially charged cases that also fueled the 2020 protests, including the verdicts in November that sent three white men to prison for the killing of a Black man, Ahmaud Arbery, in Georgia, and the verdict last spring against a white former Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, who got 22 years in prison for killing George Floyd.
Despite the lack of charges over Taylor's death, her death has led to major changes. 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 regime change after the raid, and there is an ongoing, broad federal investigation looking into possible racial biases within the department. The city also paid $12 million to settle Taylor's mother's wrongful death lawsuit.
But the two former officers who fired shots that struck Taylor were not charged. Myles Cosgrove, who state investigators said likely fired the fatal shot, was fired last January, 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.
Cosgrove, Mattingly and other officers who took part in the raid may testify in this trial, according to a motion filed by Hankison's defense.
But 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. Brown has since used her skills to start a nonprofit that organizes supervised safe play for children at city parks in low-income areas.
“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.”
She said she wouldn't be surprised if Taylor's name is barely mentioned at the trial.
The Louisville officers were serving a no-knock warrant at Taylor's home as part of a series of raids that night targeting a drug dealer and former boyfriend of Taylor's. But he wasn't 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.
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 neighbor's apartment.
Louisville's former interim police chief said Hankison's actions that night were “a shock to the conscience.”
“Your actions displayed an extreme indifference to the value of human life,” Hankison's termination letter said. One of Hankison's bullets allegedly whizzed by the head of a neighbor in the hallway of the neighbor's apartment, according to a lawsuit.
If convicted, Hankison faces one to five years in prison for each of the wanton endangerment counts. Those three charges were the only criminal indictments issued by a special grand jury convened by the state attorney general that finished its work in September 2020. The decision was controversial, and some members of the grand jury later complained that they were kept from considering harsher charges for the other officers.
But Attorney General Daniel Cameron, whose office took over after the local prosecutor recused himself, concluded that the use of force from Cosgrove and Mattingly was justified.
Jury selection for Hankison's trial is expected to take weeks. His attorney, Stewart Mathews, asked Jefferson Circuit Judge Ann Bailey Smith to move the trial out of Louisville because he felt the publicity surrounding the case would make it hard to seat an impartial jury. Smith denied the request.
“Given the backstory of this indictment and all then that occurred in Louisville and Jefferson County in the aftermath, I would wager there are very few citizens of Jefferson County ... who have not heard about the case, have not discussed it,” Mathews said during a hearing this week.
Instead, the judge and lawyers will embark on the painstaking process of individually questioning up to 250 jurors over several weeks in February to whittle down the candidates. On Friday, the jurors will arrive and fill out a questionnaire. Smith said she would ask them to not read or discuss any news about the Taylor case.