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Brett Hankison Acquitted of Endangering Breonna Taylor’s Neighbors – The New York Times

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Brett Hankison, the only officer who was charged after the police raid, fired 10 bullets into Ms. Taylor’s apartment. Three pierced a wall and flew into another apartment where a family slept.

The only officer to be charged for his actions during the fatal police raid on Breonna Taylor’s apartment was found not guilty on Thursday of endangering three of Ms. Taylor’s neighbors by firing bullets into their home during the botched operation.
Jurors acquitted the former officer, Brett Hankison, whose bullets did not strike anyone, on all three counts of wanton endangerment after deliberating for about three hours.
Mr. Hankison, a longtime detective for the Police Department in Louisville, Ky., testified that he had taken part in as many as 1,000 raids during his police career but said that he had never fired his gun while on duty until the March 2020 raid, during which another officer fatally shot Ms. Taylor.
The killing of Ms. Taylor, a 26-year-old Black woman who worked as an emergency room technician, was among several police killings that set off a wave of protests across the country in 2020. The demonstrations were particularly sustained in Louisville, where activists protested for more than 100 days in an ultimately unsuccessful effort to persuade the Kentucky attorney general to file charges against the officers who shot Ms. Taylor.
The acquittal of Mr. Hankison comes after several high-profile convictions of police officers elsewhere in the country, including three former Minneapolis police officers who were convicted last month of violating George Floyd’s rights by failing to intervene as a fourth officer fatally knelt on his neck. In December, a jury convicted a police officer in nearby Brooklyn Center, Minn., who had been charged with manslaughter for killing a man during a traffic stop when she mistakenly fired her gun at him instead of her Taser.
Mr. Hankison’s lawyer, Stew Mathews, praised the jury’s verdict on Thursday.
“I think it’s a good day, finally, for law enforcement,” Mr. Mathews said, though he noted that federal investigators were still scrutinizing the raid and could bring separate charges if warranted. The F.B.I. office in Louisville has been investigating Ms. Taylor’s death since May 2020, and the Justice Department is conducting a wide-ranging investigation of the city’s Police Department.
After Thursday’s verdict, a spokesman for the bureau said it was continuing to work with the Justice Department “to determine what, if any, federal charges are warranted.”
Ben Crump, a lawyer for Ms. Taylor’s mother, said the verdict was the latest sign that the police could kill and avoid consequences.
“The lack of accountability showcased in every aspect of Breonna’s killing speaks to how much more work there is to be done before we can say our justice system is fair and our system of policing is protective of people of color,” Mr. Crump said in a statement.
He called for a ban of “no-knock” warrants that allow police to raid a home without announcing themselves; in Ms. Taylor’s case, a judge initially signed off on that kind of warrant but the orders were later changed to require that police knock and identify themselves.
The verdict was also condemned by Jeff Sexton, a lawyer for the neighbors whose apartment was hit by Mr. Hankison’s bullets, who called the jury’s decision a “knee-jerk, emotional verdict.” He said they could not have adequately considered the evidence in three hours.
Had there been more thorough consideration, he said, “There’s no way that that jury approves of a cop firing wildly, after midnight, into the side of an apartment building.”
The police had a warrant to raid Ms. Taylor’s apartment in search of evidence that her former boyfriend had been selling drugs, but the warrant was based on shoddy surveillance and officers believed that Ms. Taylor would be alone at home. Instead, she was asleep in bed with her current boyfriend, Kenneth Walker.
Officers banged on the door and later told investigators that they had identified themselves as police officers, though Mr. Walker said he and Ms. Taylor did not hear them say anything. When the officers rammed open the apartment door, Mr. Walker said, he believed that they were intruders. He fired a shot from his handgun toward the doorway, striking an officer in the thigh.
Two police officers immediately returned fire, spraying the apartment with bullets and striking Ms. Taylor.
As the first two officers fired, Mr. Hankison ran away from the doorway to the side of the building and fired 10 shots into Ms. Taylor’s apartment through a window and sliding-glass door. Three of the bullets traveled through Ms. Taylor’s apartment and into a neighboring unit where a pregnant woman, her boyfriend and her 5-year-old son had been sleeping.
The woman, Chelsey Napper, testified at trial that it felt as if bullets were “flying everywhere” as she frantically went to check on her son and cowered with him on the floor. The bullets struck Ms. Napper’s kitchen table, a wall and a glass patio door.
Mr. Hankison testified that when he heard the 22 bullets fired by his two fellow officers, he mistakenly thought they were engaged in a gunfight with someone inside the apartment; he also wrongly interpreted the sound of the handgun fired by Mr. Walker as coming from a much more dangerous semiautomatic rifle. He said he believed that someone was firing at the officers as they tried to help the officer who had been shot in the leg.
“I knew they were trying to get to him, and it appeared to me that they were being executed with this rifle,” Mr. Hankison said.
The police chief of the Louisville Metro Police Department fired Mr. Hankison three months after the raid, saying he had violated department policy by shooting “blindly” into the apartment through the window and door, which were covered by blinds. Mr. Hankison testified that he had fired after seeing muzzle flashes illuminate the window, not knowing that they were coming from the officers’ weapons.
The attorney general’s office, which led the prosecution of Mr. Hankison, did not pursue charges against either of the officers whose bullets struck Ms. Taylor, Detective Myles Cosgrove and Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly. Mr. Cosgrove, who the F.B.I. said fired the fatal shot, was eventually fired from the department, as was a detective who prepared the search warrant. Mr. Mattingly, the officer whom Mr. Walker shot, retired last year.
Hours after Mr. Hankison was acquitted, about 50 protesters gathered in Jefferson Square Park, the nucleus of the city’s protest movement in 2020. Leaders expressed outrage, saying that the system unfairly protects police officers, before the group marched through downtown while chanting, “We won’t let this go.”
In closing arguments on Thursday, Mr. Mathews, the lawyer for Mr. Hankison, sought to shift blame for what happened partly to Mr. Walker, who he said was the “common denominator” of the case because he had fired at the officers as they entered the apartment.
In response, Mr. Hankison “did what he thought he had to do in that instant,” the lawyer said. Mr. Mathews reiterated that Mr. Hankison did not know there was another apartment behind Ms. Taylor’s that his bullets might reach. He said jurors could not find Mr. Hankison guilty if he did not know about that risk.
The crime of “wanton endangerment,” a felony, required jurors to find that Mr. Hankison “wantonly” did something to create a substantial danger of death or serious injury to the neighbors and did so with “extreme indifference to the value of human life.”
In the prosecution’s closing argument, Barbara Whaley, an assistant attorney general, focused on the fear that Ms. Napper felt with her family while hiding in the apartment. She said it would have been “obvious” to Mr. Hankison that there was an apartment behind Ms. Taylor’s because its front door was right next to hers.
And, referring to Ms. Taylor, Ms. Whaley said that Mr. Hankison’s “wanton conduct could have multiplied her death by three.”
“By grace, they’re still alive,” she said.
Ryland Barton contributed reporting.
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