Breonna Taylor’s mother stormed out of court on Wednesday as the ex–Louisville cop on trial over the deadly raid testified in his own defense.
“She didn't need to die that night,” Brett Hankison told Taylor’s family from the witness box, prompting mother Tamika Palmer to stand up and leave the room.
Hankison is not on trial for Taylor’s death, but for firing bullets during the botched raid into a neighboring apartment that endangered the lives of those three residents. He has been charged with three counts of wanton endangerment and faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted. No other officer connected to the raid has been charged with any crimes.
Hankison, who was fired after Taylor’s death for firing “blindly” during the March 2020 raid, testified that he did “absolutely” nothing wrong, insisting he used his weapon because he felt it was necessary to protect the lives of his two colleagues, one of whom, Jonathan Mattingly, had already been shot in the leg.
“I knew Sgt. 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 testified. “I thought I could put rounds through that bedroom window and stop the threat.”
Mattingly had been shot by Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, who fired his handgun once after police rammed in the door in order to execute a search warrant as part of a narcotics investigation into Taylor’s ex-boyfriend. Walker and Taylor had been asleep when the raid began, and he fired his weapon thinking they were being attacked.
Often struggling to speak as he became emotional, Hankison said that the muzzle flash of Walker’s shot briefly illuminated the apartment’s interior hallway and the officer incorrectly believed the shadowy figure he could see was in a shooting position with an AR-15 rifle. (Prosecutors have said no such rifle was ever discovered.)
As he ran from the front door and to the side of the apartment in order to escape the so-called fatal funnel, Hankison said he could hear a volley of gunfire that he assumed was coming from the rifle. In fact, it was the sound of his two colleagues firing rounds — six of which struck Taylor.
Hankison said he fired his 10 rounds from the side of the apartment, thinking he was aiming toward the figure in the hallway. But several of his rounds went into the neighboring apartment, narrowly missing the occupants.
When Walker was eventually ordered out of the apartment, he told officers that Taylor was dead inside. Hankison said he was surprised to learn there had been more than one person in the apartment.
“That kind of shook me because there was only supposed to be one person in that apartment, and now there was allegedly a girl inside, and that wasn’t why we were there,” he said.
Hankison told the jury he had participated in as many as 1,000 search warrants during his career, but that this had been the first time he fired his weapon while on duty.
He had only signed up to participate in the raid that afternoon, but was not shown any floor plans or photos of Taylor’s apartment or building. He was unaware, he said, that there was even an apartment behind her.
“What were your feelings about this entire incident?” defense attorney Stew Mathews asked.
“Tragedy,” Hankison replied. “This didn't have to happen.”