The Trial Has Begun For The Ex–Louisville Cop Charged Over The Breonna Taylor Raid
Former detective Brett Hankison has not been charged in connection with Breonna Taylor's death, but instead for firing into her neighbor's apartment.
The trial of the only Louisville police officer to be charged in connection with the deadly raid that killed Breonna Taylor began Wednesday, but Kentucky prosecutors told the jury they were not there to adjudicate responsibility for her death.
“This is not a case to decide who is responsible for the death of Breonna Taylor,” Assistant Attorney General Barbara Whaley said in her opening statement.
Former detective Brett Hankison was charged in September 2020 with three counts of wanton endangerment in the first degree for firing his weapon through Taylor's apartment and into the neighboring apartment during the raid on March 13, 2020. Hankison, who has pleaded not guilty, could be sentenced to up to 15 years in prison if convicted.
The three people inside that home — a pregnant woman, a man, and a child — narrowly escaped injury. One of them, Cody Etherton, who was the first witness to be called on Wednesday, testified that the officers were "reckless" and "unorganized" and that the bullets flying into his apartment missed him by inches.
"This case is about Cody and his partner, Chelsey, who was 7 months pregnant at the time, and their 5-year-old son who was sleeping in the bedroom closest to the front door when the bullets ripped through the apartment and out their sliding glass door into the night," Whaley said.
A grand jury decided no officer would be charged in connection with Taylor’s death, after the state’s investigation concluded the two officers who fired the shots that struck her — Hankison’s colleagues, Jon Mattingly and Myles Cosgrove — were justified in doing so because they were fired upon first by Taylor's boyfriend, Kenneth Walker.
The police had been carrying out a search warrant just before 1 a.m. as part of a drug investigation. Officers have said they announced themselves before ramming the door, but Taylor’s family disputes this. Thinking they were being attacked by intruders, Walker opened fire, shooting Mattingly in the leg. This prompted police to shoot about 20 rounds in response, six of which struck Taylor.
In her opening statements, Whaley said the jury will hear evidence from weapons experts to show that Hankison was not following his training during the raid and had instead “exhibited extreme indifference to human life.”
She said Hankison told investigators he had fired his shots after seeing an “AR rifle,” but no such weapon was found.
Defense attorney Stew Mathews told jurors there was no doubt that Hankison had fired the shots in question, but said the evidence would show how “chaotic” the scene was that night and that Hankison had responded in a justified manner.
“This scene was total chaos and an unbelievable chaotic situation,” Mathews said.
Mathews said Hankison saw a “muzzle flash” and believed it to be an AR-15 rifle. He implied they did not know whether such a weapon was ever in the apartment because the search warrant was never properly executed.
Hankison, Mathews said, had been trying to save his fellow officers. “He was attempting to defend and save the lives of his brother officers,” Mathews said.
“Brett Hankison was justified in what he did,” Mathews said, “and everything he did on that scene out there before, during, and after the shooting was logical, reasonable, justified, and made total sense.”
Etherton, the 29-year-old man whose apartment was fired into, told the jury about how he and his pregnant partner had been woken by the sound of police ramming his neighbor’s door. He said that he immediately became worried for his family, assuming their house was being broken into.
“We were sleeping and I got woke to what was like a loud boom. I jumped to my feet, and she jumped out of the bed as well,” Etherton said. “I sped walked down the hallway, and in my mind, I was thinking someone was trying to come into our apartment.”
Etherton described how he tried to make his way to his front door, but when he entered his living room, the walls began exploding around him.
“Debris started going past my head, my face, which I pretty much knew — because I heard the shots, I pretty much knew it was gunfire coming through the wall.”
Etherton said he then dropped to the ground and crawled back to his bedroom. “I don’t even remember how many shots because it was so chaotic,” he said.
After a short period of silence, Etherton said he then heard the words, “LMPD, get down on the ground!”
“I remember having a relief, like, OK, the police are here,” he said.
When he went outside to see what was happening, Etherton said he saw that Taylor’s front door was open and the apartment was pitch black inside.
“That’s when I heard someone saying, ‘Breathe, baby! Breathe!’” he recalled. “That’s when I knew this was serious.”
Inside his apartment, Etherton said his glass patio door had been severely damaged and had shattered to pieces. When he peeked outside, he said he saw officers yell at him to put his hands up.
“I put two and two together and realized they think my back door is her back door,” Etherton said.
“To me, it’s very unorganized,” he added. “To me, a well-trained officer should have had the floor plan, the blueprints.”
“It was reckless to me,” he said.
Examining the bullet holes in his apartment, Etherton said he became horrified when he realized he had narrowly avoided being struck and potentially dying before his son was born.
“One or two more inches and I would’ve been shot,” he said. “It kind of upsets me. I think about it all the time. My son would never have got to meet me. I would never have got to meet my son.”
Defense attorney Mathews pointed to a lawsuit Etherton had filed against the city as evidence of “the fact that [he is] trying to get some money out of this.”
In response, Etherton said he believed his family deserved to be compensated for what they had been through.
The trial is expected to last about two weeks.