(LOUISVILLE, Ky.) — A former Kentucky police officer was found not guilty Thursday of endangering neighbors the night he shot Breonna Taylor’s apartment during a botched drug raid that resulted in the Taylor’s death.
The panel of eight men and four women delivered their verdict for Brett Hankison about three hours after taking up the case after closing arguments from the prosecution and defense attorneys.
None of the officers involved in the March 13, 2020, raid were charged in Taylor’s death, and Hankison did not fire any of the bullets that killed the 26-year-old black woman. His acquittal likely closes the door to the possibility of state criminal prosecution of any of the officers involved in the raid. A federal investigation into whether the officers violated his civil rights is ongoing.
Taylor’s mother, Tamika Palmer, and a group of friends and family quickly left without comment after the verdict.
Hankison did not appear outside the courtroom after the verdict was read. But his lawyer, Stewart Mathews, said he and Hankison were “thrilled”.
Asked what might have swayed the jury, Mathews replied, “I think it was absolutely the fact that he was doing his job as a police officer.”
Kentucky Assistant Attorney General Barbara Maines Whaley said she respects the verdict but has no further comment.
Prosecutors emphasized in their opening statements that the case was not about Taylor’s death or the police decisions that led to the raid. The jurors saw a single image of his body, barely discernible at the end of the hall.
Taylor had settled down to bed when officers arrived at her door. She was shot multiple times in her hallway and died at the scene.
Protesters filled the streets for months after Kentucky Attorney General David Cameron’s office declined to press charges against any of the officers in connection with Taylor’s death. Taylor’s name and those of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery — black men who died in encounters with police and white pursuers — have become rallying cries for racial justice at nationwide protests in 2020.
Sadiqa Reynolds, president and CEO of the Louisville Urban League, said the verdict came as no surprise to her. The city’s black residents, she explained, had already “felt some frustration” because no officers had been charged in Taylor’s death.
“I think there are a lot of people who are disappointed. It’s very disheartening, but I have to tell you, it’s just not surprising,” she said. “It just doesn’t look like an optimistic day for the police, for black people, for our whole community.”
Louisville Mayer Greg Fischer said the verdict added to the “frustration and anger of many at the inability to find more accountability for the tragic events of March 13, 2020.”
“While the conduct contemplated in this case is not specific to the death of Breonna Taylor, the fact remains that she should not have died that night, and I know that for many, justice is n still hasn’t been returned,” he said.
Fischer cited some of the changes the Louisville Metro government has made since Taylor’s death, such as banning so-called no-knock warrants and conducting a top-down review of the service. police.
Hankison, 45, had been charged with three counts of wanton endangerment for shooting through sliding glass side doors and a window of Taylor’s apartment during the raid. Several bullets pierced the wall of a nearby apartment, and prosecutors said Hankison endangered the lives of a pregnant woman, her young child and her boyfriend who lived there.
Hankison’s attorneys never disputed the ballistics evidence, but said he fired 10 rounds because he believed his fellow officers were “running.”
One of these officers, Sgt. John Mattingly, was hit in the leg by a bullet from a handgun fired by Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, who said he thought intruders were breaking in.
“The jury felt like you were going out and doing your duty and your officer brother was getting shot, you have a right to defend yourself,” Mathews said of Hankison’s acquittal. “Simple as that.”
Hankison was fired by Louisville police for shooting indiscriminately during the raid. When asked during the trial if he had done anything wrong that night, he replied, “Absolutely not.”
Taylor was killed in the fire fired by Mattingly and fellow officer Myles Cosgrove.
Mattingly and Cosgrove declined to testify in Hankison’s trial, citing their Fifth Amendment rights due to an ongoing FBI civil rights investigation. Hankison’s handgun and other evidence from the scene are held by FBI investigators, although the gun was loaned to prosecutors to be shown at trial.
The US Department of Justice also announced last year that it was investigating the city’s police department for potential discrimination and its use of force and search warrant policies.
Later Thursday evening, about 20 demonstrators gathered in Jefferson Square Park in downtown Louisville to protest the verdict. In 2020, the square became an impromptu hub for protesters during months of demonstrations.
Cheyenne Osuala, who attended the trial with Taylor’s family, said she was stunned when she heard the jury’s decision.
“We thought there was no way to come back with a guilty verdict,” Osuala said. “We got nothing, not that it would have been justice for Breonna Taylor. But at least one conviction, however small, would have been something more than nothing.”
Associated Press reporter Piper Hudspeth Blackburn contributed to this report. Hudspeth Blackburn is a member of the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places reporters in local newsrooms to report on underreported issues.