Closing arguments expected today in Brent Hankison trial
Hankison is charged with three counts of wanton endangerment
(CNN) — After a week of testimony, closing arguments are set for Thursday in the trial of former Louisville Metro Police detective Brett Hankison for his role in the fatal raid of Breonna Taylor’s apartment in March 2020.
Hankison, 45, is charged with three counts of wanton endangerment as prosecutors say he fired 10 shots blindly into Taylor’s home during the raid, endangering a man, a pregnant woman and her 5-year-old son next door. Hankison’s attorneys have argued he acted to defend his fellow officers in a chaotic situation.
The charges stem from the botched raid in which police fatally shot Taylor, a Black 26-year-old emergency medical technician, in her own home in the middle of the night.
Combined with the killings of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery, Taylor’s death set off widespread protests about how the legal system treats Black citizens as well as particular criticisms about the dangers of no-knock warrants.
Hankison’s charges are not for Taylor’s death, and he was the only officer charged in connection with the incident.
In court, prosecutors called 26 witnesses as they argued that Hankison shot blindly into the apartment in a direction perpendicular to where the shot originated. His gunfire went through Taylor’s apartment and whizzed through the neighboring apartment, prosecutors said.
“One or two more inches and I would have been shot,” testified the neighbor, Cody Etherton.
On Wednesday, Hankison took the stand and defended his decision to open fire, at times choking up in tears.
He testified that when the shooting began he retreated from the apartment door to a sidewalk and then to the side of the home. He said he shot at what he believed was the flash of a muzzle from a rifle-wielding gunman, firing five times into sliding glass doors and five times into a bedroom window in an attempt to protect his fellow officers.
“It appeared to me they were being executed with this rifle,” Hankison said. “I returned fire through the sliding glass door, and that did not stop the threat.”
He did not realize at the time, he testified, that another apartment was positioned directly behind Taylor’s. No rifle was found at the scene. In opening statements, Kentucky Assistant Attorney General Barbara Whaley said only a Glock pistol was found inside the apartment.
Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron declined to press charges directly related to Taylor’s death, saying the officers were justified in their use of force because Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker III, shot at an officer first, believing they were intruders.
Two other officers who were part of the botched raid, former Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly and former detective Myles Cosgrove, asserted their Fifth Amendment rights not to testify. They were not charged in the case but could be in an ongoing federal investigation.
How we got here
The incident began on March 12, 2020, when as part of a narcotics investigation a Jefferson County Circuit Court judge approved five search warrants for locations linked to Taylor’s ex-boyfriend, Jamarcus Glover, including at Taylor’s home.
Early the next morning, Hankison, Mattingly and Cosgrove were among a team who carried out a no-knock warrant at Taylor’s home. They rammed in the front door, startling Taylor and Walker.
Thinking they were intruders, Walker grabbed a gun he legally owned and fired a shot when the officers broke through the door, hitting Mattingly in the leg.
That triggered a volley of return fire from the officers, including Hankison, who had moved to outside the apartment. Taylor, who was standing in a hallway with Walker, was shot multiple times. Walker was not injured.
“Somebody kicked in the door and shot my girlfriend,” Walker said in a 911 call.
Walker was at first charged with attempted murder of a police officer and first-degree assault, but prosecutors later decided to drop the charges.
Taylor’s death, and the lack of charges against the officers involved, led to months of protests in Louisville. Her story reached greater prominence later in the spring as part of nationwide protests and chants of “Black Lives Matter” and “Say Her Name.”
None of the three officers who opened fire in the raid still work for the police department. Hankison was fired in late June 2020, Cosgrove was fired in January 2021, and Mattingly retired in April 2021.
In June 2020, the Louisville Metro Council unanimously passed an ordinance called “Breonna’s Law,” banning no-knock search warrants. The city of Louisville also agreed to pay Taylor’s family $12 million as part of a settlement.
On the stand Wednesday, Hankison denied any wrongdoing but expressed remorse for how the raid went down.
He said he felt “horrible” when he learned that his bullets had gone through Taylor’s apartment and into the neighboring home. He described the incident as a “tragedy” that “didn’t have to happen.”
Finally, he testified he felt empathy for the neighbor, and then spoke to Taylor’s family.
“Ms. Taylor’s family, she didn’t need to die that night –” Hankison said, before he was cut off by an objection. The words caused some members of the public sitting in the gallery to gasp and sob.
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