LOUISVILLE, Ky. — A former Kentucky police officer was found not guilty Thursday on charges he endangered neighbors the night he fired into Breonna Taylor’s apartment during a botched drug raid that resulted in Taylor’s death.
The panel of eight men and four women delivered its verdict about three hours after it took Brett Hankison’s case following closing arguments from prosecution and defense attorneys.
None of the officers involved in the raid were charged with Taylor’s death, and Hankison did not fire any of the bullets that killed the 26-year-old Black woman. A federal investigation into the shooting is ongoing, including a look at whether any officers violated Taylor’s civil rights.
Taylor’s mother, Tamika Palmer, and a group of friends and family left quickly without commenting after the verdict.
Hankison did not appear outside the courtroom after the verdict was read. But his attorney Stewart Mathews said he and his client 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. … The jury felt like you go out and perform your duty and your brother officer gets shot, you got a right to defend yourself. Simple as that. “
Assistant Kentucky Attorney General Barbara Maines Whaley said she respected the jury’s verdict but had no further comment.
Prosecutors stressed in opening statements that the case wasn’t about Taylor’s death or the police decisions that led to the raid. Jurors were shown a single image of her body, barely discernible at the end of the hallway.
Taylor had been settling down for 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 in 2020 after Kentucky Attorney General David Cameron’s office declined to seek charges against any of the officers in connection to her death.
Taylor’s name, along with those of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery — Black men who died in encounters with police and white pursuers — became rallying cries during racial justice protests seen across the nation.
Hankison, 45, had been charged with three counts of wanton endangerment for firing through sliding-glass side doors and a window of Taylor’s apartment during the March 13, 2020, raid. Hankison’s attorneys never contested the ballistics evidence, but said he fired 10 bullets because he thought his fellow officers were “being executed.”
Hankison was fired by Louisville Police for shooting blindly during the raid. Asked during the trial if he did anything wrong that night, he said “absolutely not.”
The former narcotics detective testified during the trial that he saw a muzzle flash from Taylor’s darkened hallway after police burst through the door and thought officers were under heavy fire, so he quickly wheeled around a corner and sprayed 10 bullets, hoping to end the threat.
But in closing arguments Thursday, prosecutors cast doubt on what Hankison said he saw, challenging whether he could have looked through Taylor’s front door when police broke it open with a battering ram.
“He was never in the doorway,” Whaley told the jury. Referring to Taylor she added, “His wanton conduct could have multiplied her death by three, easily.”
Mathews told the jury in his closing argument Thursday that Hankison thought he was doing the right thing and is not a criminal who belongs in prison.
“He did what he thought he had to do in that instant. This all happened in such a short span,” Mathews said.
The jury of 10 men and five women was selected after several days of questioning from a pool expanded to about 250 people. Before deliberations, the jury was reduced to eight men and four women after three alternates were dismissed. The judge declined to release details about their race or ethnicity.
Dylan Lovan, The Associated Press