What to Know About Breonna Taylor's Death
The death of Breonna Taylor, a Black medical worker who was shot and killed by police officers in Louisville, Kentucky, in March 2020 during a botched raid on her apartment, was one of the main drivers of wide-scale demonstrations that erupted that year over policing and racial injustice in the United States.
No officer has been charged with shooting Taylor, but on Aug. 4 the Justice Department charged four current and former police officers with federal civil rights violations, including lying to obtain a search warrant for her apartment.
One of the four, Kelly Goodlett, a detective who retired after getting charged, pleaded guilty at a hearing Tuesday. Another officer among the four, Kyle Meany, was fired by the Louisville Police Department on Friday.
A third officer facing the federal charges, Brett Hankison, was the only officer to face state charges in the raid. He was indicted on a charge of wanton endangerment of neighbors whose apartment was hit when he fired without a clear line of sight into Taylor’s apartment. He pleaded not guilty and was acquitted.
A New York Times examination of video footage from the scene, witness accounts, statements by the police officers and forensics reports showed that the raid was compromised by poor planning and reckless execution. It found that the only support for a grand jury’s conclusion that the officers had announced themselves before bursting into Taylor’s apartment — beyond the assertions of the officers themselves — was the account of a single witness who had given inconsistent statements.
Taylor’s family has long pleaded for justice, and her case began to draw national attention in May 2020. Later that year, Louisville officials agreed to pay $12 million to settle a wrongful death lawsuit brought by Taylor’s mother and to institute reforms aimed at preventing deaths by officers.
Following national demonstrations in 2020 over police brutality and systemic racism, Louisville officials banned the use of “no-knock” warrants, which allow police to forcibly enter people’s homes to search them without warning, and fired several officers, including Hankison, who was found to have shown “an extreme indifference to the value of human life.”
Still, critics say progress in the case has been slow, especially when compared with the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, where officers were swiftly fired and charged.
“At this point it’s bigger than Breonna, it’s bigger than just Black lives,” Taylor’s mother, Tamika Palmer, said in summer 2020 as she beseeched authorities to bring criminal charges. “We’ve got to figure out how to fix the city, how to heal from here.”
What happened in Louisville?
Shortly after midnight March 13, 2020, Louisville police officers executing a search warrant used a battering ram to enter the apartment of Taylor, a 26-year-old emergency room technician.
Police had been investigating two men who they believed were selling drugs out of a house that was far from Taylor’s home. But a judge had also signed a warrant allowing police to search Taylor’s residence because police said they believed that one of the men had used her apartment to receive packages. Taylor had been dating that man on and off for several years but had recently severed ties with him, according to her family’s lawyer.
Taylor and her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, had been in bed but got up when they heard a loud banging at the door. Walker said he and Taylor both called out, asking who was at the door. Walker later told police he feared it was Taylor’s ex-boyfriend trying to break in.
After police broke the door off its hinges, Walker fired his gun once, striking Sgt. John Mattingly in a thigh. Police responded by firing several shots, striking Taylor five times. Hankison shot 10 rounds blindly into the apartment.
Walker told investigators that Taylor coughed and struggled to breathe for at least five minutes after she was shot, according to The Louisville Courier Journal. An ambulance on standby outside the apartment had been told to leave about an hour before the raid, counter to standard practice. As officers called an ambulance back to the scene and struggled to render aid to their colleague, Taylor was not given any medical attention.
It was not until 12:47 a.m., about five minutes after the shooting, that emergency personnel realized she was seriously wounded, after her boyfriend called 911.
The Jefferson County coroner told the Courier Journal that Taylor most likely died less than a minute after she was shot and could not have been saved.
Jamarcus Glover, Taylor’s ex-boyfriend whose alleged packages led police to her door that night, was arrested Aug. 27, 2020, in possession of drugs, according to a charging document. He told the Courier Journal that Taylor had no involvement in the drug trade.
No drugs were found in Taylor’s apartment, a lawyer for Walker said.
“Breonna was a woman who was figuring everything out in her life, who had turned a corner,” said Sam Aguiar, a lawyer representing Taylor’s family. “Breonna was starting to live her best life.”
Why did police fire their weapons?
Louisville police say that they fired inside Taylor’s home only after they were first fired upon by Walker, Taylor’s boyfriend. Walker was subsequently charged with attempted murder of a police officer, although the charge was dismissed in May 2020.
While the department had received court approval for a no-knock entry, the orders were changed before the raid to “knock and announce,” meaning that police had to identify themselves.
Police assert that they knocked several times and identified themselves as police officers with a warrant before entering the apartment. Walker has said he and Taylor heard aggressive banging at the door and asked who it was, but they did not hear an announcement that it was the police.
Police said that the officers “forced entry into the exterior door and were immediately met with gunfire.” Three officers returned fire, police said.
Several of the officers involved in the raid — Hankison, Detective Myles Cosgrove, and Detective Joshua Jaynes — were fired. Another officer, Mattingly, retired from the force.
Is the police account disputed?
Yes, hotly. Taylor’s relatives and their lawyers say that police never identified themselves before entering — despite their claims. They also say that Walker was licensed to carry a gun.
And Walker, 27, has said that he feared for his life and fired in self-defense, believing that someone was trying to break into the home.
The police’s incident report contained multiple errors.
It listed Taylor’s injuries as “none,” even though she had been shot several times, and indicated that officers had not forced their way into the apartment — although they used a battering ram to break the door open. There was no body camera footage from the raid.
On Aug. 4, prosecutors said that three officers — Jaynes, Goodlett and Meany — made false claims in an affidavit used to obtain the warrant and conspired to lie about it after.
The affidavit claimed that Taylor’s ex-boyfriend had been receiving packages at her address, but prosecutors say that there was no such evidence and that the officers misrepresented the case to the judge who signed off on the raid.
Jaynes sent a draft of the affidavit to Goodlett, who prosecutors said knew the claim was false but further bolstered it with “misleading” information. Meany, who led a department investigative unit, approved the affidavit despite knowing that it contained false information.
Two months after Taylor’s death, Jaynes and Goodlett met and agreed to falsely tell investigators that a sergeant had told them that the packages were being sent to Taylor’s apartment, prosecutors said.
Taylor’s family has disputed police’s claim that the raid had to be conducted in the middle of the night.
Their lawyers say police had already located the main suspect in the investigation by the time they burst into the apartment. But they “then proceeded to spray gunfire into the residence with a total disregard for the value of human life,” according to a wrongful death lawsuit filed by Taylor’s mother.
Has there been other fallout?
The Justice Department accused Jaynes and Meany of violating Taylor’s right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. Goodlett and Jaynes were accused of conspiring to falsify the affidavit; Goodlett was also accused of conspiring to hinder the subsequent investigation.
Hankison was accused of depriving Taylor, her boyfriend and their neighbors of their rights by unreasonably firing 10 bullets through a window and sliding glass door that were covered with blinds.
City officials banned the use of no-knock warrants June 11, 2020. About a year later, Gov. Andy Beshear signed Senate Bill 4 into law, a bipartisan bill that partially bans no-knock warrants.
Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer announced other changes to ensure “more scrutiny, transparency and accountability,” including the naming of a new police chief; a new requirement that body cameras always be worn during the execution of search warrants; and the establishment of a civilian review board for police disciplinary matters.
By: Richard A. Oppel Jr.
The New York Times Company