Jury in Breonna Taylor federal civil rights trial opens deliberations in case of ex-officer

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — A jury began deliberations Monday afternoon at the federal trial of a former Louisville police officer accused of violating Breonna Taylor's civil rights by opening fire on her apartment the night she was killed in a botched raid.

The jury received the case on a day when the former officer, Brett Hankison, was grilled by a federal prosecutor over his actions at the time the 26-year-old Black woman was killed. Taylor was shot to death by police after they knocked down the door of her apartment on March 13, 2020.

Jurors deliberated just over an hour Monday afternoon before pausing for the evening with plans to continue their work Tuesday.

Federal prosecutors are attempting to do what Kentucky prosecutors couldn’t — convict Hankison for his actions on the night Taylor was fatally shot. Last year, the former officer was acquitted by a jury at a state trial of wanton endangerment charges.

A federal prosecutor said in closing arguments Monday that Hankison “sent bullets flying” into Taylor’s apartment and an adjoining apartment. Jurors heard earlier that none of the shots he fired struck anyone, despite rounds straying into another apartment where a couple with a child lived.

Prosecutor Michael Songer said that Hankison’s actions “dishonored” other police officers, adding that the role of police is to protect human life and that Hankison knew that “firing blindly was wrong.”

Hankison was one of four former officers charged by the U.S. Department of Justice last year with violating Taylor’s civil rights, accused of endangering Taylor, her boyfriend and Taylor's neighbors, who shared a wall with her apartment.

The two counts of civil rights violations against him carry a maximum penalty of life in prison if he is convicted.

Defense attorney Stewart Mathews, in his closing arguments, urged jurors to consider what Hankison encountered — the “chaos he was surrounded with.”

“He reacted by trying to protect the lives of his fellow officers and himself,” Mathews said.

Hankison’s response to “what he perceived was reasonable, not criminal,” Mathews added.

Earlier, under questioning from his attorney, Hankison said he opened fire to “stop the threat” posed by the shooter in Taylor’s apartment. He did so, he said, to “defend my life” and the lives of his fellow officers. His comments wrapped up testimony in the trial.

Taylor was shot to death by officers who were executing a drug search warrant, which was later found to be flawed. Taylor’s boyfriend fired a single shot that hit one of the officers as they came through the door of the apartment, and officers returned fire, striking Taylor in the apartment hallway multiple times. The other 32 bullets fired in the raid came from police, investigators determined.

When gunfire erupted, Hankison ran to the side of the apartment and sprayed bullets through Taylor’s windows. Officers found no drugs or long guns in Taylor’s apartment.

Earlier, under questioning from a federal prosecutor Monday, Hankison testified he did not see a shooter when he fired through Taylor’s covered window and sliding door, and said he did not know exactly where the shooter was inside the apartment, but saw muzzle flashes from gunfire. Hankison said in earlier testimony that he could see a shooter in the hallway before he rounded the corner of the apartment and fired into the glass door and windows.

Taylor’s killing along with George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minnesota police in 2020 ignited protests that summer around the country over racial injustice and police brutality. U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland announced the federal indictments in the Taylor case in August 2022, remarking that Taylor “should be alive today.”

Three other former officers involved in drawing up the warrant have been charged in a separate federal case. One of them, Kelly Goodlett, has pleaded guilty and is expected to testify against former detective Joshua Jaynes and former Sgt. Kyle Meany in their trial next year.