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Why Only One of Breonna Taylor's Killers is in Jail

By Nia Satterfield Brown ’21

The LMPD officers who fired their guns in Taylor's apartment: Brett Hankison, Jonathan Mattingly, and Myles Cosgrove (Photo Credit: LMPD)
Brett Hankison, Jonathan Mattingly, and Myles Cosgrove of the LMPD (Photo Credit: LMPD)

UPDATE: Officer Brett Hankison has been charged with three counts of first-degree Wanton Endangerment, which is defined by Louisville law as: "A person is guilty of wanton endangerment in the first degree when, under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life, he wantonly engages in conduct which creates a substantial danger of death or serious physical injury to another person." First-degree Wanton Endangerment is punishable by up to five years in prison. This was announced at 1:15 p.m. EST on Wednesday, September 23, 2020. The Louisville Metro Police Department announced a state of emergency on September 22 and has prepared downtown Louisville for potential riots and violence. It has also announced a 9:00 p.m. - 6:00 a.m. curfew for the next three days.

This article was first written on September 15, 2020.

On March 13, 26-year-old emergency room technician Breonna Taylor was killed by Louisville police officers who were executing a narcotics search warrant into Taylor’s apartment. The police were investigating two men who they believed were selling drugs a considerable distance from Taylor’s house; however, Judge Mary Shaw signed the warrant allowing officers to search her home because they believed one of the men had once used her apartment to receive packages. 

Taylor and her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, were in bed and got up when they heard banging at the door. Walker said both he and Taylor called out to find out who was at the door. Walker said he did not hear anyone say they were police. He believed intruders were breaking into the home. Once the police broke into the home using the no-knock warrant, Walker shot his gun first and hit one of the officers in the leg. The officers returned fire with eight of the bullets hitting Taylor. Taylor did not receive any medical attention, and according to the Jefferson County coroner, she died within one minute of being shot. 

There were three officers involved in the shooting; however, only one of them has been fired, Detective Brett Hankison. The other two officers remain on administrative leave. Brett’s termination letter said that he “blindly fired” ten bullets into Taylor’s home with “an extreme indifference to the value of human life.” 

It has been six months since the killing of Taylor, and the officers who killed her do not face any criminal charges. First reported by The Marshall Project, professor Seth Stoughton at the University of South Carolina School of Law said that though most states don’t allow people to claim self-defense when they are an aggressor, there is an exception when a police officer is working in a professional capacity because the officer is not considered an aggressor according to self-defense law. In this case, it was legal for the officers and Walker to assert self-defense, thus making it impossible to establish who the aggressor was and meaning that the officers hold the same rights as Walker.

According to The Marshall Project, Taylor’s case is complicated further by the presence of the “castle doctrine,” a law that can be traced back to 17th-century English common law. In essence, it gives individuals in every state, excluding Vermont and Washington D.C., the right to use force against an intruder within their home. However, Kentucky law does not allow someone to harm police who enter their home as long as the officers properly announce themselves or the owner should have, with reason, known they were police. 

The officers who were fired at in the home had a warrant to enter, which justifies their shooting back in a claim that could be called self-defense. Supreme Court rulings allow officers to affirm self-defense without regard to their behavior or likelihood of evoking a violent response.

While Taylor’s family and millions of Americans continue to push for the arrest of the officers, the complexities surrounding self-defense lessen the likelihood of arrest. As of June 11, Louisville city officials banned the use of no-knock warrants, and Mayor Fischer introduced revisions such as appointing a new police chief, stricter body camera requirements and more accountability from city representatives. 


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