Trial will decide if ex-Louisville cop violated civil rights during Breonna Tayl…

A trial is set to begin Monday that will determine if former Louisville Metro Police Department detective Brett Hankison violated the constitutional rights of Breonna Taylor, her boyfriend and neighbors when he “blindly” fired into her apartment while attempting to execute a search warrant.

Hankison, 47, is facing a trial before a federal jury that could last three weeks to determine if he deprived the rights of the apartment’s residents under the color of law – while serving as a police officer in official capacity.

The former detective is one of three LMPD officers to fire his weapon during the March 13, 2020, raid on Taylor’s South Louisville apartment. Taylor, a 26-year-old emergency room technician, was fatally shot by police officers who were attempting to carry out a search warrant just before 1 a.m. as a part of a narcotics investigation.

This is Hankison’s second criminal case stemming from the shooting.

Hankison was previously acquitted of state charges of wanton endangerment in March 2022. He was terminated from LMPD in June 2020 after serving 17 years.

In the federal case, prosecutors filed charges against Hankison in August 2022 which allege he violated Taylor’s Fourth Amendment rights by executing an unlawful search and seizure and using unlawful deadly force.

The second charge is in regards to the Fourteenth Amendment, which alleges Hankison deprived residents of their liberties, and used unjustified force.

The indictment says Hankison violated the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments by “shooting through a bedroom window that was covered with blinds and a blackout curtain” and shooting through a sliding glass door, sending bullets into the shared wall of a neighboring apartment.

Hankison’s attorney, Jack Byrd of Nashville, declined to comment when contacted by the Herald-Leader. Prosecutor Michael Songer was not immediately available.

What do the charges mean?

Hankison is accused of violating the Fourth Amendment protecting a citizen’s right to be free from unreasonable seizures, which includes the right to be free from a police officer’s use of unreasonable force.

“A seizure occurs if a law enforcement officer intentionally restrains someone’s freedom of movement either by force or by a show of authority, and it includes restraining someone by firing a weapon at them,” the indictment states.

Prosecutors argue force is unreasonable when it exceeds the need to use force to accomplish law enforcement objectives. A police officer may use deadly force only when it is reasonably necessary to protect himself or someone else from imminent threat of death or serious bodily harm.

Count two centers around Taylor’s neighbors, who were almost struck by bullets that came through the shared wall in the apartment. The indictment alleges that three people identified in court documents as then-pregnant Chelsey Napper, Cody Etherton and Z.N. — a minor – were deprived of their right of liberty without due process. This includes the right to be free of unjustified force that “shocks the conscious,” court documents state.

Prosecutors must also prove that Hankison acted willingly and with a dangerous weapon with an attempt to kill.

What to expect from the trial

The trial is slated to take up to three weeks, giving prosecutors two weeks to present their case and the defense one week.

Evidence is expected to include documents and videos, body camera footage, rifle casings, 911 calls, previous out of court statements, firearm and empty magazines, Hankison’s firearms training forms, curtains, windows, blinds, and screens with bullet holes.

Also expected to be shown are pictures of Taylor’s body, which the defense previously moved to exclude. However, Judge Rebecca Grady Jennings denied that motion, and the pictures will be included as evidence during the trial.

“…Images showing Ms. Taylor’s body and her surroundings after the shooting will corroborate witness testimony and help the jury assess several key matters in the case, including the actions of Ms. Taylor and her boyfriend in the moments before the defendant fired his weapon; whether Ms. Taylor and her boyfriend had access to weapons or ammunition inside the home; and where Ms. Taylor and her boyfriend were positioned relative to the trajectory of shots fired by the defendant and other officers,” Jennings’ ruling reads.

Hankison faces civil suit from Taylor’s neighbor

Napper has filed a civil lawsuit against Hankison and other officers involved in the March 2020 shooting which alleges they violated the civil rights of the family. The lawsuit cites the federal indictment against Hankison as furthering their claim.

Napper, who was pregnant at the time, Etherton and the minor, were inside their apartment when bullet holes came through a wall that was shared with Taylor’s apartment. They were nearly shot.

Napper’s lawsuit accuses Hankison individually of state law negligence, trespass, assault, battery, unreasonable seizure and false imprisonment.

She is seeking exemplary and punitive damages in a “historic amount, so as to effect historic change, to deter other municipalities from such egregious violation of citizens’ rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments….,” court documents say.

Napper’s lawsuit hopes to punish the defendants for their “behavior and astonishing disregard for their own standard operating procedures and the safety and lives of the plaintiffs.”

In addition, Napper’s lawsuit requests a declaratory judgment that the defendants’ policies, pattern of practices, customs, lack of supervision, failure to train, acts, and omissions, described in the suit constituted excessive force in violation of Constitutional rights.

The civil case has not had any new filings since February, and is halted until the federal criminal proceedings are resolved.

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