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Ex-officer found not guilty on charges for raid into Breonna Taylor's apartment

SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

In Louisville, Ky., this afternoon, jurors delivered a not guilty verdict in the trial of a former police officer involved in the deadly 2020 raid on Breonna Taylor's apartment. Taylor's name became a rallying cry for racial justice protesters after she was killed in her own home during that botched police raid. The former officer, Brett Hankison, faced three felony counts for his actions that night. Roberto Roldan with member station WFPL was inside the courtroom today and joins us now. Roberto, thanks for making time, and would you tell us a bit about what the prosecution alleged that Brett Hankison did?

ROBERTO ROLDAN, BYLINE: Yeah. Thanks for having me. So prosecutors essentially alleged that Hankison fired blindly and endangered innocent lives by sort of knowingly firing into an occupied apartment building. They charged him with three counts of felony wanton endangerment. Hankison was 1 of 3 officers who fired their guns during that raid.

Officers approached Breonna Taylor's apartment around midnight on March 13, 2020. They were serving a warrant on her home that was part of a larger narcotics investigation involving Taylor's ex boyfriend. It's disputed whether police knocked and announced themselves that night, but when they eventually rammed down the door, Taylor's boyfriend at the time shot once at police. That's when prosecutors say Hankison ran around the side of the apartment building and fired five shots through Taylor's sliding glass door on her patio, which was covered at the time.

They say three of his bullets went through a shared wall and into a neighboring apartment. At the time, two adults, Cody Etherton and Chelsey Napper, were asleep in their bedroom, and Napper's 5-year-old son also ended up in the line of fire.

PFEIFFER: What was Officer Hankison's defense argument?

ROLDAN: Hankison's lawyer argued that the former Louisville detective had no idea that his bullets would end up in a neighboring apartment or even that there was a neighbor on the other side of Taylor's apartment. He testified that no one ever provided the officers with photos or diagrams of the apartment building before the raid. After the verdict was read this afternoon, Hankison's attorney Stew Matthews was asked what he thought was the most compelling argument that really swayed the jury, and here's what he said.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

STEW MATTHEWS: The jury felt like, you know, you go out and perform your duty, and your brother officer gets shot, and you've got a right to defend yourself.

ROLDAN: That was probably Hankison's most repeated defense throughout the trial - that, essentially, Hankison was just doing his best to protect the lives of his fellow officers.

PFEIFFER: Roberto, I know the verdict just came out a few hours ago, so it's still being absorbed, but could you give us a sense of what reaction has been so far?

ROLDAN: So Breonna Taylor's mother, Tamika Palmer, was in the courtroom today along with Taylor's sister. When prosecutors said during closing arguments that we have the best justice system in the world, Taylor's sister kind of just shook her head. After the verdict was read, Taylor's family and their supporters left the courtroom quickly and quietly.

It was notable that this trial didn't really draw any protests in light of the demonstrations, you know, that we saw in Louisville in 2020 and across the world. Local activists I spoke to this week tell me that that's for a few reasons - one, burnout; two, some protesters are still facing charges from 2020; but also that these charges aren't directly related to Taylor's death. You know, they spent months and so much time calling for justice for Breonna Taylor, and those activists say that they believed that this trial, no matter the outcome, wasn't going to bring real justice.

PFEIFFER: That's Roberto Roldan with member station WFPL. Thank you for covering this for us.

ROLDAN: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Roberto Roldan