Demonstrators demanding justice for Breonna Taylor gather in Jefferson Square Park on March 13, 2021, in Louisville. Joshua Lott/The Washington Post

A verdict is expected this week in the Justice Department’s criminal prosecution of a former Louisville detective who participated in the raid that led to the police shooting death of Breonna Taylor in March 2020.

Taylor’s family and supporters have packed a federal courtroom during the trial of Brett Hankison, who is charged with violating the civil rights of Taylor, her boyfriend, and three neighbors, during a drug investigation. Hankison is not accused of shooting Taylor, but he is on trial for using excessive force by firing his gun, and he faces a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted.

Taylor, who was Black, was killed less than three months before the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd, a Black man, and their deaths helped spark widespread social justice demonstrations.

Prosecutors in Louisville on Monday are expected to complete their cross-examination of Hankison, who testified in his defense last week, and the case could go to the jury by the afternoon, authorities said.

Public anxiety around the case is high, said attorney Lonita Baker, who helped Taylor’s family negotiate a $12 million civil settlement from the city of Louisville six months after her death.

Unlike in Minneapolis, where four officers were convicted on state and federal charges in Floyd’s death, none of the Louisville officers who were directly involved in the raid at Taylor’s apartment has been convicted of a crime.


That has led to mounting anger and frustration among civic leaders who say authorities have failed to hold the officers fully accountable 3 1/2 years after Taylor’s death. The Louisville Metro Police Department fired at least four officers in connection with the case, including Hankison, and at least two others resigned.

“That’s definitely a sentiment here and for Breonna’s family,” Baker said in a phone interview. “They’re happy other victims’ families are getting their justice, but they are still due their day in court and their own justice.”

The deaths and injuries of Taylor, Floyd, and other Black people at the hands of law enforcement officers sparked demonstrations against police brutality and racial discrimination, along with calls from civil rights leaders for greater punishment of those found liable for misconduct.

That has increased public pressure not only on local prosecutors but also on the Justice Department to pursue federal charges, especially in cases where local authorities have failed to bring indictments or win convictions.

Prosecutors’ decisions in some of the most high-profile cases, including Hankison’s, demonstrated the difficulties in deciding which allegations of police brutality merit federal charges.

“Sometimes the cases don’t meet the criteria, or prosecutors don’t think the elements for a conviction are there,” said Philip Stinson, professor of criminal justice at Bowling Green State University, who tracks prosecutions of officers for crimes of violence. “Not all police crimes or acts of violence are federal crimes.”


Legal analysts said charging outcomes vary depending on who is prosecuting the cases, the makeup of federal grand juries, and the circumstances of each incident – including whether federal statutes are adequate to cover acts of police violence and whether suspects can reasonably be viewed as a threat to officers. Prosecutors in federal civil rights cases must prove that officers willfully use excessive force, a high legal standard, experts said.

The Justice Department charged five former Memphis police officers, who are Black, in the January beating of Tyre Nichols, a Black man who died of his injuries three days later. The beating was captured on surveillance video and body cameras worn by the officers. One of the defendants, Desmond Mills Jr., pleaded guilty this month and is expected to cooperate in the investigation against the others.

Federal prosecutors also won guilty pleas in August against six White ex-law enforcement officers, who called themselves the “goon squad,” on charges that they tortured two Black men for 90 minutes after entering a home without a warrant in January in Braxton, Miss.

In other instances, federal authorities elected not to pursue charges. Among them is the case involving Jacob Blake, a Black man in Kenosha, Wisc., who was seriously wounded after a White police officer shot him seven times in August 2020, sparking demonstrations in that city.

Wisconsin prosecutors declined to bring charges, saying Blake was armed with a knife, and the Justice Department closed a federal review of the case in October 2021, determining there was no evidence the officer willfully used excessive force.

Federal prosecutors also have not filed charges two years after the FBI opened an investigation into the death of Andrew Brown Jr., a Black man who was fatally shot by a sheriff’s deputy while trying to drive away from an arrest by seven officers in Elizabeth City, N.C., in April 2021.


The FBI has not publicly announced the findings of its investigation, which began after local authorities ruled that the shooting of Brown was justified because officers had reason to fear his car could be used as a deadly weapon.

In Louisville, Taylor was fatally shot early March 13, 2020, after officers attempted to serve a warrant in a drug investigation.

After being awakened by the disturbance, Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, fired a gunshot that struck Jonathan Mattingly, then a police sergeant. Mattingly and another officer, Myles Cosgrove, returned fire, fatally striking Taylor, an emergency room technician.

Authorities said Hankison retreated to a position outside the apartment and fired 10 gunshots through a window and door covered with blinds and curtains. None of the bullets struck anyone, but some pierced the walls of a neighboring apartment, endangering three people, including a child, who was staying there, prosecutors said.

Hankison, who was the only officer to face state charges, was acquitted in March 2022 on three felony counts of wanton endangerment of the neighbors.

In August 2022, the Justice Department filed charges against Hankison, as well as three other former officers – Kelly Goodlett, Kyle Meany, and Joshua Jaynes – who are accused of falsifying information on the search warrant that authorized the raid and conspiring to file false reports after the shooting. Goodlett pleaded guilty a few weeks later. Jaynes and Meany are expected to be tried together in 2024.


Activists were outraged that state prosecutors had failed to indict other officers in the case and that Hankison was not charged directly in Taylor’s death. Some faulted Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron, a Republican, for politicizing the case and choosing to side with law enforcement.

Cameron has called the use of force by officers in Taylor’s killing justified under Kentucky law and said a grand jury agreed that charges against the officers who shot her were not warranted. Tamika Palmer, Taylor’s mother, endorsed a grass-roots effort against Cameron in his campaign for governor, and last week he lost his bid to unseat incumbent Andy Beshear.

Hankison’s trial “is an opportunity for us to receive the kind of justice that will help this community heal. I know time has passed and people have moved on, but so many in our community feel this is unfinished business,” said Louisville pastor Timothy Findley, who has been active in pushing for local police reform.

Though, he said, Taylor’s family and friends “are having to relive this and go back through all the painful details of that night.”

As he did in the state case, Hankison testified last week that he fired his service weapon because he believed Mattingly and Cosgrove were in mortal danger. He said he saw muzzle flashes from what he thought was an AR-15, although no rifle was found by investigators.

“It’s a tragedy for a lot of people and a lot of families, and I feel bad about it,” Hankison told jurors. He described feeling “helpless” but said he would not have done things differently because he believed other officers were being executed.


Chiraag Bains, a former federal prosecutor in Justice’s civil rights division, said police brutality cases are difficult to win because “defendants often argue with success that they fear for their lives and that these are fast-moving situations.”

He said the Justice Department’s decision to charge the three other former officers who were not directly involved in the raid suggested that prosecutors are determined to seek broader accountability in police misconduct cases.

Baker, the family attorney, said Taylor’s supporters remain hopeful that convictions in the federal case could prompt Kentucky prosecutors to reconsider and bring state charges against other officers besides Hankison.

For now, Baker said, “we’ll take it as we get it, and that’s the accountability coming for the four officers who have been charged, as the family continues to fight and lift Breonna’s name.”

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