Brett Hankison’s Trial Begins With Testimony From Neighbor, Police Officers

Feb 23, 2022 at 1:46 pm
Brett Hankison walks out of the courtroom on Tuesday, Feb. 22 after a jury was selected in his wanton endangerment trial.
Brett Hankison walks out of the courtroom on Tuesday, Feb. 22 after a jury was selected in his wanton endangerment trial. Photo by Josh Wood

As Brett Hankison’s trial began on Wednesday morning with opening arguments, the prosecution said the shots fired by the former LMPD detective during the raid of Breonna Taylor’s apartment were reckless and put the lives of a neighboring family in jeopardy.  

The defense argued the shots he fired were “justified” in an attempt to “defend and save the lives of his brother officers.”

Later, in the afternoon, jurors heard from several LMPD officers who were involved with the raid on Breonna Taylor’s apartment. 

Hankison is charged with three counts of wanton endangerment from the shots he fired during the March 13, 2020 LMPD raid that killed Taylor. His charges are not for her death, but rather for shots he fired that went into a neighboring apartment where three people were present. On June 19, 2020, it was announced that LMPD would fire Hankison. A termination letter from then-acting chief Robert Schroeder said Hankison’s actions during the raid “displayed an extreme indifference to the value of human life” when he “blindly fired ten rounds” into Breonna Taylor’s apartment. Schroeder added that the patio door and window which Hankison fired through were covered in a material that “completely prevented” Hankison from identifying a target.

Opening Statements In The Morning

Prosecutor Barbara Whaley opened by saying that the case was not about who was responsible for the death of Taylor, the validity of the search warrant executed at 3003 Springfield Drive that morning or whether or not LMPD needs to go through reforms.

“This is a case about Cody. And his partner Chelsey who was seven months pregnant at the time. And her 5-year-old son,” she said. “There was no search warrant for Cody and Chelsea’s apartment.”

Whaley described how after the door to Taylor’s apartment had been forced open and Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly had been struck by a shot fired by Taylor’s boyfriend, Hankison moved outside a patio door around the corner from the breached entrance and fired five rounds. Three of those rounds entered the neighboring apartment, she said, with one even exiting through the neighboring apartment’s glass patio door on the other side of the building. Hankison fired a total of 10 rounds during the raid.

One of those bullets, Whaley said, “whizzed” past the head of a man in the apartment next door to Taylor’s home.

She also described how Hankison had previously stated that he saw a person with a rifle in a firing position in Taylor’s apartment and was returning fire.

“You will learn that there was no [AR-15-style] rifle in apartment four. There was one pistol,” said Whaley.

In his opening, Hankison’s attorney Stew Matthews told the jury that the evidence of the case in determining who fired the shots would not be disputed — but that Hankison acted in a reasonable, justified manner in a chaotic situation and did so in an attempt to “defend and save the lives of his brother officers.”

“Everything he did on that scene out there before, during and after the shooting occurred was logical, was reasonable, was justified and made total sense,” said Matthews.

Matthews, however, appeared to try to cast doubt on the prosecutions’s statements about no AR-15-style rifle being present, saying that the search warrant for Taylor’s apartment had never actually been served as a result of the shooting and that “family” had been granted access to the apartment after the shooting.

“We don’t know whether there was any contraband in that apartment and what kind of contraband there may have been,” he said. 

The first witness called by the prosecution was Cody Etherton, 29, who lived in the apartment immediately next door to Taylor’s home with his partner Chelsey and her five-year-old son. 

Etherton described being woken up by a loud boom, that he believes was the ram used to breach the door to Taylor’s apartment.

“I just thought that somebody was trying to come into our apartment, so my instinct was to go to the front door to protect my family,” he said. 

As he moved towards his front door, he said he started seeing debris go past his face caused by gunfire passing through the wall his apartment shared with Taylor’s home.

“One or two more inches, and I would have been shot,” he said.

When he stepped outside of his apartment after the gunfire, Etherton said he could see the door to Taylor’s apartment was open and he could hear a man’s voice saying, “Breathe, baby, breathe.”

Going back into his apartment, Etherton said he opened the blinds to his patio and saw the glass door was shattered. As he did that, he said multiple officers had guns trained on his patio door and were telling him to put his hands up through the shattered glass.

“They didn’t even know whose back door that was,” he said. “It was just reckless to me.”

Etherton and his partner, Chelsey Napper, have launched a federal lawsuit against the city of Louisville, LMPD, Hankison and other officers.

On cross-examination, Matthews brought up that the lawsuit was seeking $12 million in damages before ending his questioning.

Several Officers Involved In The Raid Testify In The Afternoon

During a testimony in the afternoon, LMPD officer Mike Nobles, who said he “absolutely” considers Hankison a friend, was the officer who used a ram to breach the door to Taylor’s apartment. He recalled knocking the door open with his ram and spinning back out of the way into cover before he heard Mattingly, the first officer into the apartment “say no, no, no” immediately ahead of gunfire breaking out.

Nobles said, at the time, he was unaware Hankison discharged his firearm during the raid.

Some of the questions focused on a man who emerged from an apartment upstairs and allegedly told the officers not to bother Taylor as they were knocking at her door.

Sgt. Mike Campbell, who had arrived at the apartment complex hours before the raid to conduct surveillance, recalled Hankison being successful in getting the man upstairs who interrupted officers to go inside by being “really assertive.”

After shots rang out, Campbell said he recalls Hankison radioing in that officers had been shot at with a rifle.

Campbell, who was position at the rear of the stack, said he did not discharge his weapon as he could not discern a target. He said he could not see through the sliding glass door that Hankison fired through.

None of the three officers who participated in the raid that testified on Wednesday said they observed Hankison firing his weapon.

Much of the questioning of officers focused on what brought them to Taylor’s apartment that night and what happened leading up to and after her door was breached.

Matthews’s questions seemed to focus on how chaotic, loud and dangerous the situation was once the door to Taylor’s apartment was forced open. He also asked officers whether the search warrant that sent them to Taylor’s apartment was ever actually served and her apartment searched; The officers said it had not been.

Background On The Jury

The jury, seen together for the first time, is composed of 10 men and five women. At least three of the jurors are people of color. Eight of the 15 appear to be white men.

At the conclusion of the trial, 12 of the 15 will be sent to deliberate whether Hankison is guilty or innocent of the charges he faces.

On Tuesday afternoon, the jurors and alternates were selected.

They come from a pool that was whittled down from 250 potential jurors at the start of the month.

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