Jury finds ex-Louisville police officer Brett Hankison not guilty of wanton endangerment
A Jefferson County jury found former Louisville Metro police officer Brett Hankison not guilty on all counts Thursday.
He was indicted on three counts of wanton endangerment in September 2020 for his actions during the deadly raid on Breonna Taylor’s apartment that March. The charges stemmed from bullets he fired that traveled into a neighboring, occupied apartment.
The decision came 10 days before the two-year anniversary of the raid, which sparked racial justice and police accountability protests in Louisville and across the country.
After a judge read the jury’s verdict, Hankison’s attorney, Stew Mathews, told reporters, “Justice was done.” He said he believes Hankison’s testimony in his own defense helped him, and that the jury made the right decision.
“The jury felt like, when you go out and perform your duty and your brother officer gets shot, you have the right to defend yourself,” Mathews said.
Asked whether Hankison would become a police officer again, Mathews said they had not discussed it.
“We take it one day at a time, and today is the start of the rest of his life, at least for now,” he said.
Barbara Whaley of the Kentucky Attorney General’s Office said prosecutors respect the jury’s verdict. She offered no further comment.
Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron, a Republican, issued a similar statement Thursday afternoon.
“Today the jury rendered its decision. We appreciate the hard work of our prosecutors and respect the decision of the jury,” he said.
Cameron’s office recommended the charges against Hankison in 2020.
The charges stemmed from five bullets Hankison fired into Taylor’s patio door and windows. Three of those traveled through a shared wall and into a neighboring apartment occupied by Cody Etherton, Chelsey Napper and Napper’s five-year-old son. Prosecutors alleged Hankison was firing blindly, because he couldn’t see what was behind the door and windows, which were covered by curtains.
Hankison’s defense centered on his claim that he was attempting to protect his fellow officers. He became emotional when discussing former Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly, who was shot as he and other plainclothes officers broke down Taylor’s front door in the middle of the night. Her boyfriend Kenneth Walker, who fired one bullet from a handgun, later said he believed they were intruders.
In an emailed statement, Democratic Mayor Greg Fischer expressed gratitude to the jurors for their work on the case.
“Today’s decision adds to the frustration and anger of many over the inability to find more accountability for the tragic events,” Fischer said. “While the conduct considered in this case was not specific to Breonna Taylor’s death, the fact remains that she should not have died that night, and I know that for many, justice has still not been achieved.”
Fischer also pledged Metro Government's commitment to ensure “this never happens again.” He said that includes measures like the countywide no-knock warrant ban and the third-party audit of LMPD released last year.
In a tweet after the verdict, Mattingly celebrated the jury’s decision.
Not Guilty! Thank you Jesus!— John Mattingly (@SgtMattingly) March 3, 2022
Hankison was the only person charged in connection to the March 13, 2020, incident. No one was charged for Taylor’s killing.
Taylor’s younger sister Ju’Niyah Palmer, who lived with her but was not in the apartment that night, lamented the outcome of the case in a tweet.
Hankison's criminal trial did not garner the same amount of attention from activists and organizers that the grand jury indictment did in 2020.
Taylor's mother, Tamika Palmer, and sister, Ju'Niyah, attended multiple days of the trial along with a few friends and supporters. But no protests were held outside of the courtroom or in Jefferson Square Park, a small greenspace just a block away from the courthouse where numerous demonstrations took place in 2020.
Shauntrice Martin, an organizer involved with Black Lives Matter Louisville, said earlier this week she thinks there are a few reasons for that: Some protesters were disillusioned after no charges were brought against the officers who killed Taylor. Other protesters still face criminal charges from protests two years ago.
Martin believes the wanton endangerment charges against Hankison, not directly related to Taylor's killing, would not bring justice for Taylor's family, regardless of the outcome.
“Personally, I’m realizing that there are other places where we can create change because the state has already made this decision to protect the officers that killed Breonna Taylor. They’ve made that decision over and over again,” she said. “Outside of supporting Ms. Palmer and Breonna’s family and whatever actions they want to take, I don’t think that this is the route to get any substantial change.”
Some protesters are expected to gather at Jefferson Square Park Thursday evening to react to the decision.
This story was updated at 4:57 p.m. Ryland Barton and Ryan Van Velzer contributed.