Jury selection begins in federal trial for former Louisville detective Brett Hankison
Former Louisville Metro Police Department detective Brett Hankison was back in court Monday morning facing charges for his role in the deadly 2020 raid on Breonna Taylor’s apartment.
Hankison, who was acquitted last year of felony wanton endangerment in state court, is now facing federal civil rights charges. More than 40 potential jurors were brought into the Gene Snyder U.S. Courthouse downtown ahead of a trial that’s expected to last up to a month.
Prosecutors allege Hankison fired blindly into Taylor’s apartment through a covered window and sliding glass door during the botched raid in March 2020. Some of those bullets traveled through a shared wall and into an occupied neighboring apartment. None of them struck Taylor.
Hankison is charged with two civil rights violations, one for endangering Taylor and her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, and another for endangering the two adults and a child in the neighboring unit. Hankison has pleaded not guilty.
This case represents the first time any of the officers involved in the raid have faced charges directly related to Taylor’s death.
U.S District Court Judge Rebecca Grady Jennings greeted the prospective jurors Monday morning, explaining the selection process and thanking them for their service.
“The jury is a vital institution in our society,” she said. “Indeed, the founders of our country felt that the right of a person accused of crime to be tried by a jury representing the citizenry of the community was so important they put it in our constitution.”
Potential jurors cannot discuss the case with anyone, including their families and each other.
In total, 44 people were asked to fill out a juror questionnaire ahead of the next phase of jury selection. The questions are sealed, but lists of proposed questions from prosecutors and defense attorneys were released publicly last month.
It included 66 questions ranging from who they most admire or hate to whether they’ve ever supervised other employees at work. It also included a number of case-specific questions about whether a potential juror participated in the 2020 racial justice protests and their general feelings about Taylor and the officers who killed her. The case is being prosecuted by Michael Songer and Anna Gotfryd with the U.S. Department of Justice’s civil rights division.
Hankison’s defense team — Ibrahim Farag of Louisville, Stew Mathews of Cincinnati and Jack Byrd of Nashville — indicated they wanted to ask potential jurors how they feel about police officers, whether they’re familiar with guns and if they understand the “presumption of innocence” defendants are entitled to.
After receiving instructions from Judge Grady Jennings on Monday morning, the group of potential jurors returned to a conference room to complete another questionnaire. Then the judge and attorneys planned to speak with jurors one-on-one to decide who should be dismissed.
The process of selecting a 12-person jury from a group of residents is known as voir dire. The goal is to weed out anyone whose biases would prevent them from reaching an objective verdict and ensure a fair and impartial trial.
A handful of jurors were immediately ruled out from serving Monday morning, including one woman who brought a young child with her. Someone who said on the questionnaire that his personal opinions were none of the court’s business was also sent home. Attorneys discussed whether a former LMPD police officer should be removed from the juror pool, but he was allowed to move forward.
The DOJ indicted three other LMPD officers last year for their role in the Taylor raid. Former detective Kelly Goodlett pleaded guilty last August to a federal conspiracy charge, admitting that she knowingly provided false information to a judge in order to secure the warrant for Taylor’s apartment and then tried to cover it up. Joshua Jaynes, Goodlett’s former partner, and their supervisor Kyle Meany were also charged with falsifying records and civil rights violations. Jaynes and Meany are fighting the charges.
This story may be updated.