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Breonna Taylor’s sister and officer who fired fatal shot testify in Hankison’s federal trial

Men in suits sitting at tables with green covers
Roberto Roldan
Myles Cosgrove, center, flanked by his two lawyers during a police merit board hearing in 2021.

Prosecutors in the federal trial of former Louisville Metro police detective Brett Hankison called prominent witnesses to the stand Friday: Breonna Taylor’s younger sister, Ju’Niyah Palmer, former detective Myles Cosgrove and deputy police chief Paul Humphrey.

Hankison is facing two civil rights charges related to his actions during the raid on Taylor’s home, in which police shot and killed the 26-year-old emergency room technician.

Hankison fired ten shots through Taylor’s window and sliding glass door, which prosecutors say were completely covered by blinds and curtains. Some of his bullets traveled through a shared wall and into a neighboring apartment occupied by a pregnant woman, her boyfriend and her five-year-old son. None of them struck Taylor.

Palmer said Taylor was “her closest friend.” She had lived with Taylor in her South End apartment since 2017, but she was not there the night of the shooting.

She described the home, including the vertical blinds and blackout curtains that covered the sliding glass door and her bedroom window.

“You would have to literally open it to see anything on the patio or the parking lot,” Palmer said.

She said she and Taylor both worked night shifts, so they always kept the windows covered.

Palmer said she went back into the apartment about a week after the raid and found it was destroyed.

“It was very messy, so my first thing was that my sister would have had a panic attack,” Palmer said. “But also it wasn’t right to be home when my sister wouldn’t be there anymore.”

Prosecutors showed jurors evidence photos of the apartment from after the shooting. Palmer pointed out the bullet holes in the patio door, the dining room wall and chairs, and her shower. A spent bullet sat next to her bath products.

“It’s a possibility that I could have been shot, my goddaughter could have been shot,” Palmer said, referring to a young child who frequently stayed over. “It could have been a lot different.”

Hankison’s defense attorneys latched onto one evidence photo that showed the window of Palmer’s bedroom.

There was a large strip of light above her window where the curtain was pulled down, revealing the top of the glass. Her bed was nearly turned on its side.

Palmer said that wasn’t how she left it, and the defense pointed out that she didn’t know how the curtain came down.

During his trial in state court last year, Hankison said he could see a muzzle flash through the windows of Taylor’s apartment, which was the target he shot at.

Hankison’s attorneys also brought up Taylor’s ex-boyfriend, Jamarcus Glover, whose alleged drug dealing operations were the reason for the raid on Taylor’s apartment. Palmer said the last time she saw him at Taylor’s apartment was November 2019, four months before the raid. She said he didn’t come around very often and never spent the night.

Officer who killed Taylor takes the stand

Following Palmer’s testimony, prosecutors called Myles Cosgrove to the stand. He fired the bullets that killed Taylor, according to an FBI ballistics report.

Prosecutors had promised during their opening statement that Cosgrove would testify that Hankison’s actions that night were dangerous. That’s exactly what he did.

Cosgrove confirmed what Palmer and prosecutors have alleged: that there was drapery covering the sliding glass door and windows of Taylor’s apartment. He said he tried to shine his flashlight into the window as officers approached.

“What I could see was my light source is actually bouncing off that material and bouncing back toward me,” Cosgrove said.

After another officer was shot trying to breach the door, Cosgrove said the group moved away from “the action in the doorway” and back into the parking lot. He said the shooting stopped, then someone opened fire from the parking lot.

It wasn’t until “much later” that Cosgrove learned it was Hankison who was shooting. He said it upset him and he felt Hankison’s actions were “unfathomably dangerous.”

“The core value of a policeman is to protect, and to just haphazardly fire into an unknown area, I can’t think of a scenario where I would do that,” he said. “It’s inherently dangerous.”

Hankison’s defense attorney, Stew Mathews, started out his cross-examination by saying he “wanted to make it clear to the jury” that Cosgrove was the guy who actually killed Breonna Taylor.

Through tears, Cosgrove said he thinks about that night every day.

“It’s so powerful to have taken someone’s life,” he said. “If I had all of the facts I have now, the outcome could have been different, but it’s not possible.”

Louisville police leader says officers can’t ‘fire blindly’

LMPD Deputy Chief Paul Humphrey was the first witness called on Friday. He testified that officers are not allowed to “fire blindly” at a threat or suspect, which prosecutors say is exactly what Hankison did.

Humphrey told jurors about the required use-of-force training, which says officers must consider “the totality of the circumstances.” That includes whether innocent people are nearby and whether the officer has “target isolation and identification.”

“You have to be able to identify what you are trying to shoot,” he said. “When you point your gun at something, that person can be hurt or killed.”

Humphrey also listed shorthand phrases used to reinforce training principles: “Shooting what you know, not at what you think.” “You’re responsible for every shot you fire.” “Target isolation and identification.”

Prosecutors asked Humphrey if an LMPD officer can shoot at “flashes of light” coming from behind covered blinds.

“You have to be able to identify what you’re shooting at,” Humphrey said. “We’re talking about using deadly force, using the most severe force you can…The risk is the wrong person dies.”

In their cross examination, Hankison’s defense attorneys stressed that everything Humphrey laid out in his hourlong testimony was a lot for an officer to think about in the span of seconds. They said it would be even harder if a fellow officer had been shot, which happened during the raid.

They also attempted to establish that the level of force Hankison used — firing his gun — was appropriate for the situation.

“If someone is shooting at you, active live fire coming at you, you’re not going to pull out your taser if they’re 20 feet away from you, right?” attorney Jack Byrd asked. ‘

Followup investigation into the incident by LMPD and the FBI found Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, fired one shot at police that night. He later claimed that he thought they were intruders.

Humphrey conceded on cross-examination that he could see it being appropriate to shoot toward a muzzle flash in “very narrow circumstances.”

The defense also pointed out that the LMPD standard operating procedures say what an officer perceives at the time, not “20/20 hindsight,” determines the totality of circumstances.

Roberto Roldan is the City Politics and Government Reporter for WFPL. Email Roberto at rroldan@lpm.org.

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