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Jury set to deliberate in federal trial of ex-Louisville detective Brett Hankison

Man in gray suit and surgical mask walking in hallway
Roberto Roldan
Brett Hankison leaves a courtroom after his trial in Kentucky state court in March 2022.

The federal trial of former Louisville detective Brett Hankison is drawing to a close. Prosecutors and defense attorneys on Monday attempted to frame the evidence they presented to jurors over the past two weeks, just before the judge sent the 12-member jury out to deliberate.

Hankison is facing two civil rights charges for using excessive force during the 2020 raid on Breonna Taylor’s apartment, in which police shot and killed the 26-year-old Black woman. Prosecutors allege Hankison fired blindly into Taylor’s apartment that night. Some of his bullets passed through a shared wall into a neighboring apartment occupied by a pregnant woman, her boyfriend and a five-year-old child.

During closing arguments Monday, prosecutor Michael Songer emphasized how other officers who took part in the raid characterized Hankison’s actions: “unfathomably dangerous,” “shocking,” “against all training.”

“Those are not the words of the victims,” he said. “Those are the words of veteran police officers.”

Songer told jurors that police officers typically don’t want to second-guess other officers. He said the officers who testified — including Myles Cosgrove, who fired the shots that killed Taylor, and Chris Kitchen, a Louisville Metro Police Department SWAT team member who arrived shortly after the botched raid — showed courage.

Hankison was not firing to stop a threat, as he had previously testified, Songer said.

“He was angry that someone fired at the police and he assumed that he could get away with firing a bunch of shots into two apartments, because there was no video and he thought his fellow officers would cover for him,” he argued.

Prosecutors referred back to different trainings that Hankison participated in during his 17-year-career at the Louisville Metro Police Department. Police officers and officials testified that they’re trained to identify and isolate a target before using deadly force, in order not to put innocent people at risk.

Prosecutors again played emotional an 911 call audio Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, who desperately tried to get her help after she was shot, and Taylor’s next-door neighbor, Chelsey Napper, who warned dispatchers that she had a small child in her apartment. Prosecutors also reminded jurors of testimony last week by Napper’s boyfriend, Cody Etherton. He recounted bullets flying through their dining room, coming within inches of his face and within feet of a five-year-old child.

Hankison’s defense attorney, Stew Mathews, responded that prosecutors were asking jurors to “outsmart your common sense.” He said someone within the apartment had fired a gun, shooting an officer, and Hankison reacted to protect his life and the lives of his colleagues. All of that, Mathews said, happened in a matter of 15 seconds.

“You have to try to look at his actions, what he was experiencing, the chaos around himself, and determine if his actions were reasonable,” he said.

Mathews argued that Hankison was “absolutely reasonable and justified.” He said Hankison didn’t fire 10 shots into Taylor’s apartment wanting to violate someone’s rights, but rather to protect “his brother officers.” He also reminded jurors that prosecutors must prove Hankison’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

“The universal truth is that if someone fires at police, they’re going to fire back at you,” Mathews said.

Jurors left the courtroom to deliberate around 5 p.m. Monday.

They will have to work through the charges against Hankison and determine whether his actions on the night of March 13, 2020, amount to criminal violations of people’s constitutional rights.

Hankison is facing two counts for deprivation of rights under color of law. One of those charges is related to Taylor and her boyfriend, the other for Taylor’s neighbors.

For the first charge, prosecutors have to prove that Hankison willfully violated the rights of Taylor and Walker to be free from a police officer's unreasonable use of force while serving a search warrant.

For the charge related to Taylor’s neighbors, prosecutors must prove Hankison deprived them of their right to be free from unjustified force “that shocks the conscience.”

Jurors will have to evaluate Hankison’s actions from the perspective of an “ordinary and reasonable officer on the scene at the moment force was used.” Both charges carry a maximum sentence of life in prison.

The jury could return with a verdict any time.

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

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