A federal judge declared a mistrial in the civil rights trial of former Louisville police detective Brett Hankison, who was charged with using unconstitutional and excessive force at the scene of the March 2020 killing of Breonna Taylor.
The Department of Justice last year charged Hankison with one count of violating the civil rights of Taylor and her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker; and a count of violating the rights of her neighbors when he fired his gun into her South Louisville apartment during the botched raid of her home.
The jury deadlocked on both counts after four days of deliberation.
The jury sent multiple questions to the court, including whether they could have the entire court transcript, which the judge denied. Earlier on Thursday, the jury indicated to the court they were at an impasse, prompting the judge to issue an Allen charge instructing the jury to try harder to reach a verdict, but the jury deadlocked.
It’s unclear whether the government will retry Hankison on the charges. The judge scheduled a hearing for mid-December to consider the future of the case.
The mistrial result is another setback for supporters of Taylor’s family and advocates for justice in her case. Taylor’s death highlighted police violence against Black women and helped fuel nationwide protests over police killings of Black Americans in 2020.
Hankison was one of seven officers involved in the raid of Taylor’s apartment and three who fired bullets that night. Hankison did not shoot Taylor but fired 10 shots into a window and a sliding glass door that were covered in blinds. Three bullets went into an adjoining apartment where a pregnant woman lived with her partner and 5-year-old child.
Hankison was previously found not guilty on state charges of wantonly endangering Taylor’s neighbors in early 2022. No officers have been charged at the state or federal level with fatally shooting Taylor.
Taylor was killed on March 13, 2020, when seven plainclothes Louisville Metro Police Department (LMPD) officers arrived at her apartment to serve a search warrant in a narcotics investigation centered on her ex-boyfriend.
Witnesses who testified during Hankison’s trial gave conflicting accounts as to whether officers clearly announced themselves as police before breaking down the door to Taylor’s apartment.
Walker, who testified that the door coming down sounded “like an explosion,” believed the apartment was being broken into by intruders and fired a warning shot with a legally owned handgun that hit one of the officers, Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly, in the thigh. Officers then returned fire with multiple rounds into the apartment. Taylor was shot six times and died at the scene.
Hankison took the stand in his defense, recalling the feelings of “helplessness” at the chaotic scene as he believed his fellow officers were under siege. Hankison saw Walker’s figure illuminated by the muzzle flash from his weapon and testified that he thought the gun was an AR-15 rifle, prompting him to go to the other side of the apartment and open fire.
Mattingly, however, testified that he clearly recognized Walker’s gun to be a handgun and not a rifle. Walker’s gun was the only weapon recovered at the scene.
Hankison’s trial was notable for how many current and former officers testified that his actions were unjustified and in violation of department policy against opening fire without a clearly identifiable threat.
Former LMPD Detective Myles Cosgrove, who fired the bullet that killed Taylor, testified on the stand that officers had stopped firing into Taylor’s apartment and moved away from Taylor’s door by the time Hankison went around to the side door and window,” the Louisville Courier-Journal reported. He called Hankison’s actions that night “unfathomably dangerous.” Cosgrove was not charged with any crimes at the state or federal level.
Lt. Dale Massey, who was then serving on the LMPD SWAT team who arrived at the scene after the raid, testified that he was in “complete and utter shock and disbelief” to see that Hankison fired bullets into a covered window and door.
Hankison was one of four former Louisville Metro Police Department personnel charged by the federal Department of Justice in connection with Taylor’s death.
One former LMPD detective pleaded guilty to federal charges of falsifying information on the affidavit to secure the search warrant for Taylor’s apartment and conspiring to cover it up after the fact. Two other former officers who were charged with making false statements and conspiracy surrounding the affidavit have pleaded not guilty and have not yet faced trial.
Taylor’s case has remained in the spotlight and influenced Kentucky’s politics more than three and a half years after her death.
In 2022, voters ousted the local judge who signed the warrant for Taylor’s apartment. And Attorney General Daniel Cameron, who oversaw the state-level investigation and grand jury into Taylor’s death in 2020, lost his bid for governor against Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear on Tuesday. Taylor’s death didn’t feature prominently in ads or debates in the election, but racial justice activists in Louisville, in particular, were mobilized to defeat Cameron.