As trial began on Wednesday for one of the police officers who opened fire on Kentucky woman Breonna Taylor, a prosecutor emphasized to the jury that the case they will hear is not about her tragic death.
“This is not a case to decide who is responsible for the death of Breonna Taylor,” Assistant Attorney General Barbara Whaley said. “Breonna Taylor should not have died that night. This is not a case about the search warrant for Breonna Taylor’s apartment other than you will hear it was a valid search warrant signed by a judge.”
Nor was it a case, Whaley said, about whether Louisiana Metropolitan Police Department should be reformed. It was a case about fired detective Brett Hankison firing a hail of 10 bullets, allegedly “blindly,” that the prosecutor said endangered a man, woman and child in a neighboring unit.
“You will hear that his bullets went through apartment four into apartment three and nearly hit Cody Etherton as he was walking down the hallway into the dining room of his apartment to see what was going on with the banging,” Whaley said. “This case is about Cody and his partner Chelsea, who was seven months pregnant at the time, and their five-year-old son, who was sleeping in the bedroom closest to the front door—when the bullets ripped through the apartment and out their sliding glass door into the night.”
“There was no search warrant for Cody and Chelsea’s apartment,” Whaley added.
Etherton, who was Taylor’s neighbor, took the stand after opening statements to talk about the slain woman’s final moments.
“After I looked down a hall into her bedroom, I heard somebody say ‘breathe, baby breathe,'” he reflected. “Then, I knew this was serious.”
On March 13, 2020, Louisville detectives had a no-knock warrant pursuant to a drug investigation. Authorities said that they believed Taylor was receiving packages on behalf of her ex-boyfriend Jamarcus Glover, whom they described as a suspect. The affidavit for the warrant asserted that Glover had made frequent trips to Taylor’s apartment, but when detectives arrived, Taylor was not with Glover. She was with her then-boyfriend, Kenneth Walker.
Walker said that he and Taylor were in bed watching television and did not hear officers knock on the door. He said that he fired his gun as a warning, not knowing police were at the door, when he heard the sound of a battering ram. That shot reportedly hit Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly in the leg. Hankison and fellow officers Myles Cosgrove and Mattingly returned a hail of 32 shots into Taylor’s apartment. Six of them hit Taylor, who died. No illicit items were found, and Taylor’s family said she was never involved in drugs.
Walker, who was unharmed, was later cleared of all charges related to the crossfire.
Hankison’s defense attorney Stew Mathews indicated that his client would take the stand.
“You’re going to also hear from Brett Hankison when it’s his turn, but through hearing from those officers, you’re going to discover that this scene was total chaos,” Matthews said, adding that it was an “unbelievably chaotic situation.”
During his testimony, Etherton agreed that he would have described the scene that way.
“The whole thing was chaotic,” he said. “From the time that I got woke up to a loud boom, gunfire coming through my wall and nearly killing me. [It] could have struck my girlfriend. It was chaos.”
Though Hankison is charged with wanton endangerment, Mathews asked a jury to find that his client’s actions were “reasonable and justified.”
Both parties agree that the case is not about Breonna Taylor, but the prosecutors noted there was some measure of justice for her family in civil court, where the city of Louisville paid an historic $12 million settlement in civil damages.
“But the money did not bring her back,” Whaley noted. “Nothing will.”
Judge Anne Bailey Smith is presiding over the trial. Etherton, who was the first trial witness, acknowledged that he also filed a civil suit against Hankison.
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