Why Officer 1 in the Breonna Taylor Case Is Being Shot Twice

Why Officer 1 in the Breonna Taylor Case Is Being Shot Twice

  • Former LMPD officer Brett Hankison has been charged a second time in connection with the robbery of Breonna Taylor.
  • Legal experts told Insider it’s not a double jeopardy case for Hankison.
  • However, they said federal prosecutors will have an uphill battle to win their case.

Former Louisville, Kentucky police officer Brett Hankison found himself in an all-too-familiar situation Thursday, when federal prosecutors filed charges against him and three other former police officers or former police officers in connection with a March 2020 raid that led to the death of Breonna Taylor.

Hankison was acquitted earlier this year in state court on other charges related to the raid.

Insider spoke with legal experts Thursday who explained why — despite the previous acquittal — the new charges do not amount to double jeopardy. But they also said that Hankison’s previous acquittal and one of the counts against him could make the case against him very difficult for federal prosecutors to win.

Hankison’s role in the raid on Breonna Taylor’s apartment

Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old EMT, was shot dead on March 13, 2020, when officers serving a search warrant in connection with a drug trafficking investigation raided her home in the middle of the night.

Taylor and her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, were surprised by the raid. Fearing that home invaders were breaking through their door, Walker grabbed his gun and fired shots at the officers, who returned fire, killing Taylor.

Hankison was one of the officers who returned fire. He was outside the apartment at the time and shot through a sliding glass door that was covered with a dark curtain, so he couldn’t see what he was aiming for.

A ballistics report would later reveal that it was the bullets from two other officers’ guns, and not Hankison’s, that killed Taylor.

But he was charged anyway because some of his bullets went through a wall and into a nearby apartment, where three people were home at the time.

Before Thursday, Hankison was the only police officer facing charges in connection with the raid. Hankison was charged with three counts of reckless endangerment, but was acquitted on all three counts by a Louisville jury in March.

A grand jury declined to press charges against Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly and Det. Myles Cosgrove, the two officers who fired the fatal shots that killed Taylor.

Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron said his office’s investigation into the matter — and the grand jury agreed — showed Mattingly and Cosgrove were justified in “returning deadly fire” because Taylor’s boyfriend shot them first.

brenna taylor

Federal prosecutors charged four current and former Louisville police officers in the March 2020 fatal shooting of Breonna Taylor.

Leigh Vogel/Getty Images for the Start Action Hub

Not a case of double jeopardy

As the Justice Department’s press release on the new indictments explains, the new charges against Hankison are separate from the state charges.

Although the charges deal with the same incident and set of facts, both civil rights charges allege that “Hankison willfully used unconstitutionally excessive force, while acting in his official capacity as an officer, when he fired his service weapon into an apartment Taylor through a covered window. and a covered glass door,” according to the press release.

Those are “violations of the US Constitution, rather than state law,” the DOJ explains.

Since Hankison is being charged in a different court, there is no double jeopardy, according to Michael JZ Mannheimer, a professor at the University of Kentucky law school.

“Some people might think that the idea of ​​double jeopardy prevents the federal government from coming in and trying him again, since he’s been acquitted, and now the United States can come in as a separate sovereign and prosecute him,” explained Mannheimer.

How likely is Hankison to be convicted this time?

While the US Attorney’s office has every right to prosecute Hankison for alleged civil rights violations, that doesn’t mean it will be an easy victory.

Mannheimer said it will be extremely difficult to prove either count.

The first count violates Taylor and her boyfriend’s Fourth Amendment rights, which protect against unreasonable government searches and seizures. Federal prosecutors are arguing that Hankison used excessive force, which amounted to an unreasonable search.

The second count is for nearly injuring or killing her neighbor. But since her neighbors were not the subject of the raid, the Fourth Amendment does not apply. Instead, prosecutors must use the 14th Amendment, which states that “no person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”

The burden to prove a violation of the 14th Amendment is much higher, Mannheimer said.

“They have to show that Hankison’s actions were not simply unjustified, but that they were shocking to the conscience,” Mannheimer said.

Daniel J. Canon, a civil rights lawyer and professor at the University of Louisville law school, agreed that Hankison’s case would be more challenging than the cases against the other three officers, who deal with falsifying information on an affidavit to obtain a search warrant for . Taylor’s town and then trying to cover up their tracks.

Canon compared the case to the one against Derek Chauvin, a former Minneapolis police officer who was found responsible for killing George Floyd in May 2020 by kneeling on his neck for several minutes during an arrest.

Chauvin was convicted of violating Floyd’s civil rights only after he was found guilty of murder at the state level. The opposite is true in Hankison’s case, Canon said, since Hankison was acquitted before he was federally charged.

“I think that says a lot about this DOJ. They’re willing to take a chance on a case like this, even when they know a conviction is not a sure thing. We haven’t seen much of that in previous administrations,” Canon said.

He said prosecutors might benefit from having a different jury pool than the one that decided the state case. While jurors in Hankison’s case were previously selected from within Jefferson County, Kentucky, which includes the Louisville metropolitan area, a federal trial would be drawn from the broader pool of Jefferson and surrounding counties.

And while federal juries are less sympathetic to criminal defendants, Canon said, it remains to be seen whether that’s true in this type of case.

“Surrounding counties tend to be more conservative in the countryside and a lot more unfriendly to a defendant, but that dynamic can change when you have a white police officer who is a defendant,” Canon said.

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