Breonna Taylor was murdered in March 2020. This killing sparked protests across the country. It was the result police lying to get a warrant and racist violence by police officers who forced their way into Taylor’s apartment.
On August 4, Department of Justice, (DOJ) announced the federal grand jury indictments of four Louisville Metro Police officers involved in the raid that resulted in Taylor’s death.
Three of the officers were accused of violating Taylor’s Fourth Amendment rights to be free from unreasonable search and seizure by lying to secure a no-knock warrant. The officers who sought the warrant “knew that the affidavit used to obtain the warrant to search Taylor’s home contained information that was false, misleading, and out-of-date; that the affidavit omitted material information; and that the officers lacked probable cause for the search,” the indictment reads.
One of the defendants tried to get another officer to lie and say he had previously told him that a drug dealer (Taylor’s ex-boyfriend) had used her apartment to receive packages. An officer broke the ubiquitous police code to silence and told prosecutors that his fellow officer had asked him for a lie.
A judge issued a no-knock warrant based on the officers’ misrepresentations. The warrant stated that they didn’t have to knock on the apartment and identify themselves as police officers before entering it.
This case has widely been characterized as a “no-knock” warrant incident. However, before the search was actually carried out by police officers, the court issued another warrant requiring them to knock on the door and announce their presence. The police officers lied in order to get the warrant, which led to their indictment.
Taylor and Kenneth Walker were sleeping in bed when they heard a loud banging at the door. They asked who was there, fearing it was Taylor’s ex trying to break in. They never heard the police identify their selves. The officers claimed that they knocked severally and identified themselves as officers before entering.
To break down the door, police used a battering-ram and Walker fired a gun (which Walker lawfully owned) once. This struck an officer in his thigh. The officers then fired several shots at Taylor, hitting him five times. Officer Brett Hankison opened fire on Taylor with 10 rounds. The bedroom and living area were completely darkened by blinds and a blackout curtains. No drugs were found in Taylor’s apartment.
Louisville Sgt. Officer in Louisville, Kyle Meany and Detectives Joshua Jaynes (Kelly Hanna Goodlett) were charged with making false statements in an affidavit that was used to obtain the search warrant. Jaynes and Goodlett were charged with conspiring to falsify an affidavit. Hankison was accused of firing 10 bullets into Taylor’s bedroom and living room, depriving Taylor, her boyfriend, and their Fourth Amendment rights. Hankison was the only officer to face charges in state court. She was acquitted on wanton endangerment.
Tamika Palmer, Taylor’s mother, applauded the federal indictment of the officers, saying, “I’ve waited 874 days for today.”
However, those who worked to abolish the prison system didn’t celebrate the indictment. Chanelle Helm, cofounder of Louisville Black Lives Matter saidShe acknowledged that she understands the need to arrest officers. But, she added, “If we’re asking for the officers to be arrested that’s contrary to abolition work.”
Abolitionist group Critical Resistance points out that prosecuting police who have killed and abused civilians fails to reduce the scale of policing, and instead “ reinforces the prison industrial complex by portraying killer/corrupt cops as ‘bad apples’ rather than part of a regular system of violence, and reinforces the idea that prosecution and prison serve real justice.”
The bottom line is that justice can only be achieved if the system is fully acknowledged, which has been rooted in centuries of oppression.
In March 2021, The International Commission of Inquiry on Systemic Racist Police Gewalt Against People of African Descent in United States (for whom I served as a raporteur) found “a pattern and practice of racist police violence in the U.S. in the context of a history of oppression dating back to the extermination of First Nations peoples, the enslavement of Africans, the militarization of U.S. society, and the continued perpetuation of structural racism.”
The 188-page commission report details how Black people are targeted, surveilled, brutalized, maimed and killed by law enforcement officers, and concludes that “the brutalization of Black people is compounded by the impunity afforded to offending police officers, most of whom are never charged with a crime.” The overarching problem is structural racism embedded in the U.S. legal and policing systems.
If police include false statements in an interview, it is illegal for them to do so. affidavitAny evidence seized pursuant the warrant will be suppressed when a search warrant is obtained. This remedy does not offer any relief to Breonna Taylor, whose death was caused by racist police violence.