November 9, 2020
Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old woman from Louisville, Kentucky, was shot to death by police shortly after midnight on March 13, 2020, in the apartment she shared with her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker. The police had a no-knock warrant and entered with a battering ram to search for evidence of drug dealing; none was found. A Kentucky grand jury indicted former detective of the Louisville Police Department, Brett Hankison, on charges of reckless endangerment for his role in the raid. No charges were filed against Jonathan Mattingly and Myles Cosgrove, the two officers who fired shots inside the apartment. This has spurred a nationwide discussion of the use of no-knock warrants—and reforms that might prevent unnecessary death and injury in the future.
Kenneth Walker claims he fired because he did not know the intruders were police officers; all he could confirm was that armed men had broken into the apartment in the middle of the night.
The police acted lawfully in entering the apartment and the law allowed them to fire in self-defense; Kenneth Walker was also acting within his rights. The only officer who was charged had fired blindly into the apartment from outside. He was charged with reckless endangerment, not homicide, because his bullets did not hit Taylor.
The question becomes why were the police breaking down Breonna Taylor’s door?
Louisville police were investigating a man named Jamarcus Glover, a former boyfriend of Breonna Taylor, for drug trafficking. An officer reported seeing Glover leave Breonna Taylor’s apartment with a package. Additionally, the application for the search warrant was supported by a United States Postal Inspector report stated Glover had been receiving packages at Taylor’s address. This fact was later revealed to be untrue. These two allegations were the basis for the search warrant. A no-knock warrant was issued due to Glover’s history of fleeing from police and destroying evidence. The warrant also incorrectly stated there were cameras on the property that would alert Glover to police presence.
Warrants obtained by use of intentional or reckless misrepresentations are invalid under the Fourth Amendment, and even if the errors in this application—or what seem to be errors—were not intentional or reckless, carelessness about these kinds of important details in seeking permission to invade someone’s home in the middle of the night would still be very troubling. Without the information allegedly received from the United States Postal Inspector, the basis for searching Taylor’s apartment at all—let alone knocking the door down in the middle of the night—was very thin.
This brings up the questions:
Was a search warrant justified?
Did Taylor have a history that would suggest she was dangerous?
Was the no-knock warrant justified?
Then there is the matter of how the warrant was executed.
Did the police enter without announcing? The police stated they did knock and announce. One neighbor has corroborated their account. Twelve neighbors did not hear an announcement. Kenneth Walker said that he only heard pounding on the door, for somewhere between 30 and 45 seconds. Kentucky Attorney General, Daniel Cameron, refused to say what evidence was presented about that to the grand jury.
A no-knock warrant is a very dangerous tactic, particularly when carried out in the middle of the night. With regard to deaths and injuries caused by no-knock searches, the federal government has not collected this data. But the New York Times reported in 2017 that surprise entries carried out by SWAT teams executing search warrants resulted in the deaths of at least 81 civilians and 13 law officers over a six-year period, however; these numbers did not include deaths caused in no-knock entries by officers not part of a SWAT team, like the raid that killed Breonna Taylor.
As of June 11, 2020, Louisville has banned no-knock warrants and there has been law introduced to Kentucky legislature that would ban this tactic statewide. In an effort to deter the possible tragic outcome of no-knock warrant, it has also been suggested that police be required to wear body cameras when executing a no-knock warrant, as well as more stringent requirements for these type of warrants, including authorization by more than one judge, and a random audit of these warrants to insure accuracy and necessity.
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