LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Former Louisville detective Brett Hankison testified in his own defense Wednesday about his actions during the police raid that left Breonna Taylor dead, saying the gunfire began with a muzzle flash that illuminated a shadowy silhouette, and he thought it was someone firing an automatic rifle at his fellow officers.
Hankison is not on trial for the 26-year-old Black woman’s death but for firing bullets that went into an adjacent apartment, endangering a pregnant neighbor, her young child and her boyfriend.
Asked if he did anything wrong during the raid, Hankison replied, “absolutely not,” even though he acknowledged firing into the window and patio door. As for Taylor, he said, “She didn’t need to die that night.” Breonna Taylor’s mother, Tamika Palmer, then stormed out of the courtroom.
Hankison said that as a police battering ram broke open Taylor’s door, the blast of a gun lit up the apartment’s hallway and his fellow officer fell wounded in the doorway. He said he thought the muzzle flash matched that of a long rifle, but no rifle was found in the apartment.
“The percussion from that muzzle flash I could feel,” Hankison said, apparently struggling to maintain his composure as he described Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly going down from a bullet wound.
Prosecutors cast doubt on whether Hankison could see through the front door and why he retreated to fire into the side of Taylor’s apartment.
Hankison testified earlier in the day that he decided “to get out of that fatal funnel as quickly as possible and get to a location where I can return rounds,” so he ran around a corner where he could see more muzzle flashes through a sliding glass door and a bedroom window, despite their closed blinds and curtains.
“I knew Sgt. Mattingly was down and I knew they were trying to get to him and it appeared to me they were being executed with this rifle,” Hankison said. “I thought I could put rounds through that bedroom window and stop the threat.”
Investigators later determined only one round was fired by Taylor’s boyfriend, who said he thought an intruder was breaking in. The other 32 bullets fired in the raid came from police.
During an hourlong cross-examination, a prosecutor asked Hankison why, if he saw a threat, he didn’t fire when he was at Taylor’s front door.
“You knew you had to respond, but you didn’t respond,” said Barbara Maines Whaley, an assistant state attorney general.
“I didn’t respond because we were in that funnel,” Hankison replied.
“Weren’t you concerned if you fired through the sliding door you might hit your fellow officers?” Whaley asked.
“Absolutely not,” Hankison replied.
Did you feel guilty about leaving your fellow officers in the fatal funnel?” Whaley asked.
“No,” Hankison replied.
Hankison was one of only two witnesses called by his attorney before they finished their case Wednesday. Closing arguments are scheduled for Thursday.
Hankison said he fired first into the patio door, and when he saw continued muzzle flashes, he fired into the bedroom window of Taylor’s apartment. He is charged with three counts of wanton endangerment, a felony that carries a sentence of one to five years.
The prosecution finished presenting its case on Tuesday with testimony from Chelsey Napper, who called 911 after Hankison’s gunfire ripped through her apartment, which shared a common wall with Taylor’s. Hankison is charged with endangering Napper, her 5-year-old son and her boyfriend, Cody Etherton, while his fellow officers exchanged gunfire with Taylor’s boyfriend during the raid next door.
Hankison was fired by police for shooting “blindly” during the raid on March 13, 2020. He fired 10 shots, none of which hit Taylor or her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker. No police were charged in the Black woman’s death.
Walker told investigators that he had fired a single shot with a handgun because he thought intruders were breaking in. Walker’s bullet hit Mattingly in the leg, and Mattingly and another officer, Myles Cosgrove, opened fire in response, killing Taylor.
Hankison told investigators about two weeks after the raid that he had looked inside Taylor’s apartment once officers broke open the door and thought he saw “a figure in a shooting stance” with a long gun or AR-15 rifle. His lawyer said Hankison then backed away, rounded a corner and fired shots through Taylor’s sliding glass door and bedroom window to “defend and save the lives of his fellow officers.”
During opening statements, Whaley emphasized to jurors that the case is not about the killing of Taylor or police decisions that led to the raid. She said the focus should be on Hankison’s shots and the near harm they caused.