LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — The ex-Louisville police officer on trial for firing into Breonna Taylor’s apartment the night she was killed testified Thursday he had to react quickly after a fellow officer was shot in the leg during the drug raid.
Brett Hankison said he saw a muzzle flash come from inside Taylor’s hallway after officers knocked down the door in the early hours of March 13, 2020, to execute a search warrant. He testified he believed it sounded like an assault rifle, so he moved to the side of Taylor’s apartment and fired shots in through a sliding glass door and window.
“I had to react,” Hankison said on the witness stand in U.S. District Court Thursday. “I had no choice.”
Taylor’s boyfriend had fired a single shot at officers after they came through the door, and two officers at the entry returned fire, striking and killing Taylor in the hallway of her apartment.
While no one was hit by the 10 shots he fired, prosecutors have argued Hankison was shooting erratically without identifying a target. Some of his gunshots went into an occupied neighboring apartment.
Hankison said he moved away from the entry door, rounded the corner of the apartment and sprayed bullets into the side windows and sliding glass door because he believed a shooter was advancing on officers in the doorway. He said he believed the officers “were taking automatic gunfire and were trapped.” The officers at the door fired a combined 22 shots after Taylor's boyfriend fired a single round.
“It sounded like he was walking up on us ... like he was executing” the other officers, Hankison said.
Hankison, 47, has been charged with two federal civil rights violations for endangering Taylor, her boyfriend and Taylor’s neighbors, who shared a wall with her apartment. He faces a maximum sentence of life in prison.
Federal prosecutors are attempting to do what Kentucky prosecutors couldn’t — convict Hankison for his actions on the night Taylor, a 26-year-old Black woman, was shot to death. He was acquitted by a jury last year of wanton endangerment charges.
Prosecutors at this trial have argued Hankison did not follow police use of force policies when he decided to fire through Taylor's windows and sliding door. When his attorney asked him about that, he said he “didn’t have time to think about a policy.”
“You’re acting to save lives, or not acting and people are going to die,” Hankison said.
Hankison said he feels “horrible” about Taylor's death and that it was “tragic for a lot of people and a lot of families." Her death along with George Floyd’s at the hands of Minneapolis police officers sparked weeks of protests over police brutality in the summer of 2020.
Hankison was also critical of the warrant, saying he and the other officers should have never been sent to her apartment that night. The Taylor warrant was one of five served simultaneously the night she was killed, part of a wide-ranging narcotics operation targeting a known drug dealer. The dealer was located in another part of town but had a previous relationship with Taylor.
Three other former officers involved in drawing up the warrant have been charged in a separate federal case. One of them, Kelly Goodlett, has pleaded guilty and is expected to testify against former detective Joshua Jaynes and former Sgt. Kyle Meany in their trial next year.
The former Louisville officer shot by Taylor's boyfriend during the raid, Jonathan Mattingly, also testified Thursday, saying he was standing in front of the door when it opened and saw a muzzle flash in the dark. He said he saw two figures at the end of the hallway before he was shot.
Mattingly, who retired from the police force in 2021, said he couldn't tell where Hankison was standing when the shots started, but heard a “barrage” of gunfire at the side of the building.
Hankison's testimony will continue in federal court on Monday.