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Breonna Taylor's death ignites debate on no-knock warrants as Louisville becomes latest city to ban them

Taylor, 26, was killed on March 13 during what her family said was a botched raid at her home.

The death of Breonna Taylor, a Louisville, Kentucky woman who was fatally shot by police during what her family said was a botched raid at her home, has led to the city council passing a ban on no-knock warrants.

Taylor, 26, was killed on March 13 after officers with the Louisville Metro Police Department busted through the door of her home unannounced around 12:40 a.m. to execute a search warrant for drugs, her mother said in a lawsuit.

No drugs were found in the home and the suspect at the center of the police investigation had already been taken into custody at another residence, the suit states.

Image: Breonna Taylor, Alena Battle, and Breonna's godson, Tamaj.
Breonna Taylor, Alena Battle, and Breonna's godson, Tamaj.Courtesy of the Taylor Family

A judge had approved a "no-knock" search warrant, meaning police did not have to knock or identify themselves before entering the home, according to The Courier-Journal in Louisville.

At a news conference on the day of the shooting, police said officers had knocked several times and “announced their presence as police who were there with a search warrant.” The lawsuit from Taylor's family claims police did not knock or identify themselves before they busted into the apartment.

After forcing their way in, officers “were immediately met by gunfire,” Lt. Ted Eidem said. Taylor was in bed with her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, when three officers in plainclothes busted in. The suit states that Walker, fearing a home invasion, called 911, grabbed a gun and fired, shooting an officer in the leg.

He had a license to carry and kept firearms in the home, and Taylor was unarmed. Police fired more than 20 rounds into the home. Taylor was shot eight times and died.

Her death renewed conversations about the dangers of no-knock warrants. Thor Eells, the executive director of the National Tactical Officers Association, told NBC News in a phone interview that the organization encourages law enforcement agencies to use this type of forced entry as the last resort.

“No-knock warrants used to be fairly prevalent in the ‘80s … but what happened is we noticed an awful lot of police officers were getting shot and killed doing that and other innocent people were also being injured," he said.

Eells, a former commander of the Colorado Springs Police Department, said agencies should do risk assessments prior to seeking a no-knock warrant. The association — which represents nearly 40,000 law enforcement professionals —holds courses which include ways agencies can arrest suspects and seize evidence without unannounced forced entry into a home.

“No-knock warrants do have a place in an agency’s toolkit, but you have to know when and how to best apply them," he said. "And the manner in which that is done is usually through good training, having good policies and procedures in place and ensuring that the people who are making those decisions are well trained.”

Bill Bratton, a senior law enforcement analyst for MSNBC who led the police departments in Boston, New York and Los Angeles, agrees.

"They’re an essential part of policing but because of the apparent danger, they’re also one of the more difficult warrants to get," Bratton said in a phone interview.

The American Civil Liberties Union in 2014 published a report on police militarization that detailed several botched SWAT team raids, including one that year that resulted in a toddler being seriously injured and placed in a medically induced coma.

Because of the potentially deadly consequences of no-knock warrants, law enforcement agencies have enacted stricter rules for officers to obtain them and some have banned them altogether.

The Little Rock Police Department last year unveiled a threat-assessment that ranks the subject of the warrant based on several factors including past violent offenses and possible weapon possession, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported.

The Houston Police Department ended no-knock warrants last year following a drug raid at a home that left two suspects dead and five officers injured. Police Chief Art Acevedo said officers will need to request a special exemption from his office to conduct a no-knock raid.

On Thursday, the Louisville Metro Council passed Breonna's Law, which bans the city's police department from using no-knock warrants and requires the use of officer body cameras whenever a warrant is served. Mayor Greg Fischer tweeted that he will sign the law as soon as he receives it.

"This is one of many critical steps on police reform that we’ve taken to create a more peaceful, just, compassionate and equitable community," he said.

Republican Sen. Rand Paul also said Thursday that he is drafting a proposal called the "Justice for Breonna Taylor Act" that would prohibit no-knock warrants nationwide. Oregon and Florida have already outlawed such warrants, according to the Associated Press.