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Breonna Taylor's neighbor says police were 'reckless' as trial for ex-officer begins

Brett Hankison was the only officer charged after police broke down the door of Taylor’s apartment early in the morning on March 13, 2020.

A man living in the apartment next to Breonna Taylor said he believes Louisville, Kentucky, officers were “reckless” and “unorganized” the night of the deadly police raid.

Cody Etherton was the first witness to testify Wednesday for the prosecution as the trial for former police Officer Brett Hankison began.

Hankison — the only one to face charges connected to the March 13, 2020, raid — was indicted by a grand jury on three counts of first-degree wanton endangerment. He’s accused of firing shots that went into a neighboring apartment after Taylor’s boyfriend fired a shot. He has pleaded not guilty.

Brett Hankison, left, exits the courtroom after the first day of jury selection in his trial on Feb. 8, 2022, in Louisville, Ky.
Brett Hankison, left, exits the courtroom after the first day of jury selection in his trial on Feb. 8, 2022, in Louisville, Ky.Dylan Lovan / AP

Neighbor says police acted 'reckless' and shot into his apartment

Etherton, 29, said he and his partner, Chelsey Napper, were sleeping when he awoke to a "loud boom." He said he jumped out of bed and walked down the hallway, thinking someone was trying to come into their apartment.

As he made his way toward the front door, "debris started going past my head and face," Etherton said, telling the court that he knew it was from gunfire. He said he dropped to the floor, made his way to the bedroom, and made Napper get on the floor.

Etherton recalled how after the gunfire stopped, he heard Louisville Metro police announce themselves. He testified that he then walked out of his apartment and into the breezeway. Taylor's front door was open, he told the court, but he could not see inside the apartment because it was pitch black. He said he remembers hearing someone say, "breathe baby, breathe."

"That’s when I knew this is serious," he said.

Etherton told the court that police ordered him back into his apartment. It was at this time that he noticed the sliding back patio door was shattered, he testified. Officers were in the back and were shining "red lights" in his direction, Etherton said.

He told the court that he believes police thought his patio door was Taylor's and he told Napper to call 911 and tell them that the couple was not involved.

"I could put two and two together … I was like they think my backdoor is her backdoor. That’s what I thought, which to me is just very unorganized," he said. "To me, a professional well-trained officer, they should have had the floorplans. They should have had the blueprints. They didn’t even know whose backdoor that was. They didn’t even know who lived there. So, to me that kind of upset me. It was just reckless to me."

During cross-examination, he testified that he was not sure how many times police rammed the door. Defense attorney Stewart Mathews also brought up a lawsuit filed on behalf of Etherton against Hankison and several other officers.

Mathews said the lawsuit is for $12 million, but Etherton testified he did not know the amount because he and Napper never had that conversation with their attorney.

Officers said they announced before entering Taylor's apartment

Several officers and detectives testified Wednesday that they initially had obtained a no-knock warrant, but it was later changed to a knock-and-announce warrant.

Police were at the apartment seeking evidence in a narcotics investigation. No drugs were found in the apartment, Taylor’s family said in a lawsuit.

Sgt. Kyle Meany said that SWAT had requested for all of the warrants connected to the narcotics investigation to be a no-knock. The warrant for Taylor was changed because her apartment was deemed to be low-risk, he said.

Officer Mike Nobles was responsible for ramming the door of Taylor's apartment. He said they yelled "police" but he couldn't recall how many times they said it. At one point, a person inside the apartment said "who is it," Nobles testified.

"We knocked again and yelled 'police' again," the officer said.

"And did you receive a response?" the defense asked.

"We did not," Nobles responded.

He said he was then instructed to ram the door. It took three hits before it flew open, he said.

Detective Tony James testified that they knocked "for a long, long time" before they entered the apartment. He said immediately after entering, Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly was shot and then returned fire.

Prosecutor, defense share their statements

Before testimony began, Prosecutor Barbara Whaley reiterated that the trial should focus on what Etherton and Napper experienced.

"This case is about Cody and his partner, Chelsey, who was 7 months pregnant at the time, and their 5-year-old son who was sleeping in the bedroom closest to the front door when the bullets ripped through the apartment and out their sliding glass door into the night," she said. "There was no search warrant for Cody and Chelsea's apartment.”

The couple and their son were not injured.

Mathews argued that Hankison's actions were justified because the scene that night was chaotic and the former officer was attempting "to defend and save the lives of his brother officers."

"I think, ladies and gentlemen, after you've heard all the evidence, you're going to determine that Brett Hankison was justified in what he did and everything he did on that scene out there before, during, and after the shooting occurred was logical, was reasonable, was justified and made total sense," he said.

Taylor's boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, has said that he feared the home was being burglarized and fired the shot in self-defense.

Police said Walker struck Mattingly in the leg, although Walker's lawyers have disputed those claims. Hankison, Mattingly and Detective Myles Cosgrove immediately returned fire.

Taylor, a 26-year-old Black woman who worked as an emergency medical technician, was shot multiple times and died in the hallway of her apartment. A coroner's report said she was hit in the torso, her upper left extremity, and both lower extremities.

Hankison was fired from the Louisville Metro Police Department in June 2020, about three months after the shooting.

The grand jury declined to charge the other officers involved in the raid. There were no charges ever filed related directly to Taylor's death, a decision that sparked protests in Louisville and around the country.

Cosgrove and Detective Joshua Jaynes, who applied for the search warrant in the raid, were also fired from the police department in January 2021. In a letter from then-Chief Yvette Gentry, Cosgrove's employment was terminated because he violated standard operating procedures for deadly force and failed to activate his body-worn camera.

Jaynes was fired for two departmental violations tied to his work securing the search warrant, the letter stated. Mattingly retired from the police department.

Hankison's trial is expected to last about two weeks.