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Former Louisville officer asked at trial whether he did anything wrong in raid that killed Breonna Taylor: 'Absolutely not'

A grand jury indicted Brett Hankison on three counts of first-degree wanton endangerment.

Former Louisville, Kentucky, Police Officer Brett Hankison testified Wednesday that he did nothing wrong the night Breonna Taylor was killed when police raided her apartment two years ago.

He is on trial accused of endangering Cody Etherton, his partner, Chelsey Napper, and their 5-year-old son for shooting into their apartment on March 13, 2020. Police were at the complex to raid his neighbor's apartment in connection with a narcotics investigation.

Police shot and killed Taylor, 26, who was Black, after her boyfriend fired a gun, fearing a home invasion.

The Louisville Metro Police Department fired Hankison in June 2020, about three months after the shooting. A grand jury indicted him on three counts of first-degree wanton endangerment for bullets that went into Etherton's apartment. He has pleaded not guilty.

The grand jury declined to directly charge Hankison or the two other undercover narcotics officers who opened fire inside the house with the death of Taylor.

Hankison appeared to get emotional Wednesday as he recounted the night of the raid. He described how he saw "a muzzle flash" immediately after police broke through Taylor's apartment door.

"The muzzle flash was not a muzzle flash that I would commonly identify as a handgun muzzle flash. This was a large-fire muzzle flash that I could see directly in front of me," he told the court. "With the muzzle flash, it then gave the illumination to that hallway."

Hankison then asked the judge whether he could stand up and demonstrate what he saw. Crouching in a shooting stance, he said: "So I could see in the hallway … a subject, and I could not tell if it was a male or female, in a shooting stance at the ready.”

Image: Brett Hankison
Former Louisville Police officer Brett Hankison looks back at the courtroom gallery, on March 1, 2022, in Louisville, Ky.Timothy D. Easley / Pool-AP

Hankison said that, immediately following the muzzle flash, Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly dropped to the floor. Police said Taylor's boyfriend shot Mattingly in the leg, but lawyers for the boyfriend have disputed the claim.

At one point in his testimony, Hankison said he believed his colleagues were going to be executed.

"So I returned fire through the sliding glass door, and that did not stop the threat," he said.

Hankison testified that he fired 10 shots: five through the sliding glass door and five through a bedroom window. The gunfire lasted 5 to 10 seconds, he said.

Asked how he felt about bullets' going into the neighboring apartment, Hankison said he was "shook."

"I found out later that ... Ms. Napper testified they had a small child in there, and I felt horrible," he told the court.

Hankison was asked later whether he thought he did anything wrong. "Absolutely not," he responded.

Asked about his overall feelings, he said the incident was a "tragedy."

"It’s something that didn’t have to happen," he said.

As for Taylor, he said, "She didn’t need to die that night." Taylor’s mother, Tamika Palmer, then stormed out of the courtroom.

Prosecutors rested their case Tuesday, and the defense rested after Hankison’s testimony. Closing arguments and deliberations are expected Thursday.

Earlier in the trial, Etherton, 29, testified that police acted recklessly. His sliding back patio door was shattered as gunshots rang out.

He told the court that he believes officers thought his patio door was Taylor's.

"I could put two and two together. … I was like, 'They think my back door is her back door.' 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 floor plans. They should have had the blueprints. They didn’t even know whose back door that was. They didn’t even know who lived there. So to me, that kind of upset me. It was just reckless to me.”

Napper, who was pregnant at the time, testified that it "sounded like somebody set off a bomb or something" outside their apartment.

"It was so scary and crazy I didn’t know what was going on,” she said.

The couple and their 5-year-old son were not injured.

In the aftermath of the raid, two other Louisville police officers were fired. Detectives Myles Cosgrove and Joshua Jaynes, who applied for the search warrant in the raid, were fired in January 2021.

In a letter, then-Chief Yvette Gentry terminated Cosgrove’s employment 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 said. Mattingly retired.

Cosgrove, Jaynes and Mattingly have not been charged in any way related to the raid. No charges were ever filed directly related to Taylor's death.