LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Breonna Taylor’s neighbor recalled her horror as police bullets flew into her apartment near her sleeping son as a federal trial for the former Louisville officer who fired those shots began Thursday.
Brett Hankison fired 10 shots during the botched raid in March 2020 that left Taylor dead, though it was another officer who fatally shot the 26-year-old Black woman. Hankison, 47, is charged with two federal civil rights violations for endangering Taylor, her boyfriend and Taylor’s neighbors, who shared a wall with her apartment. None of Hankison’s shots hit anyone.
Federal prosecutors are attempting to do what Kentucky prosecutors couldn’t — convict Hankison for his actions on the night Taylor was shot to death by white officers. In the 2022 state trial, Hankison was acquitted of charges that he endangered Napper and her family.
In this federal case, the stakes are higher for Hankison. The two charges each carry a maximum penalty of life in prison.
“I was scared to death, I didn’t know what was happening,” the neighbor, Chelsey Napper, testified as the first witness called by federal prosecutors. Napper lived next door to Taylor, whose killing sparked massive racial injustice protests in the summer of 2020.
“I didn’t know what to think, I couldn’t think,” Napper testified, after saying she heard a loud boom outside. It was a hail of gunfire from officers who came to Taylor’s door to serve a warrant. After officers broke down Taylor’s door with a battering ram, her boyfriend fired a shot that hit an officer in the leg.
Napper’s boyfriend and her son were also in their apartment, and she said a bullet came within 1 to 2 feet (0.3 to 0.6 meters) of her son, Zayden, as he lay in bed. Napper testified she was shocked when she later learned it was a police officer who fired the shots.
Hankison’s lawyers argued during opening statements that the former K-9 officer with 17 years of experience was making a “tactical move” when he spun away from Taylor’s front door, ran to the side of the apartment and fired shots through a glass door and bedroom window.
“None of Brett Hankison’s rounds hit anyone. No one,” his attorney, Jack Byrd said during opening arguments Thursday.
Federal prosecutors told the jury that Hankison fired his shots after the gunfire between other officers and Taylor’s boyfriend had stopped.
“At that point, Breonna was on the ground … the gunfire had stopped,” said Anna Gotfryd, a federal prosecutor with the Department of Justice. “Except the defendant wasn’t done.”
Gotfryd said Hankison retreated to the side of the apartment and “suddenly sprayed bullets into the apartment.”
Hankison’s attorneys disputed that there was a pause between the gunfire between officers at the door and Hankison’s shots. None of the officers involved in the raid had turned on their body cameras.
Byrd argued that Hankison had shown up the night of the raid to earn overtime pay, and had nothing to do with the drafting of the warrant used to enter Taylor’s home. He said the jury would hear testimony that Hankison was not the last to fire his weapon.
Hankison took the witness stand at his 2022 trial in state court and said after a fellow officer was shot in the leg, he moved away from the front door and to the side of the apartment, where he began firing. He said he wanted to “stop the threat” coming from inside the apartment.
The jury selection process began on Monday. About 80 potential jurors were individually questioned out of the public eye in a library adjacent to the courtroom over three days as U.S. District Judge Rebecca Jenning Grady took precautions to protect their identities and their answers to personal questions. In Hankison’s state trial, potential jurors were asked about their views on the police and protest groups like Black Lives Matter.
On Thursday morning, 16 jurors were selected, a number that includes four alternates in case a juror cannot finish the trial.
Hankison is one of four officers who were charged by the U.S. Department of Justice last year with violating Taylor’s civil rights. He was fired by Louisville police in 2020.