Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old African-American emergency medical technician, was fatally shot by Louisville Metro Police Department (LMPD) on March 13, 2020.
Her life was cut short just before 1:00 am on March 13, when three Officers Jonathan Mattingly, Brett Hankinson, and Myles Cosgrove, executed a no-knock warrant and fired more than 20 rounds into her home. Eight of those bullets struck her body, and no medical assistance was provided by the police officers who so jarringly awoke her and her boyfriend that night.
What happened to Breonna Taylor?
The Louisville Police investigation that lead to Taylor’s death centered around two men suspected of selling drugs roughly 10 miles away from her home. Breonna’s address was included in the investigation under suspicion that her ex-boyfriend received drugs and stored cash there.
The warrant was a so-called no-knock warrant, which gave police permission to enter Taylor’s apartment without warning and without identifying themselves as police.
In the middle of the night, Taylor and her current boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, were awoken by a loud banging at the door. The police officers claim they identified themselves as law enforcement though Walker said he heard no such identifying claim. He only knew, he later said, that someone was breaking down the front door in the dark of night.
In Public Integrity Unit interviews, conducted in March and published July 9, police admitted that Taylor had been a “soft target” from whom officers anticipated “no threat.” Mattingly said they believed her to be alone on the night of the shooting, and insisted that the officers did knock and did identify themselves. As Zuri Davis notes, four neighbors contradicted that claim. But even if the official account is accurate, it is completely plausible that Walker and Taylor, who were asleep in the middle of the night, did not hear or comprehend those warnings. Indeed, he said they gave Taylor “more than enough time for the average person or even a disabled person to get to the door” before they forced the door open in the “most passive way” they could: by using a battering ram.
Defending himself, Taylor, and their home, Walker fired his legally licensed firearm, invoking protection from Kentucky’s “castle doctrine” and “stand your ground” law. These measures mean a person who uses a gun in self-defense—against, say, midnight intruders breaking into their home—is not liable for criminal or civil charges.
Walker told police he fired one shot as a warning, aimed at the ground, still unable to see and unclear on who was at the door.
“But you can’t see anybody, though, when the door comes off its hinges,” Walker told investigators. “It happened fast, like an explosion. Boom, one shot. Then all of the sudden, there’s a whole lot of shots. We both drop to the ground. But I just hear her (Breonna Taylor) screaming.”
The shot fired by Walker struck one of the unannounced men in the leg, and the police fired back, striking Breonna Taylor in the hallway of the home. Three Louisville police officers fired more than 20 bullets into Breonna Taylor’s apartment, striking her eight times. For at least five minutes, she was coughing as she struggled to breathe, according to her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, who told investigators she was alive as he called her mom and yelled for help.
Taylor’s mother told the Washington Post that she had received a call from Walker, who said someone was trying to break into the apartment before shouting, “I think they shot Breonna.” According to his attorney, Walker fired a shot in self-defense and struck an officer in the leg. Walker is a licensed firearm carrier. In response, police opened fire, shooting more than 20 rounds into Taylor’s home, striking objects in the living room, dining room, kitchen, hallway, bathroom, and both bedrooms.
“(Police are) yelling like, ‘Come out, come out,’ and I’m on the phone with her (mom). I’m still yelling help because she’s over here coughing and, like, I’m just freaking out,” Walker said in a recorded police interview three hours after the shooting.
“Breonna, who was unarmed in her hallway, was struck by several rounds of gunfire. She was not killed immediately,” attorneys Sam Aguiar and Lonita Baker wrote in a revised lawsuit filed on behalf of Taylor’s family. “Rather, she lived for another five to six minutes before ultimately succumbing to her injuries on the floor of her home.”
Outside, officers shouted for Walker to exit and rushed to treat Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly, putting a tourniquet on his thigh after Walker had shot him. Walker was arrested and charged with assault and attempted murder on a police officer.
A copy of Taylor’s death certificate obtained by The Courier Journal lists her time of death as “approx. 0048.”
That time has since come into question from the coroner herself, however.
Jefferson County Coroner Barbara Weakley-Jones said the 12:48 a.m. time was “an estimate” based on available information and what can be gleaned from Taylor’s body.
She said her office was not called to the scene until at least an hour after the shooting, which she said is not uncommon.
Weakley-Jones said Taylor’s injuries were not survivable.
“If she had even been outside of an emergency room department at a hospital, and she got shot and sustained the same injury, they would not have been able to save her,” she said. “… So there’s no way that even if they (police) ran to her and tried to give her aid, they can’t do anything because it’s all internal injuries that you can’t stop.”
The coughing Walker described would have been “agonal” breathing, meaning Taylor’s heart had stopped but her body still had a few last breaths, Weakley-Jones said.
Issues with Taylor’s Death
The police found no drugs in Breonna Taylor’s apartment. And though Walker was initially charged with the attempted murder of a police officer, but later in the month, he was released from jail on home incarceration, and on May 26, the charges against him were dismissed. As it turns out, the suspect, Breonna’s ex-boyfriend, was already in custody when the officers executed the warrant.
In the aftermath of the death of Breonna Taylor during a police raid on her Louisville apartment, many have questioned whether the police were at the right apartment in the first place.
The Taylor family’s lawsuit raises questions about why police targeted Breonna’s apartment in the first place.Police records show that Taylor wasn’t the main subject of the police investigation the night she died. It instead focused on Jamarcus Glover, an ex-boyfriend of Taylor’s with whom her family says she maintained a “passive” relationship.
In the affidavit seeking a search warrant for Taylor’s house, Detective Joshua Jaynes wrote that he had seen Glover leave Taylor’s apartment in January with a USPS package before driving to a “known drug house” more than ten miles away. A judge then signed off on the warrant, including a “no knock” provision that allowed law-enforcement officers to enter Taylor’s house without identifying themselves.
Attorneys representing Breonna Taylor’s family say that LMPD officers provided “false information” in the affidavits requesting the no-knock warrant.
In March, Jaynes wrote five affidavits seeking a judge’s permission for no-knock searches, which were all approved within 12 minutes by Jefferson Circuit Judge Mary Shaw.
Lawyers for Taylor’s family say that Glover was already in police custody “prior to the warrant being executed at Breonna’s home.” Still, law enforcement deemed the “no knock” necessary because “these drug traffickers have a history of attempting to destroy evidence, have cameras on the location that compromise detectives once an approach to the dwelling is made, and have a history of fleeing from law enforcement,” according to police records.
“Several outlets, have reported on the serious questions around the warrant and the application filed by the police officers, and there are questions around whether this no-knock warrant was even constitutional.” Chris Meagher
“Unless the police had reason to believe this particular house had cameras, and explained that reason to the judge, a no-knock warrant would be improper,” Christopher Slobogin, the director of Vanderbilt University’s Criminal Justice Program, told the Courier Journal.
“Otherwise, police would never need to knock and announce for any search related to drug dealing, with consequences like the one we have in this case,” he continued.
“If it was appropriate here, then every routine drug transaction would justify grounds for no-knock,” Brian Gallini, a legal scholar at the University of Arkansas who has written extensively on the Fourth Amendment also added.
The officers who killed Breonna Taylor have faced almost no consequences for their reckless actions. After a long public outcry, Louisville officer Brett Hankinson was fired from the department effective June 23, 2020. Jonathan Mattingly and Myles Cosgrove remain on the job. None of the three have been arrested or charged for killing an innocent woman while she slept.
What is Breonna’s Law?
On June 11, the Louisville City Council voted unanimously in favor of a ban on no-knock search warrants like the one officers used to barge into Taylor’s home, and named the ordinance “Breonna’s Law.” The measure also mandates the use of body cameras, which have to be activated no later than five minutes prior to all searches and remain on for five minutes after. Kentucky senator Rand Paul introduced a similar bill called the Justice for Breonna Taylor Act that would ban the use of no-knock warrants by federal law enforcement.
Without any previous drug convictions or related incidents on Taylor or Walker’s records, this warrant and its mishandling were both aggressive and unprofessional. The Louisville Metro Chief of Police has since stated publicly that no-knock warrants are usually executed by SWAT, making the events of March 13 seem more askew. But this is how the war on drugs works: Accuse, arrest, kill, and cover up. Excuse it all by tarnishing the victims as “drug dealers”—even dedicated public servants like Breonna Taylor.
The price of the drug war will always disproportionately be paid by communities of color.
If all this sounds familiar, it’s because police across the country create this sort of dangerous situation again and again.
Breonna didn’t deserve to die. 7-year old Aiyana Jones didn’t deserve to die. Atatiana Jefferson didn’t deserve to die. 92-year-old Kathryn Johnston didn’t deserve to die. There are so many more names and stories—George Floyd, Atatiana Jefferson, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Philando Castile, Sandra Bland, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown—and each one has a story as compelling as Breonna Taylor’s. Policing, the drug war, and racism are deeply intertwined and we must end their parasitic relationship now. Until we do, people in their own homes or cars are at risk of being shot down by the police.