A federal jury reached an impasse on Thursday in a civil rights case against a police officer involved in Breonna Taylor’s shooting death in 2020, forcing a mistrial.
After nearly a week of deliberation, the jury could not agree on whether to convict former officer Brett Hankison of using excessive force that violated the rights of Taylor, her boyfriend and their neighbors.
Taylor’s death received little attention at the time, but later added to already elevated tensions around policing in 2020 after evidence in the case was released to the public and fanned protests surrounding the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Here’s what you need to know about the case:
Breonna Taylor shooting
Taylor was shot and killed when Louisville, Ky. police executed a no-knock warrant on her apartment, which investigators later found to be fraudulent. After officers busted down her apartment door, Taylor’s boyfriend Kenneth Walker fired one shot at who he believed to be home intruders.
The shot hit a Louisville police officer in the leg, leading three police officers to fire into the apartment. Taylor, who was lying in bed, was struck and killed by one of the rounds.
Other shots sailed through the walls and into the apartment next door, endangering a family with a toddler, prosecutors argued. Nobody was injured in the other apartment.
After a two-year investigation into the shooting, four people were charged with federal crimes, including Hankison. Officer Kelly Goodlett pleaded guilty to falsifying a warrant and is expected to testify against the other two officers, Joshua Jaynes and Kyle Meany, at trial in 2024
The Justice Department (DOJ) released a scathing report on systemic abuses in the Louisville Police Department in March, alleging that Louisville police frequently used excessive force, made illegal traffic stops and searches and discriminated against Black people.
The case against Brett Hankison
Of the three police officers who fired into the apartment, prosecutors only charged Hankison, arguing that the other two officers were justified in returning fire.
While the other two officers remained in the apartment hallway and fired directly back at the source of the gunshot, Hankison left the apartment and shot into it from the side, without seeing any clear target, which prosecutors argue was a deliberate attempt to use excessive force.
Hankison’s shots did not kill Taylor, but did enter the neighbor’s apartment, illegally endangering that family, prosecutors argued.
Hankison “was a law enforcement officer, but he was not above the law,” federal prosecutor Michael Songer argued at trial.
The defense argued Hankison was merely acting quickly to help his fellow officers.
“If his perception was reasonable in the chaos of that moment, that was not criminal,” defense attorney Stewart Mathews said.
After a two-week trial, the jury deliberated for nearly an entire week. The judge had to send security into the deliberation room after she heard yelling from inside, The Associated Press reported.
Despite urging from the judge and the federal prosecutor to make a decision, the jury announced that they were deadlocked on both charges against Hankison, resulting in a mistrial.
What happens next
Taylor’s mother was disappointed at the case result, but has not given up hope on a future prosecution, The AP reported.
“Because a mistrial is not an acquittal. And so we live another day to fight for justice for Breonna,” she said.
It is unclear if prosecutors will attempt to retry the case, which Songer said would take “enormous resources” to attempt again.
Attorney General Merrick Garland said Taylor, a 26-year-old nursing student, “should be alive today” when he announced the federal charges in August 2022. Hankison faced a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted.
Hankison was found not guilty of state criminal charges last year related to the shooting.
The trial of officers Jaynes and Meany was scheduled for October, but has been delayed until 2024.
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