Police lied to get Breonna Taylor’s home search warrant

The March 2020 murder of Breonna Taylor, which sparked widespread protests across the country, was the result of police lies to obtain a warrant and racist police violence after officers forced their way into her apartment .

On August 4, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced federal grand jury indictments of four Louisville Metro Police officers involved in the raid that resulted in Taylor’s death.

Three of the officers were charged with violating Taylor’s Fourth Amendment rights to be free from unreasonable search and seizure by lying to obtain a no-knock warrant. The officers who requested the warrant “knew that the affidavit used to obtain the search warrant for Taylor’s home contained false, misleading and outdated information; that the affidavit omitted important information; and that the officers had no probable cause for the search,” the indictment read.

One of the defendants tried to get another officer to lie and told him that he had already told him that a drug dealer (Taylor’s ex-boyfriend) had used his apartment to receive packages. An officer apparently broke the police’s pervasive code of silence and revealed to prosecutors that his colleague asked him to lie.

A judge issued a no-knock warrant based on the officers’ false statements. The warrant specified that they did not have to knock and identify themselves as police before entering the apartment.

This case was widely referred to as a “no hit” warrant incident. But before the police carried out the search, the court issued another warrant which required them to knock and announce their presence. The problem that led to their indictment is that the officers lied to get the warrant.

Taylor and her boyfriend Kenneth Walker were in bed when they heard a loud knocking on the door. They asked who was there, fearing it was Taylor’s ex trying to break in. But they never heard the police identify themselves. The officers say they knocked several times and identified themselves as police before entering.

Police used a battering ram to break down the door, and Walker once fired a gun (which he legally possessed), hitting an officer in the thigh. Officers then fired multiple shots, hitting Taylor five times. Officer Brett Hankison fired 10 rounds into a bedroom and living room covered in blinds and a blackout curtain. No drugs were found in Taylor’s apartment.

Louisville Sergeant. Kyle Meany and Detectives Joshua Jaynes and Kelly Hanna Goodlett were charged with making or adopting false statements in the affidavit to obtain the search warrant. Jaynes and Goodlett were charged with conspiring to falsify the affidavit. Hankison was charged with depriving Taylor, her boyfriend and neighbors of their Fourth Amendment rights by firing 10 bullets into a bedroom and living room. The only officer to be charged in state court, Hankison was acquitted of wanton endangerment of neighbors.

Tamika Palmer, Taylor’s mother, applauded the officers’ federal indictment, saying, “I’ve waited 874 days for today.”

But those working to abolish the prison system did not celebrate the indictment. Chanelle Helm, co-founder of Louisville Black Lives Matter, said she understands why people are calling for the officers to be arrested. But, she added, “If we ask for the arrest of the officers, it is contrary to the work of abolition.”

Abolitionist group Critical Resistance points out that prosecuting police officers who have killed and abused civilians fails to reduce the scale of policing, and instead “reinforces the prison industrial complex by portraying killer/corrupt cops as “bad apples” rather than as part of a regular system of violence, and reinforces the idea that prosecution and prison serve true justice.

The bottom line is that true justice cannot come without a full consideration of the system itself, which is based on centuries of oppression.

In March 2021, the International Commission of Inquiry into Systemic Racist Police Brutality Against People of African Descent in the United States (for which I served as Rapporteur) uncovered “a pattern and pattern of racist police brutality in the United States United against the backdrop of a history of oppression dating back to the extermination of First Nations peoples, the enslavement of Africans, the militarization of American society, and the continued perpetuation of structural racism.

The commission’s 188-page report details how black people are targeted, surveilled, brutalized, maimed and killed by law enforcement, and concludes that “the brutalization of black people is compounded by the impunity afforded to wrongdoing police officers, including most are never charged with a crime.” The overarching problem is the structural racism embedded in America’s justice and police systems.

If the police knowingly or recklessly include false statements in an affidavit to obtain a search warrant, any evidence seized under the warrant will be suppressed. But that remedy brings no comfort to people like Breonna Taylor who are killed as a result of systemic racist police violence.

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