Brett Hankison, the only officer charged in connection with the botched 2020 raid that left Breonna Taylor dead in her Louisville, Kentucky, apartment, said he opened fire because colleagues were “sitting ducks” being “sprayed with bullets” from an AR-15 rifle.
Hankison is facing charges because, during the narcotics raid on the 26-year-old woman’s apartment, he fired 10 shots – allegedly blindly – endangering a man, woman and child in a neighboring unit, according to Kentucky Assistant Attorney General Barbara Whaley.
No one was charged with killing Taylor, whose death sparked a national protest movement demanding police reform. Hankison, who is expected to take the stand in his own defense, faces three counts of felony wanton endangerment. He has pleaded not guilty.
On Friday afternoon the jury will visit the apartment complex and units affected by gunfire the night of the raid.
Jurors on Thursday heard a nearly hourlong taped interview the former officer gave an investigator on March 25, 2020.
“I saw an immediate illumination of fire,” Hankison said of the moment after officers breached the door with a battering ram.
“What I saw at the time was a figure in a shooting stance. And it looked like he or she was holding an AR-15 rifle, or a long gun.”
Whaley, in opening statements on Wednesday, said only a Glock pistol was found inside the apartment.
Sgt. Jason Vance, who was with the police department’s public integrity unit, testified that no AR-15 casings or bullets were recovered – nor was there evidence of that type of weapon being fired.
Defense lawyer Stew Mathews said there was no evidence of an AR-15 in the apartment, but suggested in his opening that there may have been one.
Hankison told investigators his only option was to return fire after another officer was shot. His bullets did not strike Taylor.
“I was almost under the impression at the time they were all being sprayed with bullets,” he said in the interview.
“I kind of felt they were sitting ducks,” Hankison said at another point.
The officers knocked repeatedly and then breached the door with a “ram” when there was no response. Hankison, at the time, was telling a neighbor just upstairs to get back into his apartment when shots came from inside Taylor’s apartment, Whaley said in opening statements.
When Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly was hit, Hankison started shooting perpendicular to where the shots were coming from, according to Whaley.
Hankison, in his interview 12 days after Taylor was killed, said he retreated from the narrow breezeway outside the apartment door to the parking lot a few feet away.
“I don’t recall if I fired as I was going back, but I knew where we were at was the worst place we could be,” he said. “We were all kind of trapped in that common area.”
He grew emotional recalling Mattingly being shot. He described firing through a window.
“As soon as I returned fire through that window the threat stopped,” Hankison told investigators, adding that he believed the shooter was advancing toward the officers.
“And I felt pretty helpless, like there is no way we can challenge this guy with an assault rifle,” he said.
Jurors were later shown video from a camera mounted on the helmet of a Louisville Metro Police Department SWAT team member who responded after the shooting. The video showed Taylor’s body in the distance at the end of a hallway.
Sgt. Brandon Hogan testified that SWAT officers entered the apartment and confirmed there were no other threats. The video also showed Hankison entering the apartment and being asked to leave what was now a crime scene.
Hankison asked if any guns were visible, “like a long gun,” according to the video.
Jurors to visit shooting scene on Friday
On Wednesday, Whaley made clear to jurors that Hankison is not on trial for killing Taylor.
“Breonna Taylor should not have died that night,” the prosecutor said. “The city of Louisville in a civil matter … paid millions of dollars to Breonna Taylor’s family, but the money did not bring her back. Nothing will.”
The defense, in their opening, said the veteran officer responded appropriately during a chaotic situation that he saw as a threat to himself and others.
The first day of testimony concluded with Vance showing jurors photos of the scene – including one of Taylor’s lifeless body in shadows at the end of a hallway.
Vance recalled the “very hard conversation” he had with Taylor’s mother outside the apartment, telling her “there was no doubt” the woman was dead inside. He said he offered to connect the family with a department chaplain.
Judge Ann Bailey Smith told jurors they will visit the apartment complex Friday afternoon.