At least no one can claim a rush to judgment here. Three months after police fired a volley of shots at Breonna Taylor in her own home and killed her, one of the three officers finally lost his job today. From the sounds of his termination letter, though, Brett Hankison has bigger worries than a paycheck coming at him:
The police in Louisville, Ky., are moving to terminate one of the officers involved in the death of Breonna Taylor, Mayor Greg Fischer announced on Friday, the first such action taken in a case that has drawn widespread criticism and national protests.
The officer, Brett Hankison, was one of three officers who used a no-knock warrant to enter the apartment with a battering ram, during a late-night drug investigation in March. The officers shot Ms. Taylor at least eight times. …
The case has drawn fierce scrutiny, leading city officials to ban the use of no-knock warrants, a contentious police practice that allows officers to forcibly enter homes to search them without warning. Officers said they did announce themselves, but Ms. Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, said he did not hear any warning and opened fire, striking an officer in the leg.
Officers fired back, killing Ms. Taylor, who had been in bed.
In bed and asleep, as it turned out, and who had nothing to do with any crime. Nor for that matter did Walker, as it turned out. In fact, the no-knock warrant related to a crime in another location, and police added the Taylor-Walker apartment to it because they suspected it was a drop location for drug transactions. After the shooting cleared, police found no evidence to support those contentions, nor was any reason given why this location required a “no knock” approach in the first place.
Louisville banned no-knock warrants this week, but that’s not the end of the issue with the police, nor with Hankison in particular. Fischer said he couldn’t publicly disclose what an investigation has produced, but Chief Rob Schroeder’s termination letter leaked to the media anyway. And, well … hoo boy:
“I have determined you violated Standard Operating Procedure … when your actions displayed an extreme indifference to the value of human life when you wantonly and blindly fired ten rounds into the apartment of Breonna Taylor,” the letter stated.
Schroeder also said Hankison violated procedure by using deadly force without knowing the force was directed at a person who posed an immediate threat. The chief noted that the door and window that he shot through were covered and prevented Hankison from identifying if there was any threat on the other side.
Assuming this is accurate (and we have yet to hear the other side of this, to be fair), Louisville might need to answer what took so long to fire Hankison. Those actions are so blatantly and grossly negligent that it should have gotten Hankison canned right off the bat even if no one got injured. If a civilian had done anything remotely this reckless even in a legitimate self-defense posture, a prosecution would be very likely. Police are supposed to have more discipline in the use of lethal force.
Plus, there’s this nugget:
Schroeder said Hankison was previously disciplined last year for “reckless conduct that injured an innocent person,” but would not go into further details.
The mayor suggested that prosecutors were entering into an “incrimination process,” which likely means some sort of grand jury review. Based on the information in the termination letter, they have a case to make in that venue, although it remains to be seen whether it’s a convincing case for an indictment. The fact that Hankison remained on the force this long — and that the other two officers involved in the shooting are still employed by Louisville’s police department — raises questions about either the case or their enthusiasm for pursuing it.
In a statement through their attorney, Taylor’s family wonders why the other two are still employed as well. Lonita Baker says she’s not sure why it’s taken this long, and that the family wants all three prosecuted in the homicide:
The attorney for Breonna Taylor’s family says they're pleased that an officer involved in Taylor’s fatal shooting is in the process of being fired.
— CNN (@CNN) June 19, 2020
The dynamic here seems to be that Louisville realized that foot-dragging would not play well in the aftermath of the George Floyd homicide. Taylor’s death came up immediately in the aftermath of an example of reckless policing that resulted in the death of an African-American, this one not even involved in the supposed crime and asleep in her own bed. It’s tough to believe that it took three months to establish the facts laid out in that termination letter, for instance. Now that Louisville has some significant motivation to address this, perhaps the roles played by the other two officers will emerge sooner rather than later.