- Former LMPD officer Brett Hankson has been charged a second time in connection with the Briona Taylor raid.
- Legal experts told Insider it’s not a double-risk case for Hankison.
- However, they said federal prosecutors will fight an uphill battle to win their case.
Former police officer Brett Hankson in Louisville, Kentucky, found himself in a very familiar situation Thursday, when federal prosecutors were Charges filed against him and three former or current police officers in connection with the March 2020 raid that led to the death of Briona Taylor.
Hankson was acquitted earlier this year in state court on other charges related to the raid.
Insider spoke to legal experts Thursday who explained why – despite the previous acquittal verdict – the new charges do not pose a double risk. But they also said Hankson’s previous acquittal and one of the charges against him could make the case against him particularly difficult for federal prosecutors to win.
Hannison’s role in the raid on Breonna Taylor’s apartment
26-year-old Briona Taylor was shot and killed on March 13, 2020, when officers executed a search warrant in connection with a drug smuggling investigation by raiding her home in the middle of the night.
The raid surprised Taylor and her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker. Fearing the home’s invaders would break into the door of the house, Walker grabbed his rifle and fired at the officers, and they returned fire, killing Taylor.
Hankson was one of the officers who returned fire. He was outside the apartment at the time and shot through a sliding glass door covered in a dark curtain, so he couldn’t see what he was aiming at.
A ballistics report will later find that bullets from two other officers’ pistols, not Hanksson’s, that killed Taylor.
But he was charged nonetheless because some of his bullets pierced a wall and entered a neighboring apartment, where three people were in the house at the time.
Prior to Thursday, Hankson was the only police officer facing charges in connection with the raid. Hankison was charged with three counts of arbitrary endangerment, but a Louisville jury acquitted the three counts in March.
A grand jury refused to indict the sergeant. Jonathan Mattingley and Dett. Miles Cosgrove, the two officers who fired the fatal shots that killed Taylor.
Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron said his office’s investigation into the matter showed – and the grand jury agreed – that Mattingly and Cosgrove “were justified returning the fatal fire” because Taylor’s boyfriend shot them first.
Not a case of double danger
As the Ministry of Justice press release According to the new indictments, the new charges against Hankson are separate and different from the state charges.
While the two charges relate to the incident and the same set of facts, the two civil rights charges allege that “Hankson intentionally and unconstitutionally used excessive force, while in his official capacity as an officer, when his service weapon was fired at Taylor’s apartment through a covered window and covered glass door,” according to the press release. .
The Department of Justice explains that these are “violations of the United States Constitution, not state law.”
Because Hankison is being charged in a different court, the risk of double exposure does not apply, according to Michael J.Z. Mannheimer, a professor at Northern Kentucky University School of Law.
“Some people might think that the idea of double jeopardy prevents the federal government from coming and trying him again, since he was acquitted. But double jeopardy doesn’t apply because he is a different sovereign. Kentucky tried him, he was acquitted, and now the United States can come in as a country with separate sovereignty and suing him,” Mannheimer explained.
How likely is Hankson to be indicted this time around?
While the US Attorney’s office has every right to sue Hankson for alleged civil rights violations, that doesn’t mean it will be an easy win.
It would be particularly difficult to prove one of the two, Mannheimer said.
The first charge relates to violating Taylor and her boyfriend’s Fourth Amendment rights, which protect against unreasonable searches and seizures by the government. Federal prosecutors say Hankson used excessive force, which constituted an unreasonable search.
The second charge relates to injuring or nearly killing her neighbours. But since her neighbors were not the subject of the raid, the Fourth Amendment does not apply. Instead, plaintiffs should use the Fourteenth Amendment, which states that no person should be deprived of “life, liberty, or property without due process of law.”
Mannheimer said the burden of proving a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment is much greater.
“They have to show that Hankson’s actions were not simply unjustified, but shocked the conscience,” Mannheimer said.
Daniel J. Cannon, a civil rights attorney and professor at the University of Louisville Law School, agreed that Hankson’s case would be more difficult than the cases against the other three officers, which deal with false information in an affidavit for a warrant on Taylor’s home and then try to cover up the their effects.
Cannon compared the case to the case against Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer who was found responsible for the murder of George Floyd in May 2020 by kneeling on his neck for several minutes during arrest.
Chauvin was convicted of violating Floyd’s civil rights but only after he was convicted of a statewide murder. The opposite is true for Hankison, Cannon said, as Hankison was acquitted before he was federally charged.
“I think that tells us a lot about this Department of Justice. They’re willing to take risks in a case like this, even when they know conviction isn’t something certain. We haven’t seen much of that in previous administrations,” Cannon said.
He said prosecutors might have the advantage of having a jury different from the one that decided the state case. While the jurors in Hankison’s previous case could have been drawn from within Jefferson County, Kentucky, which includes the Louisville metropolitan area, the federal trial will draw from a broader group of Jefferson and surrounding counties.
Cannon said that while federal juries tend to be less sympathetic to criminal defendants, it remains to be seen whether that holds true in this type of case.
“The surrounding counties tend to be more rural and largely unfriendly with the defendant, but that dynamic may change when you have a white police officer who is the defendant,” Cannon said.