Former Louisville police officer Brett Hankison, who is facing criminal charges for his actions during the deadly raid on Breonna Taylor’s home, testified Wednesday that he did nothing wrong and was only attempting to protect his fellow officers.
Hankison is currently on trial for three counts of felony wanton endangerment. Those charges stem from bullets he fired into Taylor’s covered patio doors and windows while trying to serve a search warrant on March 13, 2020. His bullets traveled through a shared wall and into an occupied neighboring apartment. Prosecutors allege Hankison fired blindly and showed an extreme disregard for the innocent lives inside the apartment building.
Taking the stand on Wednesday, Hankison told jurors he believed he did nothing wrong that night.
“My primary function, at that time when I returned fire, was to protect my fellow detectives who were stuck in that breezeway,” he said.
Hankison told jurors that he and a handful of other officers arrived at Taylor’s apartment complex around midnight. He claims officers knocked and identified themselves but received no response. He said after that, they rammed the door open.
Hankison said officers were shot at first by Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker. Investigations conducted after the shooting found that Walker shot once at police as they tried to ram open the door to the apartment. Walker later claimed he thought the officers were intruders.
While on the stand, Hankison also repeated his claim that someone inside the apartment fired on police with an AR-15 or some other type of long gun.
“I immediately could see darkness in the apartment, no lights on,” Hankison said of the moment when police broke open the door. “Then, almost instantaneously, I saw a large muzzle flash from directly in front of me.”
Hankison added that the muzzle flash was not what he would identify as “a handgun muzzle flash.” Jurors heard from witnesses earlier in the trial who said no such assault rifle was ever recovered by SWAT team members, who were the first to respond to the scene after the shooting. And no follow-up investigation has ever corroborated Hankison’s claims about an AR-15.
The competing claims may be significant because Hankison’s attorney, Stew Mathews, has argued that Hankison’s actions were “justified and reasonable” based on what the former officer perceived the circumstances to be.
Hankison grew emotional at times in his testimony Wednesday. He choked up and appeared to cry when describing how Walker’s single shot hit now-retired Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly in the leg. He took a long pause before saying that Mattingly yelled, “‘I’m hit’ or ‘I’m down,’ one or the other.”
Hankison ended his testimony by responding to the fact that some of the bullets he fired that night ended up in a neighboring apartment. At the time of the raid, the two-bedroom apartment was occupied by Cody Etherton, Chelsey Napper and Napper’s 5-year-old son.
Etherton was the first witness for the prosecution to testify last week, and he told the jury that he believed the police officers were “reckless” that night. He described waking up to officers ramming Taylor’s door and then almost being hit by a bullet when he walked toward his living room to investigate the noise.
“Debris started going past my head, my face,” Etherton said. “I pretty much knew, ‘cause I heard the shots, that it was gunfire coming through the wall. When drywall started hitting me in the face, I knew.”
Hankison expressed remorse on the stand, saying the entire incident was a “tragedy.” He testified that he never met Etherton and Napper and only learned about his bullets going into the apartment long after the shooting.
“I felt sincere empathy for them,” Hankison said. “If my daughter was shot at or bullets came into my house, that would be very concerning, and I apologize to her for that.”
Hankison was the only witness to take the stand in his defense. Prosecutors called dozens of witnesses throughout the trial, from internal police investigators and SWAT team members to other residents of Taylor’s apartment building.
Mathews, Hankison’s lawyer, told jurors at the start of the trial to expect little dispute over the basic facts of the case. Instead, Mathews said, the key issue in the case would be why Hankison fired the shots.
“He was attempting to fight and save the lives of his brother officers,” Mathews said during his opening argument.
Mathews and prosecutors with the Kentucky Attorney General’s office are expected to make closing arguments in front of jurors on Thursday. After that, jurors will be given instructions from Judge Ann Bailey Smith and then sent to deliberate on a verdict.
If Hankison is convicted of the three felony wanton endangerment charges, he faces a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison.