Prosecutors had one last opportunity to make their case Thursday morning for why former Louisville police officer Brett Hankison should be convicted of wanton endangerment for his actions during the March 2020 raid on Breonna Taylor’s home.
Hankison’s charges stem from five bullets he fired into Taylor’s patio door and windows. Three of those traveled through a shared wall and into a neighboring apartment occupied by Cody Etherton, Chelsey Napper, and Napper’s five-year-old son. Prosecutors allege Hankison was firing blindly, because he couldn’t see what was behind the door and windows, which were covered by curtains.
Prosecutor Barbara Whaley of the Kentucky Attorney General’s Office told jurors during her closing argument Thursday that Hankison had enough experience to know he was endangering the lives of innocent people when he was “shooting wildly” into the side of an apartment building. He had nearly two decades of law enforcement experience prior to the raid.
“His wanton conduct could have multiplied one tragic death — Breonna Taylor — by three, easily,” she said.
Whaley said the case isn’t about Taylor’s killing, the use of no-knock search warrants nor whether the officers involved should face civil rights charges.
Positioned in front of a projected family photo of Etherton, Napper and her son, Whaley said the case against Hankison is about that family, which was in the line of fire that night.
“By grace, they are still alive,” she said.
If convicted of all three counts of wanton endangerment, Hankison faces a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison. In order to prove his guilt, prosecutors needed to show that Hankison knowingly created a substantial danger of death or serious physical injury to Napper and Etherton, and that Hankison’s conduct showed an extreme disregard for human life.
In his closing argument, Hankison’s lawyer Stew Mathews attempted to poke holes in the prosecution’s case. Mathews reminded jurors that other officers who participated in the raid testified that they were never provided with photos or blueprints of the apartment building.
“Brett Hankison did not know there was an apartment behind Breonna Taylor’s that his bullets could go into,” he argued.
Mathews also disputed the claim that Hankison was “shooting blindly.” He said Hankison claimed to see muzzle flashes on the other side of the patio door and windows. At the time, Hankison thought the flashes were coming from a shooter with a long gun inside the apartment.
During the trial, two firearms trainers for the Louisville Metro Police Department testified that officers are supposed to identify a target or threat before using deadly force. Other witnesses testified that no weapon other than a handgun was recovered from the apartment.
“You all have to determine whether, even if he knew [about the neighboring apartment], was it unjustifiable to do what he thought was in the defense of his brother officers who he perceived were being executed in the fatal funnel,” Mathews told jurors.
Testifying on his own behalf Wednesday, Hankison said he felt he did nothing wrong the night of the raid. He also apologized to Etherton and Napper, Taylor’s neighbors.
Both Etherton and Napper testified during the trial that they were asleep when Hankison and the other LMPD officers arrived at Taylor’s apartment complex around midnight. The two woke up when officers started ramming open Taylor’s front door.
When Etherton walked toward his living room to see what the noise was, a bullet entered through the kitchen wall and came within inches of his face, he said.
“Debris started going past my head, my face,” he 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.”
Internal police investigators later determined that bullet was fired by Hankison. Another two bullets he fired entered Etherton and Napper’s apartment: One ended up in the living room floor and the other went through their sliding glass door.
Jurors left the courtroom around noon on Thursday to deliberate on a verdict. It’s unclear how long it will take them to reach a decision.