Feds charge 4 officers with violating Breonna Taylor’s rights
The Justice Department on Thursday announced charges against four current and former police officers in Louisville, Ky., in the 2020 killing of Breonna Taylor, alleging violations of Fourth Amendment and civil rights that led to her death.
Attorney General Merrick Garland announced that Officers Joshua Jaynes and Kelly Goodlett and Sgt. Kyle Meany had been charged with Fourth Amendment violations for pursuing a warrant they knew contained false information. A former detective, Brett Hankison, was also charged in a separate indictment with violating Taylor’s civil rights.
“Earlier today, I spoke with the family of Breonna Taylor,” Garland said on Thursday. “This morning, they were informed that the Justice Department has charged four current and former Louisville Metro Police Department officers with federal crimes related to Ms. Taylor’s death. Those alleged crimes include civil rights offenses, unlawful conspiracies, unconstitutional use of force and obstruction offenses.”
All four officers indicted worked on the Louisville Metro Police Department’s place-based investigation squad.
Taylor, a 26-year-old emergency room technician was shot and killed when the place-based investigation unit served a no-knock warrant on her home on March 13, 2020. At the time, Taylor was with her boyfriend, who shot and wounded a police officer he believed was an intruder trying to break in. After he fired, the police fired 22 shots into Taylor’s home, with five striking and killing her.
The police had been investigating a pair of drug dealers in the area, and the affidavit signed to obtain the warrant alleged that one of the targets had received a package at Taylor’s address.
“Today, after a full and comprehensive investigation, the facts and law have brought us here to these indictments,” Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke said on Thursday. “No stone was left unturned. These indictments reflect the department’s commitment to preserving the integrity of the criminal justice system and to protecting the constitutional rights of every American, independent from these criminal charges.”
Garland said one of the charges alleges that Meany, Jaynes and Goodlett all knew that the affidavit used to obtain the warrant contained false information. Specifically, he alleged that Jaynes and Goodlett knew the target of the warrant had not received packages at Taylor’s address.
“We allege that Ms. Taylor’s Fourth Amendment rights were violated when defendants Joshua Jaynes, Kyle Meany and Kelly Goodlett sought a warrant to search Ms. Taylor’s home knowing that the officers lacked probable cause for the search,” Garland said.
Clarke later said that Jaynes and Meany worked together to draft and approve the false affidavit that was used to justify the warrant. In doing so, the Justice Department alleges, they willfully deprived the 26-year-old Taylor of her rights against unlawful search and seizure.
“The Fourth Amendment of the Constitution ensures that people are subject to searches only when there is probable cause supporting a search warrant,” Clarke said. “Falsified warrants create unnecessary hazards for the public and for the police who rely on facts that fellow officers report in carrying out their public duties.”
Hankison, whom the Police Department fired in June 2020, is charged with the use of excessive force that violated Taylor’s civil rights, the rights of her guest and the rights of her neighbors.
“Without a lawful objective justifying the use of deadly force, defendant Hankison traveled away from Ms. Taylor’s doorway to the side of the building and fired 10 shots into Breonna Taylor’s apartment through a bedroom window and a sliding glass door that were both covered with blinds and curtains,” Clarke said.
“Community safety dictates that police officers use their weapons only when necessary to defend their own lives or the lives of others and, even then, that they must do so with great care and caution,” Clarke said.
Hankison was previously charged with felony endangerment in the state of Kentucky but was acquitted in March.
Taylor’s killing received renewed focus in May 2020 following the murder of George Floyd by an officer in Minneapolis and racial reckonings across the country.
Her death also raised issues with the use of no-knock warrants, which the mayor of Louisville indefinitely suspended in May 2020.
“Breonna Taylor should be alive today,” Garland said on Thursday. “The Justice Department is committed to defending and protecting the civil rights of every person in this country. That was this department’s founding purpose, and it remains our urgent mission.”
Separately, Clarke said a Justice Department team was conducting a civil investigation into whether the Louisville Metro Police Department is currently “engaging in a pattern of law enforcement misconduct.” Clarke said that probe includes looking into the department’s use of excessive force, as well as any improper searches or seizures and racial profiling.