breonna taylor

Was the Search Warrant for the Drug Raid That Killed Breonna Taylor Illegal?

The information in the no-knock warrant application was based purely on guilt by association.


When Louisville, Kentucky, Detective Joshua Jaynes applied for the no-knock search warrant that led to Breonna Taylor's death last March, he said he expected to find "illegal narcotics or paraphernalia," "proceeds from drug trafficking," or "paperwork that may be a record of narcotics sales or that may indicate the transport, concealment or sales of narcotics." But after three plainclothes officers broke into Taylor's apartment around 12:40 a.m. on March 13 and shot the unarmed 26-year-old woman dead, they did not find any of that. Why did they think they would?

That question goes to the heart of the legal justification for the raid, during which Tayor's boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, fired a shot at the cops, whom he mistook for armed robbers, hitting one of them in the leg. According to a wrongful-death lawsuit filed by Taylor's family, the officers responded by "spray[ing] gunfire into the residence with a total disregard for the value of human life." Taylor's relatives say police fired more than 20 rounds, at least eight of which struck Taylor, an African-American EMT and aspiring nurse with no criminal record. Two days ago, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer said the city will try to fire Detective Brett Hankison, who is accused of "blindly" shooting 10 rounds into Taylor's apartment.

The tactics the cops used during the raid have generated justified outrage locally and nationwide. But the case, which has been frequently cited in the protests against police brutality triggered by George Floyd's death, also highlights the problem of inadequate judicial oversight, which allows operations like this one to proceed based on meager evidence.

When he applied for a warrant to search Taylor's apartment, Jaynes also asked for four other warrants: one for a suspected "trap house" allegedly operated by Jamarcus Glover and Adrian Walker (no relation to Kenneth Walker) at 2424 Elliott Avenue, two for vacant homes near that address, and one for a suspected stash house on West Muhammad Ali Boulevard. USA Today notes that Jefferson County Circuit Judge Mary Shaw approved all five warrants "within 12 minutes."

In his affidavit, Jaynes described substantial evidence that Glover and Adrian Walker were selling drugs. He noted pending drug charges against both men; his observation of "15-20 vehicles" going to and from the house at 2424 Elliott Avenue "within a short period of time"; surveillance camera footage showing Glover dropping and concealing "a large, blue cylinder-shaped object" next to rocks near that address; video of both suspects going back and forth between the stash and the house; a December 30 search that found "narcotics and firearms" in the house; and a January 2 traffic stop for speeding that discovered "a small amount of marijuana" and "a large undetermined amount of US currency located in the center console" of a red 2017 Dodge Charger driven by Adrian Walker.

By contrast, the evidence implicating Taylor, and thereby justifying searches of her apartment and her white 2016 Chevrolet Impala, was slight. Jaynes said he had seen Glover's Dodge Charger "make frequent trips" between the Elliott Avenue house and Taylor's apartment complex on Springfield Drive, which is about 10 miles away. He also reported that he had observed Taylor's car parked in front of the Elliott Avenue house "on different occasions." On January 16, Jaynes said, he had seen Glover pick up "a suspected USPS package" at Taylor's apartment. Jaynes also claimed he had "verified through a US Postal Inspector" that Glover was "receiving packages" there.

Taylor had dated Glover, and they remained friendly, which would explain the contacts that Jaynes observed. In a May 15 interview with WDRB, the local Fox TV station, Tony Gooden, a U.S. postal inspector in Louisville, said city police had never consulted with his office about the packages Glover received at Taylor's apartment. Gooden added that a different law enforcement agency, which he declined to identify, had asked about the packages in January, when his office concluded "there's no packages of interest going there." My former Reason colleague Radley Balko, writing at The Washington Post, reports that "a source with knowledge of the case has since told me that the packages contained clothes and shoes."

Based on Jaynes' affidavit, Judge Shaw had no way of knowing about the relationship between Taylor and Glover, the contents of the packages, or the conclusion by the postal inspector's office that there was nothing suspicious about them. But if she had spent more time reviewing Jaynes' warrant applications, she might have thought to ask whether there could be an innocent explanation for the interactions between Taylor and Glover, which apparently had nothing to do with drugs. Although Jaynes presented compelling evidence of drug dealing by Glover, who was arrested along with Adrian Walker the same night that police killed Taylor, the detective's inferences about her were based purely on guilt by association.

"There was clearly no probable cause to believe drugs were being dealt from her apartment, and no probable cause that Breonna or her boyfriend were doing anything illegal," says Daniel Klein, a former Albuquerque police sergeant who writes about law enforcement issues, in an email. "Yet the assistant district attorney and the [circuit] court judge not only approved the warrant…they approved it to be a no-knock warrant executed in the middle of the night!"

Balko argues that the no-knock warrant was illegal because Jaynes did not cite any information specific to Taylor that would justify dispensing with the usual knock-and-announce requirement. Instead Jaynes offered boilerplate that is commonly seen in applications for no-knock warrants: "Affiant is requesting a No-Knock entry to the premises due to the nature of how these drug traffickers operate. These drug traffickers have a history of attempting to destroy evidence, have cameras on the location that compromise Detectives once an approach to the dwelling is made, and a have history of fleeing from law enforcement." Yet none of that was true of Taylor—another crucial point that a more diligent judge might have noticed.

Despite the no-knock warrant, the officers who raided Taylor's apartment say they did announce themselves—a claim that Kenneth Walker and 16 neighbors disputed. But even if the cops did identify themselves while banging on Taylor's door for 30 to 45 seconds (according to Walker) before breaking it in with a battering ram, that information could easily have been missed by people awakened in the middle of the night. The evidence indicates that Walker—who reported a break-in during phone calls to police, his mother, and Taylor's mother—did not realize the armed men invading the apartment were police officers. Walker was initially charged with the attempted murder of a police officer, but prosecutors dropped that charge last month.

This month the Louisville City Council unanimously approved an ordinance that bans no-knock raids. As Balko notes, however, there is often little practical difference between no-knock raids and knock-and-announce raids, especially when warrants are served while residents are sleeping and police breach the door as they identify themselves or immediately afterward. Still, there is a legal distinction between the two kinds of searches, and the Supreme Court has said no-knock entries require something more than general observations about how certain kinds of suspects have been known to behave, although it also has said violations of that rule do not invalidate the evidence police collect.

"When I was a detective, the D.A. and judges would actually read the warrant," says Klein, who handled many drug investigations during his 20 years with the Albuquerque Police Department. "They took it seriously. There were several times I was told to go back and get more probable cause. That was the right thing to do. Having a D.A. and judge sign/approve a warrant is a check and balance for our system."

The FBI is investigating the raid that killed Taylor. According to the lawsuit by Taylor's family, Hankison, the officer Fischer wants to fire, has a "use of force history" that is "pages long, documenting dozens of situations where he has sent citizens to the hospital for injuries from being tased, pepper sprayed and struck repeatedly in the nose and eyes." The Louisville Metro Police Department recently announced that Detective Jaynes had been placed on "administrative reassignment" until lingering questions about "how and why the search warrant was approved" are resolved.

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  1. Rubber stamp judges are the last line of defense between you and someone getting high.

    1. Please tell Jacob Sullum not to post any more photos of white whales in his articles. I was eating a delicious smoked herring and nearly gagged seeing that obese sack of lard.

      1. You should have fallen to your knees and thanked God for saving Jonah.

        What kind of half-baked reverend are you anyway?

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      2. Someone selected that image from a huge number of similar images and did so for a reason. Parsing the possibilities, I’m leaning toward ‘selection to show empathy with fatties’; virtue-signalling.
        Could be wrong, but that’s a good first-order hypothesis.

      3. John wants to know her name.

      4. Call me Ishmael.

    2. Start with an unConstitutional law…the war on drugs….what could go wrong?

  2. Every drug warrior should be fired, compelled to try to find a decent livelihood.

    The people who support drug warriors are spectacularly lousy people, too, clinging to the wrong side of history.

    1. People like Joe Biden? Koala Harris? Shrill Hill?

      1. Joe’s not really sure about that anymore.
        In fact, he’s not too sure about much of anything anymore; have you heard him trying to construct a coherent, grammatical sentence?
        Harris’ position on the matter is, shall we say, highly situational.
        And HRC? Who gives a shit? I’m pretty sure Bubba doesn’t.

        1. Sevo doesn’t like Biden because he doesn’t respect people with less life experience.

          1. Weekend at Biden’s? Check that dude for a pulse.

            I don’t care about life experience when 60% of it has been in DC. Sorry. Also don’t take talking points from people with obvious dementia.

          2. “Sevo doesn’t like Biden because he doesn’t respect people with less life experience.”

            Asshole here tries to get clever and fails.

  3. The problem isn’t the legality of such warrants, since judges are basically a rubber stamp, but the existence of them in the first place.

    Any tool given to the government that can be misused, will be misused.

    1. Why should we just let judges off for being a rubber stamp. When you look at what they hoped to find at this residence, why isn’t there a judge asking, “Do you really need to do a dynamic entry at this residence? So what if they burn a couple of receipts or hide the bong?”

      I thought the whole point of making them ask a judge was to have a party who is ensuring that the rights of the public are protected. If it’s just a formality, we could just take the judges out of the picture and make them get permission from the police chief.

      1. Yeah, simply accepting ill-use is inviting more.

    2. The problem isn’t the legality of such warrants, since judges are basically a rubber stamp, but the existence of them in the first place.

      Judges need skin in the game. For example, in this case, the judge should be found guilty of manslaughter for not doing his job.

      1. Her job. The first step in holding them accountable is to actually learn who they are. Mary Shaw, circuit court judge in Louisville. She’s up for re-election in 2023, but she might need to face disciplinary action before then.

        I think the judge in the Houston no-knock raid case, Gordon G. Marcum II, was up for re-election this cycle. Hopefully the people of Houston were paying attention.

        1. If they aren’t, his opponent should make sure they know.

  4. Was the Search Warrant for the Drug Raid That Killed Breonna Taylor Illegal?

    Depends. Was the judge white?

  5. No more busting into houses for drugs.
    Easy peasy.

    1. Yeah, sunshine. “Easy-peasy”…until the scumbag perp flushes a few ounces of fishscale cocaine down the toilet, and the city is overrun by coked-up sewer alligators! Do you know what a coked-up alligator can do to the children?

      1. Quit flushing your kids down the sewers and they won’t meet the coked-up sewer crocodiles.


        1. a ten ring shot!! Nicely done sir.

  6. This is why judges need immunity.

    1. Kinda.

      The judge is just there to make sure all the appropriate checkboxes have been marked. I mean some due diligence would be nice, but the judge really has no way to determine the veracity of the justifications or evidence by the officers short of gross maleficence. And even then, the officers executing the warrant have no idea. The essence of bureaucracy is to act as a bulwark against blame. The more steps involved, the more possible parties to point fingers at/throw under the bus.

      That’s why the best course of action is to end the practice altogether, or at least have some oversight from outside the milieu using the reasonable man standard.

      But citizen juries STILL aren’t advocated for even though they have been proven effective when they have teeth.

      1. I think you missed some sarc.

        “The judge is just there to make sure all the appropriate checkboxes have been marked.”

        No, the judge is there to critically examine the claims of the LEOs, and make sure that the warrants are issued under the established rules.
        And, no, simply accepting sloppy work on their part as ‘bureaucratic error’ does not solve anything; the cops *AND* the judges should be held accountable.

  7. Judge Shaw … might have thought to ask whether there could be an innocent explanation

    How about making that question, and the written answer, part of the ongoing justice reform requirements?

    1. Agreed, but make the question also part of the record:
      ‘Judge, did you ask officer X if those activities could be nothing other than innocent interaction between innocent people?’

  8. USA Today notes that Jefferson County Circuit Judge Mary Shaw approved all five warrants “within 12 minutes.”

    Somebody’s catching on here that it’s just not the cops that are the problem, it’s the judges rubber-stamping warrant applications. It’s a start, I suppose.

  9. How did Walker make 3 phone calls in 30 seconds?

    1. “How did Walker make 3 phone calls in 30 seconds?”

      I scanned the article several times now and missed that; how about a pull quote?

      1. My last pay check was $8750 just ecom working 12 hours for every week. My neighbor have found the estimation of $15k for a long time and she works around 20 hours for seven days. DCs I can not trust how direct it was once I tried it information…… workstomorro7  

      2. But even if the cops did identify themselves while banging on Taylor’s door for 30 to 45 seconds (according to Walker) before breaking it in with a battering ram, that information could easily have been missed by people awakened in the middle of the night. The evidence indicates that Walker—who reported a break-in during phone calls to police, his mother, and Taylor’s mother—did not realize the armed men invading the apartment were police officers.

        1. ^that’s a quote

    2. If you follow the link, he apparently made two phone calls, to his mother and 911, after Breona had been shot, indicating that the cops had been shooting from outside and had not yet even come in to identify themselves.

      1. Yep. If you go look up the official statement by the Chief of Police on the firing of the one officer, he was fired for the reckless act of firing through a closed door (and not a screen or glass door).

  10. It wouldn’t matter if the warrant were 100% on the up and up. No knock raids at 12:30am by plainclothes police officers should be 1000% illegal. I’m almost sad that at least one of the home invaders wasn’t killed because getting shot is the absolute minimum you should expect when you bust into someone’s house without warning in the middle of the night without even the decency of wearing a uniform.

    1. I’d add that it doesn’t matter what clothes they’re wearing or what time it took place. Who has the time and awareness to notice what someone is wearing during a home invasion? No-knock raids should be illegal in all cases except maybe active shooter/hostage situations.

      1. The plain clothes is, as you mention, just part of the problem, but it is a singular aspect of it. No-knock warrants are bad at any time, but they should be considered so much worse at midnight. Plain clothes policing is bad any time but it should be considered so much worse at midnight. Every separate piece of this trifecta of terrible should be condemned high and low and their combination only multiplies how bad they are, rather than simply being additively awful.

        1. “We can’t wear plainclothes anymore? That’s Okay, we’d rather wear camo anyway.”

    2. THIS*10**100

  11. All adults have inalienable rights to free association with other adults and absolute ownership of their own bodies. This means they can buy and sell whatever they want in voluntary transactions and they can put whatever they want in their bodies. So, yes, the warrant was illegal and Breonna Taylor was murdered during a home invasion, robbery and attempted kidnapping. I think 2nd degree murder is what would normally be charged in a case like this.

  12. “and “a large undetermined amount of US currency located in the center console” of a red 2017 Dodge Charger driven by Adrian Walker.”

    “Undetermined?” WTF?! Cops cannot count that high or is it because it’s easier to steal when it has not been quantified. FFS

  13. Only bureaucrats – police are armed petty bureaucrats – could be so ignorant of human nature to think that an illegal warrant and SWAT raid were needed to get an ex-girlfriend to cause trouble for an ex-boyfriend.

    “A bureaucrat is the most despicable of men, though he is needed as vultures are needed, but one hardly admires vultures whom bureaucrats so strangely resemble. I have yet to meet a bureaucrat who was not petty, dull, almost witless, crafty or stupid, an oppressor or a thief, a holder of little authority in which he delights, as a boy delights in possessing a vicious dog. Who can trust such creatures?” ~ Marcus Tullius Cicero

  14. We need to start holding the judges that approve these warrants accountable in very stark terms.

  15. Lazy cops and lazy judges make a terrible Constitution-busting combination.

  16. Judges are a big part of the problem, from family courts all the way up to the FISA court, judges aren’t taking warrant requests seriously.

    Remember the Reason article from about a year ago about the judge who would pre-sign child seizure forms when he left for the weekend, so child protective services could take kids from their families without him having to spoil his weekend.

  17. It doesn’t matter if the search warrant was illegal. It was immoral.
    There were some people in the 1940’s who chose “rule of law” over rule of conscience. They called themselves Nazi’s and their decision to ignore their conscience got them hung.
    “Laws are maintained in credit, not because they are essentially just, but because they are laws. It is the mystical foundation of their authority; they have none other.” ~ Michel de Montaigne
    “When law and morality contradict each other the citizen has the cruel alternative of either losing his sense of morality or losing his respect of the law.” — Frederic Bastiat
    “Never do anything against conscience even if the state demands it.” ~ Albert Einstein

  18. I think the search warrant for David Westerfield’s person, house and vehicles following the kidnapping of Danielle van Dam in 2002, was illegal. Because the telephonic affidavit for it contained many factually incorrect statements and left out important relevant information. It was also based on information from Danielle’s parents, who were already known to be liars, and on a supposedly failed polygraph (the exam was apparently falsified by the operator who believed him guilty). The judge who granted the warrant only asked one quick question of the police, and that was about the polygraph – the many other statements made by the detective went unchallenged. So the judge acted as little more than a rubber stamp. A full 6 pages detailing the numerous problems with the affidavit was sent to the then Attorney General, Kamala Harris, but had no effect.

  19. Search warrants issued in the middle of the night may also be problematic. The judge, awakened from sleep, might not ask the necessary questions, and so approve warrants without sufficient probable cause. Similarly for warrants requested urgently.

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