Brett Hankison, the Louisville, Kentucky, detective who was fired because of his role in the fruitless drug raid that killed Breonna Taylor last March, was also involved in a botched 2018 home invasion that terrified a family wrongly suspected of growing marijuana. So were at least four other Louisville police officers who participated in the case that led to Taylor's death, which has figured prominently in nationwide protests against police brutality. The overlap suggests a pattern of shoddy investigation and reckless paramilitary tactics that could have been detected before it killed an innocent woman.
In both cases, police broke into people's homes based on dubious evidence, and the residents initially thought they were being robbed. In Taylor's case, her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, grabbed a gun and fired at the intruders, injuring one of them in the leg. Police responded with a hail of more than 20 bullets, at least eight of which struck Taylor, who was unarmed. According to the acting police chief, Hankison "displayed an extreme indifference to the value of human life" when he "wantonly and blindly fired 10 rounds" into Taylor's apartment. So far no criminal charges have been filed against Hankison or the other officers. While no one died during the 2018 marijuana raid, things easily could have turned out differently.
Detective Joshua Jaynes obtained the no-knock warrant to search Taylor's apartment, which Hankison and two other plainclothes officers, Jonathan Mattingly and Myles Cosgrove, executed in the middle of the night on March 13, based entirely on guilt by association. Because Taylor, a 26-year-old EMT and aspiring nurse, remained friendly with a former boyfriend suspected of drug dealing, who sometimes received packages at her apartment, Jaynes suggested that she was involved in the illegal activity. But a local postal inspector later said there was nothing suspicious about those packages, which reportedly contained clothing and shoes.
The warrant to search the house where Mario Daugherty and Ashlea Burr lived, which police executed on the morning of October 26, 2018, was based on a tip about a prior tenant, who allegedly was growing marijuana there. According to a lawsuit that Daugherty and Burr filed a year later, 14 SWAT officers stormed into their home without warning, breaking the front door, tossing flash-bang grenades, and shouting commands while threatening them and their three teenaged children with "assault rifles."
Although the warrant ostensibly required the cops to knock and announce themselves, body camera footage shows they shouted "Police! Search warrant!" at the same moment they used a battering ram to force the door open. As that detail suggests, there is often little practical difference between a no-knock search and a knock-and-announce search. In Taylor's case, police had a no-knock warrant, but they nevertheless banged on the door for 30 seconds or so, and they claim they announced themselves—a point disputed by her boyfriend and her neighbors. Even if the cops did say something as they broke down the door, that announcement could easily have been missed by Taylor and her boyfriend, who were sleeping at the time of the raid.
During the 2018 raid, the residents clearly did not realize the people invading their home were police officers. According to the lawsuit, one of the couple's daughters, Zariyah, who was 14 at the time, "ran through the back door and into the yard in an effort to reach her grandmother's house next door." The cops pursued her.
"Officers drew their assault rifles on her, yelling commands at her to get on the ground," the complaint says. "[Zariyah] was extremely frightened, began crying and submitted [by kneeling on] the ground. It was cold and rainy, and [Zariyah] was not wearing any socks, shoes or a jacket. She repeatedly requested to be taken to her grandmother's next door, but the Officers refused the requests, kept her in the cold, wet conditions, and kept their rifles on her."
Zariyah can be heard sobbing in a video of the raid's aftermath. "Hold on, hon, we're almost done, OK?" says one of the officers. "We'll get you back inside. You're not hurt, right? You're just scared? I'm sorry."
The police should be sorry, especially given the lack of probable cause for the search.
In his application for a warrant to search the house, Detective Joseph Tapp said police received a tip from someone who reported that "a black male named Anthony McClain is growing marijuana and has multiple bags of marijuana packaged for sale in the front bed room." According to Tapp, the tipster "also stated a white female named Holly was [McClain's] girlfriend and owned the house."
If Tapp had bothered to look up the property records, he would have seen that the house is in fact owned by a man named Kevin Hyde, who was renting it to Daugherty and Burr. The lawsuit also notes that "nobody named Anthony McClain or Holly lived at the house at or near the time of the raid," that "Ashlea is not white," and that "nobody in the house was growing marijuana or had multiple bags of marijuana packaged for sale."
Aside from this obviously erroneous or outdated tip, the search warrant was based on three brief visits to the house. During his first "surveillance," on October 5, Tapp saw "a Black male" enter the house and leave 10 minutes later. Tapp then "approached the house to conduct a knock and talk." When he "stepped on the open porch," he said, "the smell of fresh marijuana could be smelled." He knocked on the door, but no one answered, so he left.
During his second "surveillance," on October 22, Tapp saw "a black male" arrive in a "gray Jaguar" with an Indiana license plate and enter the house. The car was registered to Daugherty, whom WDRB, the Fox TV station in Louisville, describes as "a local artist whose work has been featured at the Kentucky Derby Museum and on local news." The car was not registered to "a black male named Anthony McClain" or to a woman named Holly, which really should have given Tapp pause. The next day, three days before the raid, Tapp "approached the house and again was hit with a strong smell of fresh marijuana coming from within the house."
Tapp argued that the tip, "the witness of the short stay," and "the strong fresh smell of marijuana on separate occasions," combined with his "training and experience," provided probable cause for a search. Yet the tip was demonstrably false, visiting a house for 10 minutes is not inherently suspicious, and apparently there is something wrong with Tapp's nose, since police found no evidence of marijuana cultivation or drug dealing at the house, just a small amount of cannabis. No charges were filed against Daugherty or Burr.
Vice News reports that "at least five of the officers involved in the raid"—Hankison, Jaynes, Cosgrove, Mike Campbell, and Mike Nobles—also took part in the case that resulted in Taylor's death. "Daugherty and Burr didn't realize the overlap in officers until recently, when they were watching the news," Vice says. "They recognized Hankison, looked back at some of the paperwork LMPD had left behind, and noticed two familiar names: Hankison and Cosgrove."
Daugherty and Burr's lawsuit, which they filed in Jefferson County Circuit Court, alleges that the Louisville Metro Police Department "fails to adequately train its officers regarding obtaining search warrants in order to protect citizens' Fourth Amendment rights." While they asked for compensatory damages, punitive damages, and legal fees, Daugherty says their main aim was to publicize this sort of abuse in the hope of protecting other potential victims.
"We just wanted to get our story out there because we didn't want this to happen to anybody innocent and anybody innocent's life to get lost," he told Vice. "I feel like after it happened to us, if the leaders would have stepped out and tried to assist us, I feel like we could have gotten a change way before Breonna's death. I feel like her death could have been avoided."