The city of Louisville, Kentucky, has reached a $12 million settlement with the family of Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old EMT who was killed during a dubious, reckless, and fruitless drug raid that has figured prominently in nationwide protests against police brutality. It is by the largest settlement in the city's history based on allegations of police abuse. The family's lawyer, Benjamin Crump, said it is also one of the largest payouts in U.S. history for a police killing of a black woman.
Taylor's mother, Tamika Palmer, filed the lawsuit in Jefferson County Circuit Court last April, a month after plainclothes officers invaded Taylor's apartment in the middle of the night. Taylor's boyfriend, who called 911 to report a break-in, grabbed a gun and fired a single shot, which struck one of the officers in the leg. The cops responded with a barrage of more than 20 bullets, several of which struck Taylor, who was unarmed. Acting Police Chief Robert Schroeder later said Det. Brett Hankison "displayed an extreme indifference to the value of human life" when he "wantonly and blindly fired 10 rounds" into Taylor's apartment.
The no-knock warrant for the raid was based entirely on guilt by association. Since Taylor was still in touch with a former boyfriend suspected of drug dealing, who sometimes received packages at her apartment, police alleged that she was involved in his criminal activity. But the packages reportedly contained shoes and clothing, and no evidence has emerged to implicate Taylor in drug dealing. Furthermore, although the warrant authorized police to enter without knocking and announcing themselves, the affidavit presented no evidence specific to Taylor that would have justified dispensing with the usual rule.
In addition to the $12 million payout, the settlement commits Louisville to several reforms, including high-level approval of search warrant applications and SWAT operational plans. The city had already responded to Taylor's death by firing Hankison and banning no-knock warrants. A Jefferson County grand jury is soon expected to hear evidence that could lead to indictments of Hankison and other officers involved in the raid. The FBI is conducting its own investigation of the incident.
Another reform included in the agreement is a warning system that will look for "red flags" suggesting police misconduct. Hankison and at least four other officers who participated in the investigation that led to Taylor's death were also involved in a 2018 SWAT raid that terrorized a family wrongly suspected of growing marijuana. In both cases, police broke into people's homes based on dubious evidence, and the residents initially thought they were being robbed.
"Justice for Breonna means that we will continue to save lives in her honor," Palmer said. "No amount of money accomplishes that, but the police reform measures that we were able to get passed as a part of this settlement mean so much more to my family, our community, and to Breonna's legacy."