LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Breonna Taylor was pulling long hours at two of Louisville’s hospitals as an emergency room technician and certified EMT working on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic as the disease began spreading throughout the U.S.
Taylor was home asleep with her boyfriend in the early morning hours of March 13 when police officers executing a drug warrant busted down their door and opened fire, killing her. The 26-year-old was shot at least eight times.
No drugs were found in the couple’s home. Neither Taylor nor her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, had a history of drug arrests, according to a lawsuit filed by her family.
Taylor’s aunt, Bianca Austin, told WHAS-11 in Louisville that her niece had no connection to drugs. Taylor, who became certified as an EMT in 2017, worked as an emergency room technician at the University of Louisville Health’s Jewish Hospital East. She also worked as needed at Norton Healthcare, the Louisville Courier Journal reported.
“She was already an accomplished and certified EMT for the City of Louisville and currently worked for UofL as a medical tech," Austin told the news station. “This is not a woman who would sacrifice her life and her family morals and values to sell drugs on the street.”
The family’s lawsuit, filed April 27, alleges that the officers not only went into the wrong home but were seeking a suspect who had been arrested earlier in the day and was already in police custody at the time of the shooting.
Taylor’s mother, Tamika Palmer, is the plaintiff in the lawsuit. Palmer said in an interview that she has been kept in the dark about her daughter’s death.
“Not one person has talked to me. Not one person has explained anything to me,” Palmer said, according to The Washington Post. “I want justice for her. I want them to say her name. There’s no reason Breonna should be dead at all.”
Read the initial complaint in the lawsuit filed by Breonna Taylor’s family below, courtesy of the Courier Journal.
Taylor’s killing, details of which were initially eclipsed by the worsening COVID-19 outbreak, gained national attention this week after her family hired prominent civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump to represent them. Crump and fellow civil rights attorney Lee Merritt are also representing the family of Ahmaud Arbery, the black jogger killed Feb. 23 in Brunswick, Georgia, after being followed by two gun-toting white men.
The men, father and son Gregory McMichael and Travis McMichael, were charged last week with murder in Arbery’s shooting, which was captured on cellphone video.
“Louisville police fatally shot #BreonnaTaylor,” Crump tweeted Monday. “They had the wrong address AND their real suspect was already in custody.
“Two months later, no one has been held accountable for her death. But we will change that.”
Crump joins Louisville-based personal injury attorneys Sam Aguiar and Lonita Baker, who filed the lawsuit against the police on behalf of Palmer.
As word of Taylor’s death has slowly reached the national stage, prominent civil rights advocates have urged action against the officers responsible for her death. Activist Shaun King, who has advocated strongly in Arbery’s case as well, described Taylor as an award-winning EMT, a model citizen and a beloved member of her family and community.
“A renegade division of the Louisville Police Department performed an illegal, unannounced drug raid on her home,” King, a native of Kentucky, wrote on Facebook. “Not a single neighbor or resident heard a single officer announce themselves when they literally rammed the door down and began shooting 22 shots, slaughtering her.”
King has helped establish a website, StandWithBre.com, for the public to demand justice in Taylor’s death. In his own weekend post, King demanded that charges be filed and that Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear and Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer intervene in the case.
Fischer, who had largely been silent until this week, posted a statement on his Facebook page in which he said Louisville Metro Police Chief Steve Conrad “is well aware of the need for a thorough investigation.”
“As always, my priority is that the truth comes out, and for justice to follow the path of truth,” Fischer wrote. “The Breonna Taylor case is currently under investigation. Therefore, expansive comments are not appropriate until all the facts are fully known.”
The mayor wrote that once the police department’s Professional Integrity Unit is done with its investigation, the findings would be given to the Commonwealth Attorney, “who will check for thoroughness and fairness before making a determination on next steps.”
“Police work can involve incredibly difficult situations,” Fischer wrote. “Additionally, residents have rights. These two concepts will and must be weighed by our justice system as the case proceeds.”
Conrad and Lt. Ted Eidem, who heads the police department’s Public Integrity Unit, released preliminary information the afternoon of March 13, less than 15 hours after Taylor’s death. Body camera footage was not available because the officers involved, all of whom are part of the department’s Criminal Interdiction Division, do not wear cameras, Conrad said.
The chief identified the three officers as Detective Brett Hankison, Detective Myles Cosgrove and Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly. All have been placed on administrative reassignment while the investigation into the shooting is conducted.
Eidem said Hankison, Cosgrove and Mattingly were serving the warrant around 12:40 a.m. that day at Taylor’s apartment complex in the 3000 block of Springfield Drive.
“The officers knocked on the door several times and announced their presence as police who were there with a search warrant,” Eidem said. “The officers forced entry into the exterior door and were immediately met by gunfire.”
Watch the Louisville Metro Police Department’s news conference on the shooting below.
Palmer’s lawsuit disputes those claims. The suit alleges that neighbors who witnessed the events said officers went in without knocking or identifying themselves.
“The defendants then proceeded to spray gunfire into the residence with a total disregard for the value of human life,” the lawsuit states. “Shots were blindly fired by the officers all throughout Breonna’s home and also into the adjacent home, where a 5-year-old child and a pregnant mother had been sleeping.”
Walker, who has a license to carry a firearm, kept weapons in their home for protection, according to the lawsuit. He picked up a gun and fired at the men coming into the apartment, the attorneys claim.
Walker’s shot struck Mattingly in the leg. After undergoing surgery, the officer is expected to make a full recovery, Conrad said.
Walker, 27, has been charged with attempted murder of a police officer and first-degree assault, Louisville Metro Jail records show.
The suit alleges Walker, who also called 911, believed the apartment “had been broken into by criminals and that they were in significant, imminent danger.” The document states that the officers fired through closed windows, curtains and blinds.
The more than 20 shots fired by police struck objects in the living room, dining room, kitchen, bathroom and both bedrooms, according to the lawsuit.
In contrast, Walker’s attorney told the Courier Journal, his client fired a single shot, which struck Mattingly.
“Had Mr. Walker known that police were outside, he would have opened the door and ushered them in,” Eggert told the newspaper.
The lawsuit echoes Eggert’s contentions.
“The defendants did not have discretion to shoot blindly into Breonna’s home in this manner,” it states. “Breonna had committed no crime, posted no immediate threat to the safety of the defendants and did not actively resist or attempt to evade arrest prior to being repeatedly shot and killed by the defendants.”
Palmer is suing for wrongful death, excessive force, battery and negligence.
Family members have established a GoFundMe page to raise money for Walker’s legal defense. As of Wednesday afternoon, it had raised nearly $18,000 to help him fight the criminal charges.
Taylor’s obituary describes her as “a daughter, a granddaughter, a sister, a niece and a best friend to so many, especially Kenneth Walker.”
“Breonna Taylor was full of life and loved social gatherings with her friends, and especially her family,” the obituary said. "She loved life and all it had to offer. She continued to find ways to better herself and the people around her.
“She leaves behind to cherish her memory a host of family and friends, some she was born into, some she inherited, and some she made all on her own. Nevertheless, no matter how they came, they were all family in the same to her.”
Her grieving mother said in an interview that she first learned something was wrong when Walker called her in the middle of the night and said someone was breaking into the apartment.
“I think they shot Breonna,” Walker said, according to the Post.
Palmer said she spent hours trying to learn her daughter’s fate but was given little information by police officials. She eventually learned her daughter was dead.
Her primary concern for her daughter prior to the shooting had been for her to stay safe amid the coronavirus outbreak.
“She was an essential worker. She had to go to work,” Palmer said. “She didn’t have a problem with that.
“To not be able to sleep in her own bed without someone busting down her door and taking her life. I was just like, ‘Make sure you wash your hands!’”
Taylor’s younger sister, who lived with her and Walker but was out of town when the shooting took place, has been trying to raise awareness of her sister’s death on social media, the Post reported. She is using the hashtag #JusticeForBre in an effort to make her sister’s name go viral as Arbery’s name did with the hashtag #RunForMaud.
“I’m just getting awareness for my sister, for people to know who she is, what her name is,” Ju’Niyah Palmer said. “It is literally just as equal. There’s no difference.”
Crump also talked about the lack of momentum for black women who are killed.
“They’re killing our sisters just like they’re killing our brothers, but for whatever reason, we have not given our sisters the same attention that we have given to Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Stephon Clark, Terence Crutcher, Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Eric Garner, Laquan McDonald,” Crump said, according to the Post. “Breonna’s name should be known by everybody in America who said those other names because she was in her own home, doing absolutely nothing wrong.
“If you ran for Ahmaud, you need to stand for Bre.”
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