Nearly 15 hours of grand jury audio released in the Breonna Taylor case revealed conflicting accounts of what happened in the moments before Louisville police shot and killed the 26-year-old EMT and aspiring nurse in her home.
The officers involved in the failed drug raid in March told investigators they repeatedly knocked and announced themselves before bursting through her front door with a battering ram. They fired 32 rounds into the apartment after Taylor’s boyfriend shot at them first, wounding one officer.
Her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker III, told investigators the people pounding on the door in the middle of the night did not respond when the couple yelled, “Who is it?,” according to audio played before the grand jury. He believed intruders had broken down the door and he opened fire out of fear, according to Walker.
Beyond nationwide protests calling on people to “Say her name,” Taylor’s death has prompted cities across the country to move to ban or rein in no-knock, forcible-entry raids frequently used to serrve narcotics search warrants.
At the state level, Oregon and Florida have already banned the controversial police tactic.
“It’s essential,” Peter B. Kraska, a criminologist at Eastern Kentucky University who has studied police militarization since the late 1980s, said of the bans.
“There are jurisdictions all over the country on their own starting to pass legislation and work on legislation to ban no-knock and quick-knock warrants. It’s a big deal.”
Execution of warrants inherently dangerous
Raids such as the one in which Taylor was killed occur tens of thousands of times each year in the United States during the execution of narcotics warrants where officers rely on dynamic entries to disorient and confuse occupants, according to Kraska.
Forced entry raids became commonplace during the 1980s war on drugs and the growing use of special weapons and tactics teams in narcotics operations.
Increasingly, Kraska said, officers who are not part of special tactical teams – like those in the raid that killed Taylor – have been used to execute the warrants.
The raids, particularly when carried out in the middle of the night, are dangerous to civilians and law enforcement alike. In the Taylor case, in fact, an officer was shot and wounded, prompting the subsequent barrage of police bullets that resulted in her death.
And they’re disproportionately carried out against people of color.
A 2014 American Civil Liberties Union report on police militarization found that 42 percent of SWAT team raids targeted Black people and 12 percent Hispanic.
A case highlighted in the report involved a Georgia SWAT team that threw a flash-bang grenade into a playpen, severely injuring a 1-year-old child who was placed into a medically induced coma.
“The decision to execute a search warrant at night, the decision not to wait for the occupants to open the door, the decision to use a battering ram – all of these are unconstitutional if they are ‘unreasonable,’ but courts usually defer to police officers about what force is reasonable,” Stanford law professor David Sklansky told the school’s Legal Aggregate blog last month.
‘Breonna’s Law’ spurred other legislation
Months before a Kentucky grand jury decided against indicting any officers in connection with Taylor’s death, the case gained wider attention during nationwide demonstrations that followed the late May killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis Police.
In June, the Louisville Metro Council unanimously passed an ordinance called “Breonna’s Law,” banning no-knock search warrants.
The ordinance regulates how search warrants are carried out and mandates the use of body cameras during searches. All Louisville Metro Police Department officers are to be equipped with an operating body camera while carrying out a search.
The cameras have to be activated no later than five minutes prior to all searches and remain on for five minutes after.
All recorded data also has to be retained for five years following an executing action, according to the ordinance.
What other cities are doing
The Louisville ordinance has prompted similar moves throughout the country.
“They are small but important steps in the right direction,” Sklansky told the Stanford Law School blog.