Correcting the Misinformation about Breonna TaylorRoundup
tags: policing, Breonna Taylor
Radley Balko reports on criminal justice, the drug war and civil liberties for The Washington Post.
Wednesday’s announcement from Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron about criminal charges in the Breonna Taylor case set off a frenzy of misinformation on social media. Based on what we do know — which I’ve culled from my own reporting, reporting from the New York Times and the Louisville Courier-Journal, as well as from conversations with the lawyers for Taylor’s family — the decision to charge Detective Brett Hankison with wanton endangerment was probably correct, as was the decision not to charge the other officers involved in the shooting. If ballistics had conclusively shown that one of the bullets from Hankison’s gun killed Taylor, he could be charged with reckless homicide, but according to Cameron, the bullets that struck Taylor could not be matched to Hankison’s gun. There’s the problem that the police who conducted the raid were relying on a warrant procured by another officer, which was then signed by a judge. There were many flaws and abrogations in that process, but it would be unfair and not legal to hold them accountable for any of that.
But “not illegal” should not mean “immune from criticism.” Part of the problem was Cameron himself, who was selective in what information he released to the point of misleading the public about key facts in the case. (This raises real questions about whether the grand jury was also misled. That’s why an attorney for Taylor’s boyfriend Kenneth Walker, who fired at the police during the raid, is demanding that Cameron release the evidence that was presented to the grand jury.)
Furthermore, Taylor’s death was not, as Cameron suggested, simply a tragedy for which no one is to blame. The police work in this case was sloppy, and the warrant service was reckless. Taylor is dead because of a cascade of errors, bad judgment and dereliction of duty. And it’s important that the record on this be clear. So here are some correctives for the misinformation I’ve seen online:
“This was not a no-knock warrant.”
It absolutely was. It says so right on the warrant. Moreover, the portion of the warrant authorizing a no-knock entry cited only cut-and-pasted information from the four other warrants that were part of the same investigation. This is a violation of a requirement set by the Supreme Court that no-knock warrants should be granted when police can present evidence that a particular suspect is a risk to shoot at police or destroy evidence if they knock and announce. They didn’t do that.
The police claim they were told after the fact to disregard the no-knock portion and instead knock and announce themselves, because, by that point, someone had determined that Taylor was a “soft target” — not a threat, and not a major player in the drug investigation. But there are problems with this account. If Taylor was a “soft target,” why not surround the house, get on a megaphone, and ask her to come out with her hands up? Why still take down her door with a battering ram? Why still serve the warrant in the middle of the night?
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