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Acquitted former officer involved in Breonna Taylor trial now faces federal charges

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

A federal civil rights trial is underway in Louisville, Ky., for former police officer Brett Hankison. He's one of the officers who was involved in the middle-of-the-night raid that killed Breonna Taylor in 2020. Roberto Roldan with Louisville Public Media is following the trial from the courtroom, and he joins us now. Hi there.

ROBERTO ROLDAN, BYLINE: Hi. Thanks for having me.

SUMMERS: So this is the second time that Brett Hankison is on trial for his role in the raid that led to Breonna Taylor's death. Is that right?

ROLDAN: Yeah. So Hankison was one of three of the officers who were on the scene who actually fired their guns that night. The others were never charged with anything. Hankison's trial in state court last year was for felony wanton endangerment, which is acting with reckless disregard for human life. But those charges were for endangering Taylor's neighbor, not her, and a jury ultimately acquitted him. In this federal trial, Hankison is facing two civil rights charges - one where Taylor is the listed victim. And that's important because it's the first time that any of the officers involved in the raid are actually facing charges for something that happened to Taylor. But still, no one has ever been charged with her killing.

SUMMERS: Wow. This trial is also about using excessive force. What arguments have you been hearing about that in the courtroom?

ROLDAN: We're hearing a lot of the same arguments that we heard during the state trial. Federal prosecutors say Hankison fired blindly through Taylor's covered sliding-glass door and window without identifying a real target. Some of those bullets actually passed through a shared wall and into a neighboring apartment, where a pregnant woman was living with her boyfriend and their 5-year-old son. They say that his actions went against his training, department policy, the law around when it's OK to use deadly force.

But Hankison's defense attorneys say that he was acting to defend his fellow officers, one of whom had been shot. And in terms of witnesses, it was actually surprising to see some of Breonna Taylor's family and friends take the stand. We heard from her sister, Ju'Niyah Palmer, who described her as her best friend, and she told jurors about the lasting impact that it had on her and the family.

SUMMERS: And I understand that there was another really important witness today. Brett Hankison testified in his own defense. Tell us about it.

ROLDAN: Yeah. Hankison took the stand around 11:45 this morning, and he testified for a little over two hours. He got choked up at some points talking about the raid, and he said he thought officers were being fired at by someone with an AR-15-style weapon, and he had no choice but to react to protect himself and his fellow officers. Prosecutors really grilled him on the use of force and whether he actually saw what he was shooting at.

We've already heard from experts the past two weeks who said there was no rifle. The prosecution's witnesses included police officials and forensics experts, who basically explained over and over again that officers aren't trained to shoot blindly, that they're supposed to have target identification and isolation. One of the things I think that's been different in this trial is the strong condemnation that we've heard from other officers who were actually at the scene. The SWAT team commander at the time said he was in utter shock and disbelief when he realized the bullet holes in the covered windows and doors were from a police officer. That was pretty major.

SUMMERS: And in just a sentence or two, any idea when this case is expected to go to the jury?

ROLDAN: Yeah. Hankison's going to finish testifying on Monday, and we're expecting that to be the last witness. So hopefully early next week we'll have some sort of conclusion to this trial.

SUMMERS: Roberto Roldan with Louisville Public Media. Thank you.

ROLDAN: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF TIM ALLHOFF'S "STILLNESS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Roberto Roldan