Marjorie Cohn details why this case goes beyond the issue of a no-knock warrant and why those working to abolish the prison system did not celebrate the indictment.
The March 2020 killing of Breonna Taylor, which caused widespread protest around the country, was the result of police lies to obtain a warrant and racist police violence after officers forced their way into her apartment.
On Aug. 4, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced the federal grand jury indictments of four Louisville Metro Police officers involved in the raid that resulted in Taylor’s death.
Three of the officers were accused of violating Taylor’s Fourth Amendment rights to be free from unreasonable search and seizure by lying to secure a no-knock warrant. The officers who sought the warrant “knew that the affidavit used to obtain the warrant to search Taylor’s home contained information that was false, misleading, and out-of-date; that the affidavit omitted material information; and that the officers lacked probable cause for the search,” the indictment reads.
One of the defendants tried to get another officer to lie and say he had previously told him that a drug dealer (Taylor’s ex-boyfriend) had used her apartment to receive packages. An officer apparently broke the ubiquitous police code of silence and revealed to prosecutors that his fellow officer asked him to lie.
A judge issued a no-knock warrant based on the officers’ misrepresentations. The warrant specified that they did not have to knock and identify themselves as police before entering the apartment.
This case has widely been characterized as a “no-knock” warrant incident. But before police actually conducted the search, the court issued another warrant that required them to knock and announce their presence. The issue that led to their indictment is that the police officers lied to get the warrant.
Taylor and her boyfriend Kenneth Walker were in bed when they heard a loud banging on the door. They asked who was there, fearing it was Taylor’s ex trying to break in. But they never heard the police identify themselves. The officers claim that they knocked several times and identified themselves as police officers before entering.
The police used a battering ram to break down the door and Walker fired a gun (which he lawfully possessed) once, striking an officer in the thigh. Officers then fired several shots, hitting Taylor five times. Officer Brett Hankison shot 10 rounds into a bedroom and living room covered with blinds and a blackout curtain. No drugs were found in Taylor’s apartment.
Louisville Sgt. Kyle Meany and Detectives Joshua Jaynes and Kelly Hanna Goodlett were charged with making or adopting false statements in the affidavit to obtain the search warrant. Jaynes and Goodlett were accused of conspiring to falsify the affidavit. Hankison was charged with depriving Taylor, her boyfriend and neighbors of their Fourth Amendment rights by firing 10 bullets into a bedroom and living room. The only officer to be charged in state court, Hankison was acquitted of wanton endangerment of neighbors.
Tamika Palmer, Taylor’s mother, applauded the federal indictment of the officers, saying, “I’ve waited 874 days for today.”
But those working to abolish the prison system did not celebrate the indictment. Chanelle Helm, co-founder of Louisville Black Lives Matter, said that she understands why people are calling for arresting the officers. But, she added, “If we’re asking for the officers to be arrested that’s contrary to abolition work.”
Reinforcing ‘Bad Apples’ Portrayal
Abolitionist group Critical Resistance points out that prosecuting police who have killed and abused civilians fails to reduce the scale of policing, and instead “ reinforces the prison industrial complex by portraying killer/corrupt cops as ‘bad apples’ rather than part of a regular system of violence, and reinforces the idea that prosecution and prison serve real justice.”
The bottom line is that real justice cannot come without a full reckoning with the system itself, which is grounded in centuries of oppression.
In March 2021, the International Commission of Inquiry on Systemic Racist Police Violence Against People of African Descent in the United States (for which I served as a rapporteur) found “a pattern and practice of racist police violence in the U.S. in the context of a history of oppression dating back to the extermination of First Nations peoples, the enslavement of Africans, the militarization of U.S. society, and the continued perpetuation of structural racism.”
The 188-page commission report details how Black people are targeted, surveilled, brutalized, maimed and killed by law enforcement officers, and concludes that “the brutalization of Black people is compounded by the impunity afforded to offending police officers, most of whom are never charged with a crime.” The overarching problem is structural racism embedded in the U.S. legal and policing systems.
If police knowingly or recklessly include false statements in an affidavit to obtain a search warrant, any evidence seized pursuant to the warrant will be suppressed. But that remedy provides no solace to people like Breonna Taylor who are killed as a result of systemic racist police violence.
Marjorie Cohn is professor emerita at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, former president of the National Lawyers Guild, and a member of the national advisory boards of Assange Defense and Veterans For Peace, and the bureau of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers. Her books include Drones and Targeted Killing: Legal, Moral and Geopolitical Issues. She is co-host of “Law and Disorder” radio.
This article is from Truthout and reprinted with permission.
The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.
–> Abolitionist group Critical Resistance points out that prosecuting police who have killed and abused civilians fails to reduce the scale of policing, and instead “ reinforces the prison industrial complex by portraying killer/corrupt cops as ‘bad apples’ rather than part of a regular system of violence, and reinforces the idea that prosecution and prison serve real justice.”
There is a utopian note here, namely that law enforcement that is necessary for a functional society can exist without “prosecution and prison”. A non-utopian approach, including the issues of highly inadequate rules, training, and enforcing those rules that do exist can eliminate the bulk of the problems, regardless of race.
Thus it is important to consider what went wrong and how inadequate our “law” is when it should be directed as itself.
For starters, when the legal system considered this case, it is apparent that the approach of not delaying entering the dwelling for the purposes of a search until is so saturated with bullets that no resistance can be expected was approved, except for this details: shooting in such a way that the bullets penetrated another dwelling. Which lead to an indictment and exonerations, presumably on the theory that police could not predict that outcome. Police, as trained and regulated, are not supposed to be capable of such prediction, and most appallingly, to put any values on the lives of people in the target location of the search. That should be outrageous even if the tale used to obtain the warrant were true.
There are multiple aspect here that lawmakers and authorities should consider but they do not.
“The March 2020 killing of Breonna Taylor, which caused widespread protest around the country, was the result of police lies to obtain a warrant and racist police violence after officers forced their way into her apartment.”
This statement is so oversimplified, it’s basically false. It makes it seem like the primary issue was the police lies to obtain a warrant and basic racism, where this tragedy was a compounding of many factors including:
– An over-militarized and over-domination oriented police force
– A high level of general violence in the community, with related police over cautiousness and overkill
– Lack of trust in police and lack of ability to conduct community policing
Imagine the following scenario, with the police still lying to a court to obtain the warrant:
– Police stake out the apartment and WAIT for the suspect to walk out by himself
– Police pick him up and take him for questioning
– Police approach Breonna as she leaves her apartment for the day, show her the warrant and obtain entry to search.
Bullets don’t fly and a young lady lives her normal life as she should have.
“If we’re asking for the officers to be arrested that’s contrary to abolition work.”
Then we will not hold killer cops accountable until our prison-industrial complex is overthrown? What is the deterrent, in real time, to cop killing? A Black woman LAPD sergeant: “Accountability is a four-letter work in the department.” That’s a big problem.
I think this report is black on white thinking and only confirms what any reasonable, educated person would conclude. What it doesn’t point out is the how racial differences in societies always cause issues and a black vs white mentality always exists at some level. The poor fight on these terms and the middle class try and stop it but at the heart of the matter is economic inequality. Instead of open border immigration we should be encouraging people to make something of their own indigenous homelands. We was all slaves at some point in history and whites are persecuted when they are poor. Trying to make the world a binary system will never work and will only lead to wars. Lets respect difference and let difference have it’s place. Let’s not try and make everything homogenous. Saying all this, yes some groups of people are treated far more harshly than others and these groups have lots of racial difference and it’s not just targeted at one minority.