- Former LMPD officer Brett Hankison has been charged for the second time over the Breonna Taylor attack.
- Legal experts told Insider it wasn’t a double jeopardy for Hankison.
- However, they say federal prosecutors will have an uphill battle to win their case.
Former Louisville, Kentucky police officer Brett Hankison found himself in a very familiar situation Thursday when federal prosecutors make an accusation He and three other former or current police officers are being charged for the March 2020 raid that killed Breonna Taylor.
Earlier this year, Hankison was acquitted in state court on other charges related to the raid.
Insider spoke with legal experts on Thursday who explained why — despite a previous acquittal — the new charges do not pose double jeopardy. But they also said Hankison’s previous acquittal and a charge against him could make it particularly difficult for federal prosecutors to win a case against him.
Hankerson’s role in raid on Breonna Taylor’s apartment
EMT Breonna Taylor, 26, was shot and killed on March 13, 2020, when officers executing a search warrant related to a drug trafficking investigation raided her home in the middle of the night.
The raid took Taylor and her boyfriend Kenneth Walker by surprise. Worried about an intruder breaking into their door, Walker picked up a gun and fired at the police, who returned fire, killing Taylor.
Hankerson was one of the officers who fought back. He was outside the apartment and opened fire from a sliding glass door covered with blackout curtains so he couldn’t see his target.
A ballistics report later found that it was the bullets of two other officers that killed Taylor, not Hankerson’s gun.
But he was still charged after some of his bullets went through walls and into a nearby apartment where three people were home at the time.
Before Thursday, Hankison was the only officer facing charges for the raid. Hankerson was charged with three counts of wanton endangerment but was acquitted by a Louisville jury in March.
The grand jury declined to charge Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly and Det. Myles Cosgrove, the two officers who shot Taylor.
Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron said his office’s investigation into the matter showed — and the grand jury agreed — that Mattingly and Cosgrove “had reason to return deadly fire” after Taylor’s boyfriend went to the They shoot.
Not a double jeopardy situation
as the Department of Justice Press release The interpretation of the new indictment is that the new charges against Hankerson are separate and distinct from the state charges.
While the charges relate to the same events and set of facts, the two civil rights charges allege that “Hankison, while acting in his capacity as an officer, knowingly used unconstitutional and excessive force when he shot Taylor’s apartment through a covered window. and covered glass doors,” according to the press release.
The Justice Department explained that these were “violations of the U.S. Constitution, not state law.”
According to Michael JZ Mannheimer, a professor at Northern Kentucky University School of Law, double jeopardy doesn’t apply because Hankerson is charged in different courts.
“Some people might think that the idea of double jeopardy would prevent the federal government from coming in and trying him again because he was acquitted. But double jeopardy doesn’t apply because it’s a different sovereign state. Kentucky tried him , he was acquitted, and now the United States can enter and prosecute him as an independent sovereign,” explained Mannheimer.
How likely is Hankerson to be convicted this time around?
While the U.S. Attorney General’s Office has every right to sue Hankerson for alleged civil rights violations, that doesn’t mean it will win easily.
One of the two charges will be particularly difficult to prove, Mannheimer said.
The first count involves violating Taylor and her boyfriend’s Fourth Amendment rights, which prevent unreasonable searches and seizures by the government. Federal prosecutors argued that Hankerson used excessive force, which constituted an unreasonable search.
The second charge involved nearly injuring or killing her neighbor. But since her neighbor wasn’t the target of the raid, the Fourth Amendment didn’t apply. Instead, prosecutors must use the 14th Amendment, which states that no person may be deprived of life, liberty or property “without due process of law.”
Mannheimer said the burden of proving a violation of the 14th Amendment is much higher.
“They have to show that Hankerson’s actions are not only unjustified, but shocking to conscience,” Mannheimer said.
Daniel J. Canon, a civil rights attorney and University of Louisville School of Law professor, agreed that Hankison’s case would be more challenging than the case against the other three officers who dealt with forged affidavits. information to obtain a search warrant. Taylor’s home then tried to cover their tracks.
Canon compared the case to that of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who knelt on George Floyd’s neck for several minutes during his arrest in May 2020 , found responsible for the killing of George Floyd.
Chauvin was convicted of violating Floyd’s civil rights, but only after he was convicted of state first-degree murder. Canon said the opposite was true for Hankerson, who was acquitted before federal charges.
“I think that says a lot about the Justice Department. They’re willing to take a risk on a case like this, even if they know a conviction is uncertain. We haven’t seen a lot of that in previous administrations,” Canon said.
Prosecutors may have different advantages than juries deciding state cases, he said. While jurors in Hankerson’s previous case were drawn from Jefferson County, Kentucky, which includes the Louisville metropolitan area, the federal trial will take place from a wider population in Jefferson and surrounding counties.
While federal juries tend to be less sympathetic to criminal defendants, it remains to be seen whether that holds true in these kinds of cases, Canon said.
“The surrounding counties tend to be more rural and conservative and less friendly to the defendant, but when you have a white police officer as the defendant, that dynamic can change,” Canon said.