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?
“The police knocked and announced themselves, and a witness heard them.”
In what was probably the most frustrating part of Cameron’s press event, he cited a single witness who claimed to have heard the officers identify themselves as police. I spoke with Taylor’s lawyers in June, who at that time had interviewed 11 of her neighbors. Many lived in the same apartment building as Taylor. According to the lawyers, no neighbor heard an announcement. The New York Times interviewed 12 neighbors. They found one — just one — who heard an announcement. And he only heard one announcement. He also told the paper that with all the commotion, it’s entirely possible that Walker and Taylor didn’t hear that announcement. Cameron neglected to mention any of this.
Moreover, in a CNN interview Wednesday night, Walker’s attorney, Steven Romines, said the witness to whom Cameron was referring initially said he did not hear the police announce themselves. And he repeated that assertion in a second interview. It was only after his third interview that he finally said he heard an announcement. That’s critical context that Cameron neglected to mention.
“Even Kenneth Walker has admitted that the police pounded on the door for 30 to 45 seconds. Therefore, by definition, this was not a ’no-knock’ raid.”
With a few exceptions, when conducting a raid, government agents must knock and announce their presence and purpose, and give anyone inside the opportunity to let the officers in peacefully — thus avoiding violence to their person and destruction of their property. If the police simply pounded on the door for 45 seconds and never appropriately announced themselves, that’s even worse than not knocking at all. It likely made Walker even more fearful that the people outside the door were there to do harm to him and Taylor.
“If the police say they announced themselves, and one neighbor heard it, then they probably did. So what if the other neighbors didn’t hear it? They were probably asleep.”
The entire purpose of the knock-and-announce requirement is to provide ample notice to the people inside the home the police are trying to enter. If the police didn’t yell loudly and clearly who they were — loud enough for the people inside to hear — the knock-and-announce portion is rendered meaningless, and the entire action becomes no different than a no-knock raid. As the Times reported, the officers on this raid were trained by a man who, oddly enough, is now president of the Louisville city council. “During his 19-year career as a police officer, he had instructed recruits at the local training academy about ‘dynamic entry.‘ Especially when executing a warrant at night,” he told the paper, “he told them to yell ‘police’ at the top of their lungs, specifically so that occupants would not mistake them for an intruder.” That clearly did not happen here.
“Breonna Taylor was not asleep in her bed when she was shot.”
This is true. And it’s also true that many media reports and activists stated she was. I’m not sure what difference this makes. She and Walker were in their bed when police began pounding on the door. They were awakened at 12:40 a.m. There’s every reason to believe Walker when he says they were frightened.
“The man who shot at the police, Breonna Taylor’s boyfriend, was also a drug dealer.”
Taylor’s ex-boyfriend was dealing drugs. That man, Jamarcus Glover, was the main focus of the police investigation. Walker, Taylor’s boyfriend at the time of her death, was not named in any investigation.
A few people have pointed to a leaked police memo that includes quotes from Glover taken from recorded phone conversations at the jail as proof that the two knew one another. The Louisville police themselves have said the leaked memo was an early, unverified draft written mid-investigation, that these quotes were taken out of context, and that the way they’re being used is deeply misleading. (For example, Glover said Walker was also in jail. He was — because police had arrested him after the raid.)
“Breonna Taylor’s ex-boyfriend implicated her in his drug dealing.”
The Times reported that according to friends, family and Taylor’s social media posts, she was on and off again with both Glover — who friends, family and Taylor herself thought was bad for her — and Walker, who they say treated her well and was, by all accounts, a good and decent man. Glover was in and out of jail, and Taylor paid his bail more than once. She seemed to genuinely care for him, even as she was trying to extricate herself from his life. (She had blocked him on her cellphone.)
There were a few other incidents in the warrant that some have said implicated Taylor. In December 2016 she rented a car, then loaned it to Glover. He then loaned it to a man involved in his drug dealing — and that man was later found dead in the car. But police who investigated were satisfied that Taylor had no knowledge of the murder, or of how Glover had used the car when she loaned it to him. The other incident occurred two months before the raid, when Glover retrieved a package he had ordered delivered to Taylor’s home. The police claimed a postal inspector told them this package was “suspicious.” The postal inspector later said he had no record of that. According to attorneys for Taylor’s family, the package contained clothes and shoes.
Some have again pointed to that leaked memo, in which Glover seemed to suggest storing money at Taylor’s apartment. But the police found no cash in the apartment. Glover has also since publicly said that Taylor had no involvement in his drug dealing. And he may have had some incentive to say otherwise: In July, attorneys for Taylor’s family say prosecutors presented Glover with a plea bargain that listed Taylor as a co-defendant, suggesting that he’d get reduced charges if he implicated her. (Prosecutors say the plea deal was just a draft, though Taylor’s family’s attorneys say that claim is dubious.)
“The judge who signed the warrant is not to blame.”
The warrant in this case was signed by Louisville Circuit Judge Mary Shaw. In an op-ed in the Courier-Journal, one of Shaw’s fellow judges defended accusations that she had “rubber-stamped” the warrant. Judge Charles L. Cunningham wrote that “affidavits are excruciatingly detailed,” said Shaw scrupulously reviews search warrant affidavits, and said the accusation from an attorney for Taylor’s family that Shaw took only 12 minutes to review the five warrants in the investigation was riddled with “falsehoods and misstatements.”
Here’s what we can say: The portion of the warrant affidavit that requested a no-knock raid was the exact same language used in the other four warrants. It stated that drug dealers are dangerous and might dispose of evidence if police knock and announce. It contained no particularized information as to why Taylor herself was dangerous or presented such a threat. And that, according to the Supreme Court, is not sufficient to grant a no-knock warrant. Yet Shaw granted it anyway. Perhaps she provided more scrutiny to the other parts of the affidavit. But she did not ask for more evidence in the no-knock portion. And she should have.
The only possible defense of Shaw here is that, as regular readers of this page know, judges seem to grant no-knocks when they aren’t merited and in defiance of Supreme Court precedent with regularity. And there’s no harm done if the no-knock position of the warrant is illegal, because the same Supreme Court has said the Exclusionary Rule doesn’t apply. And that is precisely the problem.
“If Kenneth Walker hadn’t shot at the cops, Breonna Taylor would still be alive.”
Walker admits he fired first. But he says he fired only after he and Taylor repeatedly asked who was pounding at the door, got no answer, and after a battering ram busted open the door. If Walker reasonably believed that the men breaking into the apartment were not police, he had every right to defend himself and Taylor. At that point, the police also had the right to return fire. The latter would be true even if the courts later determined that the police had failed to properly identify themselves (which would make this a no-knock raid) and the no-knock portion of the warrant was later determined to be illegal (which it was). That’s how the law works.
But there is every reason to believe Walker did not know the men outside the door were police. Walker is not a criminal. There were no drugs in the house. You don’t need a license to have a gun in a private home in Kentucky, but Walker had gone the extra step to obtain a concealed carry license. (Kentucky changed its law in 2019, and no longer requires a license for concealed carry either.) That isn’t something hardened criminals hellbent on killing cops tend to do. Neither is calling 911, which Walker also did after the shooting. Moreover, Walker knew about Taylor’s past involvement with the drug dealer Glover — and that Glover wasn’t happy about Taylor seeing Walker. He has said he feared that it was Glover or his associates outside the door. That too seems entirely reasonable.
Cameron’s statement gives the implication that Walker should have known that the men were police. But if police and prosecutors truly believed Walker knew, or should have known, that the raiding men were police, they would have prosecuted Walker for knowingly trying to kill them. Police and prosecutors don’t take that sort of thing lightly. They did arrest him for firing at the officers. But they later dropped those charges and released him. That speaks volumes.
The really sad part about this is that Cameron’s misleading statement about the witness who heard police announce — along with the fact the Walker fired first — has led some to put the blame for Taylor’s death on Walker. What Walker did that night is what just about anyone would have done if they thought they or their loved ones were under attack. Walker and Taylor were in love. They had been discussing marriage. He was defending a woman he wanted to marry, and with whom he wanted to raise a family. To put her death on him only adds to his pain and grief. It’s just incredibly cruel.
“This is just an all-around tragedy. We shouldn’t focus on who to blame, whether its police, prosecutors, Walker or Taylor.”
The most serious questions here concern the investigation itself, and why these officers were asked to serve a warrant on Taylor’s home in the first place. There’s the lie about the postal inspector. There is the fact that despite the surveillance on Taylor’s home, the police didn’t know there was another person inside. There are the police bullets that were inadvertently fired into surrounding apartments. There’s the cut-and-paste language used to secure the no-knock portion of the warrant. There’s also the fact that the officer who procured the warrant was not part of the raid team. There’s the fact that five officers involved in the Taylor raid were involved in another violent, botched raid on an innocent family in 2018.
And there’s the 2015 study by criminologist Bryan Patrick Schaefer, who was allowed to embed himself with the Louisville police department. As Schaffer wrote, “Of the 73 search warrant entries observed, every entry involved using a ram to break the door down. Further, the detectives announce their presence and purpose in conjunction with the first hit on the door. A detective explained, ‘As long as we announce our presence, we are good. We don’t want to give them any time to destroy evidence or grab a weapon, so we go fast and get through the door quick.‘”
Schaefer added that in the raids he observed, the difference between how police served a no-knock warrant and a knock-and-announce warrant was “minimal in practice.”
Schaeffer also found that for warrant service, Louisville police fill out a “risk matrix” to determine whether to bring in a SWAT team. A case has to meet a minimum score before determining whether SWAT will be used. The other raids done in conjunction with the Glover investigation did use SWAT, which also means police ensure there are ambulances and medical personnel nearby. I happen to think SWAT teams are overutilized. But if you are going to break into someone’s house, a well-trained, full-time SWAT team is far preferable to a bunch of cops in street clothes kicking down a door.
The irony here is that Taylor was not deemed threatening enough to merit a SWAT team. Instead, she was subjected to all of the most dangerous aspects of a SWAT raid, undertaken by officers in street clothes. There were no medics nearby. In fact, an ambulance on standby was told to leave the scene an hour before the raid. After she was shot, Taylor lie in her house for 20 minutes before receiving any medical attention.
And there are more questions:
— Why serve a warrant in the middle of the night on a witness tangential to an investigation?
— Why did the police alter the times on their reports?
— The most recent activity involving Taylor on the search warrants was in January. Why wait until March to serve the warrant on her apartment?
— Why didn’t police do any further investigation to better establish how involved in the drug conspiracy Taylor really was?
To simply blow this off as a tragedy for which no one is to blame is an insult to the life and legacy of Taylor, but also to the dozens of innocent people who have been gunned down in their own homes before her. And the effort by Cameron and others to make all of this go away by feeding the public half-truths that blame the victims in this story — Taylor and Walker — for Taylor’s death is inexcusable.
We could prevent the next Breonna Taylor. We could ban forced entry raids to serve drug warrants. We could hold judges accountable for signing warrants that don’t pass constitutional muster. We could demand that police officers wear body cameras during these raids to hold them accountable, and that they be adequately punished when they fail to activate them. We could do a lot to make sure there are no more Breonna Taylors. The question is whether we want to.