Feds Indict Officers In Breonna Taylor Death, Including Brett Hankison Found Not Guilty In State Trial
Merrick Garland wants what state prosecutors were unable to achieve, convictions in the raid where police responded to gunfire from Breonna Taylor’s boyfriend, accidentally killing her.
Yesterday the United States Attorney General announced charges against four Kentucky police officers for various crimes around a search warrant for the apartment of young black woman Breonna Taylor. Those charged are Officer Brett Hankison, Detective Kelly Goodlett, Detective Joshua Jaynes, and Sergeant Kyle Meany.
Notably, all four of the officers charged are subject to execution if found guilty on the most serious of the charges specified in the indictments, those alleging violations of 18 U.S.C. § 242 that resulted in death. Many of the other counts are good for 20 years in prison.
It is also notable how heavily these indictments rely on undocumented and ambiguous assertions of supporting evidence, especially given the severity of the charges.
This search warrant in question was served on Taylor’s apartment during the early morning hours of March 13, 2020, directed at criminal target J.G., a purported drug dealer. During entry the officers were shot at by Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, who fired a handgun at the officers as they entered Taylor’s residence.
One of the entering officers was struck and severely wounded in the leg by Walker’s fire—it appears from the large quantity of blood at the scene that only the prompt application of a tourniquet saved that officer’s life. The officers then returned fire, and Taylor was struck and killed by one of the officers’ rounds.
Officer Brett Hankison
One of the police officers who fired into the apartment, but whose rounds did not strike anybody, was Brett Hankison. Hankison discharged his AR-style rifle into the apartment in the subjective belief that this was in necessary defense of his fellow officers being fired upon.
Several of Hankison’s rounds penetrated through Taylor’s apartment into an adjacent apartment in which three people were present. Hankison would be charged under Kentucky law on three counts of wanton endangerment based on the danger his rounds purportedly presented to those three people in the adjacent apartment. He would be acquitted of all charges in a jury trial in state court, as covered by Legal Insurrection here:
The United States Department of Justice Civil Rights Division is now taking its own shot at Hankison for the same conduct for which he was acquitted in state court, now on two counts of deprivation of rights under color of law.
The Federal indictment against Hankison specifies two counts of criminal conduct.
The first count is based on the DOJ claim that Hankison violated the civil rights of Taylor and Walker to be free of unreasonable seizure, by his conduct of firing into Taylor’s apartment.
The second count is based on the DOJ claim that Hankison violated the civil rights of the three people in the adjacent apartment by his conduct of firing the rounds that entered their apartment, characterizing these rounds as having been fired “after there was no longer a lawful objective justifying the use of deadly force.”
Both charges are based on alleged violations of 18 U.S.C. § 242. If Hankison is found guilty of deprivation of civil rights under color of law under circumstances in which death results, he is subject to execution.
Challenges to Federal Conviction of Hankison
Conviction on these charges would require that prosecutors prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Hankison’s use of force was not justified as lawful defense of himself and his fellow officers being subject to the gunfire of Kenneth Walker. This argument has already been made in Kentucky state court, and found lacking before that court’s jury, resulting in Hankison’s acquittal in that case.
That said, it is always possible that Federal prosecutors in Federal court might have better luck in convincing a Federal jury that they have met the high burden necessary to defeat Hankison’s claim of justification.
Again, the consequence for Hankison, should the Federal prosecution be successful in overcoming his legal defense of justification, would potentially be execution.
Detective Kelly Goodlett
Another Kentucky officer charged yesterday by the Department of Justice in the events surrounding the death of Breonna Taylor is Detective Kelly Goodlett, whom the DOJ alleges both conspired with other officers to falsify the search warrant affidavit for Taylor’s apartment, claimed to be a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 242, and also conspired to cover up this conduct after Taylor’s death, claimed to be a violation of 18 U.S.C. 1512(b)(3). Further, the indictment charges Goodlett under a general conspiracy state, 18 U.S.C. § 371.
The Federal indictment against Goodlett claims the following criminal conduct on her part.
First, the indictment alleges that Goodlett failed to challenge or object to a purportedly false claim made in the affidavit for the search warrant for Taylor’s apartment that the criminal target of the warrant, alleged drug dealer J.G., was receiving packages at Taylor’s apartment.
Second, the indictment alleges that Goodlett falsely asserted in the affidavit for the search warrant that other detectives had “verified” (scare quotes in indictment) that J.G. was using Taylor’s apartment as his “current home address” (again, scare quotes in indictment).
Third, the indictment claims that in May 2020, roughly two months after the service of the warrant and Taylor’s death, Goodlett agreed to meet with another now-indicted officer, Joshua Jaynes, and during this meeting the two conspired to fabricate a false story that yet a third officer (Sergeant J.M., not indicted) had told them that J.G. was receiving packages at Taylor’s apartment.
Fourth, the indictment alleges that in August 2020, Goodlett falsely told Federal investigators that Sergeant J.M. “made a nonchalant comment” (scare quotes in indictment) that criminal target J.G. was getting “mail or packages” at Taylor’s home (again, scare quotes in indictment).
If Goodlett is found guilty of a violation of 18 U.S.C. 1512(b)(3)—the alleged conspiracy to cover up the purported violation of § 242—she is subject to a sentence of 20 years in prison. If Goodlett is found guilty of a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371 she is subject to a sentence of 5 years in prison.
Further, as with Hankison, if Goodlett is found guilty of a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 242 in which death results—the alleged falsification of the search warrant, a consequence was the death of Breonna Taylor—she is subject to execution.
Challenges to Federal Conviction of Goodlett
The biggest challenges to conviction of Goodlett on these counts appears to me to lay in the ambiguity of the claims of the indictment—all such ambiguity undercuts the proof beyond a reasonable doubt required for conviction.
For example, the indictment claims Goodlett knew to be false the claim by fellow detective Jaynes that he had “verified” from a Postal Inspector that criminal target J.G. was receiving packages at Taylor’s apartment. Even if we assume Jaynes’ claim to be false, however, the indictment provides no evidence to suggest that Goodlett knew the claim to be false.
The indictment then claims that Goodlett had falsely added to the search warrant affidavit that detectives had “verified” (scare quotes in indictment) from databases that criminal target J.G. was using Taylor’s apartment as his “current home address” (again, scare quotes in indictment).
I note first that all these “scare quotes” around material claims of this indictment raise cause for concern because of the resultant ambiguity. What does “verified” mean in this context? What does “current home address” mean?
If J.G. had an existing dwelling that was his primary residence apart from Taylor’s apartment, but was communicating to others that he was currently staying at her apartment, could this communication reasonably (even if mistakenly) perceived by law enforcement as “verification” that J.G. was using Taylor’s apartment as his “current home address”?
Then we have the alleged count of conspiracy based on the meeting between Goodlett and Jaynes, where they purportedly agreed to falsely claim that LMPD Sergeant J.B. had told them in January 2020 that criminal target J.G. was receiving packages that Taylor’s apartment—a statement that J.M. would later deny having made.
This claim is made entirely in the absence of evidence. There is no indication that either Goodlett or Jaynes concedes to this purported conspiracy, and there’s no indicated source of evidence—even presented in anonymized fashion—showing this purported conspiracy. Is it merely a speculation on the part of the prosecutors?
Finally, we have the counts based on the purportedly false statements of Goodlett and Jaynes that Sergeant J.M. had said “in passing” or in a “nonchalant comment” that J.G. was getting “mail or Amazon packages” at Taylor’s apartment.
The manner in which this communication is being described suggests purely informal verbal communication—meaning, the form of communication most likely to involve misunderstanding. There is no indication of any documentation of any of this communication, documentation that would necessarily make all of these claims concrete and non-ambiguous.
Is a comment made “in passing” or in a “non-chalant comment,” or the denial of a comment made in such an informal verbal fashion, sufficient to prove criminal guilt beyond a reasonable doubt?
Detective Joshua Jaynes & Sergeant Kyle Meany
Two additional Kentucky officers associated with the warrants served on Taylor’s apartment were also indicted yesterday by the Department of Justice: Detective Joshua Jaynes, and Sergeant Kyle Meany. Both were charged under a single indictment.
The single Federal indictment that charges both Jaynes & Meany together, includes count one directed at both men, claiming that Jaynes and Meany wrote out and approved, respectively, the search warrant directed at Taylor’s apartment knowing it to be false.
Specifically, the search warrant approved for Taylor’s apartment was based on affidavits sworn by Jaynes & Meany. The indictment claims that both officers knew the affidavit contained false, misleading, and out-of-date information, that the affidavit omitted material information, and that the officers knew they lacked probable cause for the warrants. Further, the officers knew the search warrants would be executed by armed police officers, thus creating a dangerous situation for anyone on the premises subject to search.
This alleged conduct is the basis for the first count in this indictment for deprivation of rights under color of law, under 18 U.S.C. 242.
As with Hankison and Goodlett, if Jaynes or Meany is found guilty of a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 242 in which death results, either man would be is subject to execution.
In terms of specific conspiratorial conduct, in count two directed specifically at Jaynes, the indictment claims that in April or May 2020, after the March shooting of Taylor, Jaynes attempted to get a fellow officer (J.M., unindicted) to say that he had prior to the shooting told Jaynes that criminal target J.G. was receiving packages at Taylor’s apartment.
The indictment also claims that Jaynes wrote in an Investigative Letter that he had “verified through [J.M.] of LMPD, who contacted the postal service, that [J.G.] had been receiving packages at” Taylor’s apartment.
The indictment further claims that Jaynes falsely stated in the Investigative Letter that a search of LEO database CLEAR had verified J.G. was using Taylor’s address “as his residence” (scare quotes in indictment).
The indictment also references the alleged meeting between Jaynes and Kelly Goodlett, already mentioned above, in which the two purportedly orchestrated a false story claiming that LMPD Officer J.M. had informed them that criminal target J.G. “gets Amazon or mail packages [at Taylor’s home]” (scare quotes in indictment).
Finally, the indictment alleges that this same false claim was in 2020 repeated to investigators from the LMPD Public Integrity Unit as well as to investigators from the Kentucky Office of the Attorney General, and then in June 2022 to agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
All of this conspiratorial conduct, the basis for count two of the indictment, is allegedly in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1519, good for 20 years in prison, 18 U.S.C. 1512, good for 20 years in prison, and 18 U.S.C. 371, good for 5 years in prison.
The third count against Jaynes essentially consists of lying to agents of the FBI, by his having made allegedly false statements in his Investigative Letter, a claimed violation of 18 U.S.C. 1519, and if convicted under this count Jaynes is subject to a sentence of 20 years in prison.
Finally, the fourth count of this indictment is directed towards Sergeant Kyle Meany and alleges that he made false statements to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, specifically in allegedly falsely telling the FBI that the request for a “no knock” search warrant was made because LMPD’s SWAT unit, which would be serving the warrant, had asked for that “no-knock” authority. The indictment claims that LMPD SWAT made no such request for “no-knock” entry at Taylor’s apartment.
This is claimed to be in violation of 18 U.S.C. 1001, and if convicted under this count Meany is subject to a sentence of 5 years in prison.
Challenges to Federal Conviction of Jaynes & Meany
As with Goodlett, the biggest challenges to conviction of either Meany or Jaynes on these counts appears to me to lay in the ambiguity of the claims of the indictment—again, all such ambiguity undercuts the proof beyond a reasonable doubt required for conviction.
For example, with respect to count one, directed at both Jaynes Meany, deprivation of rights under color of law, and punishable by execution on these facts, the count simply summarily alleges that both men knew “at the time that the affidavit contained false and misleading statements, omitted material information, relied on stale information, and was not supported by probable cause.”
Evidence for any of this? None is presented within count one. That said, in fairness, perhaps the necessary “evidence” is described in the following counts, two through four, so let’s take a look at what’s there.
In cont two, conspiracy by Jaynes, alleging three violation of Federal statutes good for 20 years, 20 years, and 5 years, respectively, it is alleged that Jayne falsely claimed that LMPD Sergeant J.M. had informed him that criminal target J.G. was receiving packages at Taylor’s apartment, a claim J.M. denies. Specifically, J.M. claims now that he was unaware of whether J.G. was receiving packages at Taylor’s apartment.
In any case, this kind of informal verbal communication, claimed by Jaynes to have occurred in January 2020, months prior to the service of the search warrant, is precisely the kind that is prone to ambiguity and reasonable error. Once again there is no documentation of any of this communication.
For example, might Jaynes have heard from a different source that J.G. was receiving packages at Taylor’s apartment, and reasonably but mistakenly recalled that he’d received this information in his conversation on this subject months earlier with Sergeant J.M.? An explanation consistent with innocence undermines proof beyond a reasonable doubt of guilt.
The indictment in count two then claims that Jaynes included in his Investigative Letter a misleading claim that a detective “was able to verify through CLEAR, a law enforcement database, that as of February 20, 2020 [J.G.] used” Taylor’s apartment as his residence. The indictment then claims that this claim is demonstrably misleading because J.G. “did not live” at Taylor’s apartment.
This is all very ambiguous, however. Might J.G. have had a primary dwelling elsewhere than Taylor’s apartment, and also have spent substantial time at Taylor’s apartment, such that he was for all practical purposes “residing” from time to time in both locations?
The indictment also alleges that a “Postal Inspector”—presumably an employee of the United States Postal Service—had announced months after the service of the search warrant that criminal target J.G. had not received packages at Taylor’s address.
Even assuming this is verifiably correct for delivery of USPS packages, however, how exactly would a USPS Postal Inspector have personal knowledge about whether J.G. had received packages delivered by alternative means, such as Federal Express, or even just personal delivery? Such deliveries by non-USPS means would be fully relevant for the purposes of the search warrant.
It is notable that the indictment does not assert that it is demonstrably the case that J.G. never received packages at Taylor’s apartment delivered by any means whatever. Why not? If any packages were received by J.G. at Taylor’s apartment by any means, then arguably Jaynes’ statements to that effect were entirely truthful.
Similarly, count three of this indictment alleges that Jaynes made false statements to the FBI, but the falsity of these statements is based on the same ambiguous premise already covered above that Jaynes was outright lying about criminal target J.G. receiving packages at Taylor’s apartment.
That brings us to count four of this indictment, now specifically targeting Meany, which similarly alleges that Meany made false statements to the FBI, and it shares the same ambiguity vulnerabilities as does count three against Jaynes.
The bottom line of my reading of these indictments is that they strike me as profoundly superficial, light in evidence, and ambiguous as the basis for criminal charges as serious as capital offenses to be brought against these law enforcement officers on the facts of this case.
I note in passing that the “lied to the FBI” accounts are apparently all based on interviews conducted by the FBI of these officers only in June of 2022—in other words, just a couple of months ago, and more than two years after the service of the warrant and the death of Breonna Taylor.
Why so long a delay? Is the answer simply political necessity of a fantastically failing Biden Presidency?
I try to limit myself to the law generally, and use of force law in particular, but I expect that the Legal Insurrection community will have plenty to say about the political dynamics around these indictments of these officers.
You carry a gun so you’re hard to kill.
Know the law so you’re hard to convict.
Attorney Andrew F. Branca
Law of Self Defense LLC
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