The death of Breonna Taylor as police executed a search warrant in Louisville, Ky., has come under renewed focus.
The 26-year-old first responder was killed in her own home in March — months before tensions related to racial injustice in the United States reached a boiling point.
Her case has since become part of a worldwide movement denouncing police violence and systemic racism. Protesters across the U.S. have been carrying signs her with name and picture alongside those of George Floyd, who died in the custody of Minneapolis police on May 25.
While the officers involved in Floyd’s case are now facing charges, those who showed up to Taylor’s house that night and opened fire, so far, are not.
Here’s what we know about her death and the investigation so far.
A search warrant
On March 13, shortly after midnight, Louisville police executed a search warrant at a residence they believed was connected to a narcotics investigation.
The police were investigating two men accused of selling drugs at a home more than 10 miles from Taylor’s apartment, according to records reported by the Louisville Courier Journal.
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A judge had signed a warrant allowing police to search Taylor’s home because police suspected that one of the two men had used her apartment to receive packages. The judge signed off on a “no-knock” provision, which allowed the officers to enter Taylor’s home without warning and without identifying themselves as law enforcement.
Louisville police said that despite the warrant, the officers identified themselves before using a battering ram to enter the home. A lawsuit filed by her family disputes that, as does one filed by Taylor’s neighbour, Chelsey Napper.
Taylor and her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, were in bed when the officers entered.
Police allege that the officers were “immediately met by gunfire” from Walker. According to the family’s wrongful death lawsuit, Walker, a licensed gun owner, shot an officer in the leg.
The officers returned gunfire, firing dozens of times, the suit claims.
Taylor was shot at least eight times. She died in the hall of her apartment.
There is no known body camera footage from the incident because the officers on the criminal interdiction squad do not use that equipment.
The circumstances surrounding Taylor’s death are being investigated by the FBI’s Louisville office.
That investigation was launched on May 21 — more than two months after her death.
The account by police has been disputed by Taylor’s family and their lawyers. Taylor’s family has also filed a lawsuit for charges of battery, wrongful death, excessive force, negligence and gross negligence.
In the transcript from the 911 call, Walker told a dispatcher that “somebody kicked in the door and shot my girlfriend.”
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“The Defendants then proceeded to spray gunfire into the residence with a total disregard for the value of human life,” the lawsuit alleges, adding that both Taylor and Walker “believed the home had been broken into by criminals and that they were in significant, immediate danger.”
Walker was licensed to carry a gun, the lawsuit claims. Walker said he feared for his life and only fired his gun that night in self-defence, believing there was a break-in.
The officers did not find drugs in the apartment when they entered.
The lawsuit goes on to say the officers “failed to use any sound reasonable judgment” and fired “more than 25 blind shots into multiple homes.” It also claims that the suspect they were looking for was already in custody.
Walker was initially charged with the attempted murder of a police officer, but the charge has since been dismissed.
There has otherwise been little progress on the case.
The three officers involved in her shooting — Jonathan Mattingly, Brett Hankison and Myles Cosgrove — are all on administrative leave while the investigation continues.
Some changes within the police department have evolved from Taylor’s case, however — steps similar to those sought in her family’s lawsuit.
The Louisville Metropolitan Police Department announced on May 21 that it would require all sworn officers to wear body cameras. The department also said it would change how it carries out search warrants, including requiring a sign-off from the chief of police or their designee before they to a judge for approval. There has been pushback, however, on implementing a full ban on no-knock warrants.
The police chief, Steve Conrad, announced the same day that he would retire before July.
Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer has vowed that the city would take steps toward improving police accountability and announced that the city would issue a “top-to-bottom” review of the force.
On the day this article was published, June 5, Taylor would have turned 27.
She was a first responder, an EMT who worked gruelling hours and shifts during the COVID-19 pandemic at two area hospitals. Friends and family told NPR that she wanted to build a career in health care because she cared about people.
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Her mother described her as someone who adored her family and had big dreams to succeed in life.
“She had a whole plan on becoming a nurse and buying a house and then starting a family. Breonna had her head on straight, and she was a very decent person,” her mother told The Courier Journal. “She didn’t deserve this. She wasn’t that type of person.”
It took months before Taylor’s death became a national story, with activists, celebrities and politicians speaking up about her death.
“It felt like no one was listening,” her mother said on May 25. “Like no one cared what happened here. … It was frustrating. It was lonely. It was miserable.”
Two months later, millions across the United States grew to know Taylor’s name and story as protesters flocked to major city streets, demonstrating against police violence.
They now chant her name along with Floyd’s and that of Ahmaud Arbery, who was fatally shot Feb. 23 after a white father and son armed themselves and pursued the 25-year-old Black man as he ran through their neighbourhood in Georgia.
In Louisville, Taylor’s case is at the forefront. Police have faced waves of demonstrations challenging and condemning their law enforcement tactics over the past week.
The unrest brought Molotov cocktails and bricks in some cases. Police have used tear gas and fired pepper balls to push back on demonstrators.
On June 1, a Black man, David McAtee, was shot to death during an encounter with police and National Guard soldiers who were clearing a crowd to enforce a curfew. Witnesses have said the crowd was not protesting.
The demonstrations calmed by June 4, but the dissatisfaction from communities has not been extinguished.
“She always said that she would be a legend,” Taylor’s friend, Erinicka Hunter, told NPR. “I just never imagined it would be like this.”
— With files from the Associated Press
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