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'Sleeping While Black': Louisville Police Kill Unarmed Black Woman

Briefing room inside the Louisville Metro Police Department.
Kyeland Jackson
Briefing room inside the Louisville Metro Police Department.

Attorneys for the family of Breonna Taylor call her shooting death by Louisville police an "execution." Taylor was asleep in her apartment in March when police burst into her home to serve a search warrant. The case is gaining national attention, and this week civil rights and personal injury attorney Ben Crump announced he had been hired by Taylor's family.

Crump has represented the families of other black shooting victims, including Trayvon Martin and, currently, Ahmaud Arbery, whose alleged shooters in Georgia were arrested last week after video of the February incident became public. Like Taylor, Martin and Arbery were unarmed when they were shot and killed. Crump called Arbery's murder a lynching.

On Wednesday, he called Taylor's death an execution.

"You can't walk while black. With Ahmaud, you can't jog while black. Driving while black," Crump said during a news conference. "But Breonna Taylor was sleeping while black in the sanctity of her own home."

He is representing Taylor's mother, Tamika Palmer, in a lawsuit against three Louisville Metro Police Department officers that was filed last month in Louisville. Local attorneys Sam Aguiar and Lonita Baker are also representing Palmer.

"Breonna Taylor was shot at least eight times by the officers' gunfire and died as a result. Breonna had posed no threat to the officers and did nothing to deserve to die at their hands," reads the complaint, which was filed by Aguiar and Baker.

They are asking for a jury trial as well as compensatory and punitive damages.

Jessie Halladay, a spokeswoman for LMPD, said in an email that an internal investigation into the case is ongoing and declined to comment further.

Taylor, a certified emergency medical technician, and her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, were asleep when police arrived at her home around 1 a.m. on March 13 to serve a search warrant, according to Walker's attorney, Rob Eggert, in court documents. When they entered, Walker, believing them to be intruders, according to his attorney, fired a shot that hit an officer in the leg. The officer had surgery soon after and recovered.

Three police officers shot back and struck Taylor eight times, killing her. Eggert said in a court document that he believed the officers fired at least 22 bullets.

They were placed on administrative reassignment while under investigation. No one has been charged in Taylor's death. There is no footage of the incident. Police say the officers in this unit don't wear body cameras.

Whether the officers identified themselves before forcing entry is a matter of dispute, with LMPD saying they did and Eggert saying they did not.

Walker was charged with attempted murder of a police officer and assault in the first degree. Although Lt. Ted Eidem, who is with LMPD's Public Integrity Unit, said after the incident that police were there to execute a search warrant for a narcotics investigation, Walker was not charged with a drug offense. No drugs were found at the apartment, according to Walker's father in an affidavit.

In late March, Walker was released to home incarceration, a move that drew criticism from LMPD Chief Steve Conrad and the police union.

Taylor's mother and her attorneys still have questions about the facts of the case.

They said officers obtained a "no knock" warrant, which doesn't fit with the police claim that the officers identified themselves before entering. And they said police had already arrested the primary target of the narcotics investigation by the time this group got to Taylor's home.

Attorney Sam Aguiar said the police department's story doesn't add up.

"Give me a break. It seems to me like they're just trying to cover their tracks from day one, and every single time they keep saying things that conflict with former things, it really just looks like they are so desperate to cover this up, and it's why getting the truth in this case is so important," he said during the Wednesday news conference.

Taylor's story spread across social media and news in recent days after being shared by activist Shaun King, a Kentucky native. Since then, politicians on the local and national stages have weighed in.

On Wednesday, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer said that after the police's Public Integrity Unit completes its investigation, the report will be handed over to the Commonwealth's Attorney Office, which could pursue charges. Fischer said it is possible he may call for an independent investigation into the shooting.

"In these type of situations, you know, people always want quick answers," Fischer said. "And usually when there's really complicated, tragic situations like this, there's usually just not easy answers."

He said his office is in contact with officials including Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear, who also on Wednesday issued a statement that said external legal authorities, including the state's attorney general, should review the outcome of the police investigation.

Separately, Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Ky., described Taylor's killing as "deeply troubling." And Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., has called on the Department of Justice to investigate Taylor's death.

Copyright 2020 Louisville Public Media

Corrected: May 12, 2020 at 9:00 PM PDT
An earlier version of this story misstated Sam Aguiar's first name as Craig.
Amina Elahi