No-Knock Warrant Reform and the Breonna Taylor Case

At long last, the Kentucky Attorney General has concluded its investigation into the killing of Breonna Taylor. Only one officer was charged and he was not charged with Taylor’s death, but rather charged with Wanton Endangerment for firing his weapon multiple times through an apartment wall with no idea what he was firing at.

Many have decried that the officers were not charged with murder or at least some homicide offense. I do not intend to do that here as I am generally not in the practice of arguing for criminal charges or more incarceration. What I want to do here is point out the absurd policies that may mean the prosecution made a correct decision not to charge in this case and what this means generally for our society.

In short, based on very little, the police obtained a “no-knock” warrant for Taylor’s apartment. This is a warrant that allows a police department to bust down a citizen’s door and conduct a military-style raid without any warning or announcement to the occupants inside. Louisville Metro Police policy requires that officers announce themselves when entering a home with a no-knock warrant. However, there is significant dispute about whether they did so in this case. To be clear, the law does not require that officers executing a no-knock warrant announce themselves.

Take a moment to think about what that means. If police obtain a no-knock warrant, they can legally break into your home without telling you that they are there or announcing who they are. What would you do if you were sleeping and heard someone kick down your front door and you had no idea who they were?

That is precisely what happened in Taylor’s case. Taylor had drifted off to sleep and her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, hears the front door being blown off the hinges. He lawfully owns a firearm, which he immediately retrieves. In the confusion of the moment, he fires one or two shots in the direction of the intruders. What happens next, if you do not already know, you can likely guess. The police flooded the apartment with bullets, firing more than 30 rounds. Taylor was struck and killed.

Back to the original point. It does not matter if you think the police behavior was criminal in this situation. It is unacceptable. It is unacceptable that such a situation was allowed to occur in the first place.

At a bare minimum, the use of no-knock warrants must be significantly curtailed. For example, potential destruction of evidence is likely a concern in every situation where police are serving a search warrant. It is nevertheless not a justification to create a situation that threatens human life. Police should not be granted no-knock authority unless there is clear evidence that knocking and announcing would cause greater potential danger to human life than a failure to do so would. Anything less and we are endangering the lives of both citizens and law enforcement with very little justification.