Family seeks answers in fatal police shooting of Louisville woman in her apartment

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Breonna Taylor (Family Photo)

By Errin Haines, The 19th via The Washington Post

Breonna Taylor was working as an EMT in Louisville when the coronavirus pandemic hit the country, helping to save lives while trying to protect her own.

On March 13, the 26-year-old aspiring nurse was killed in her apartment, shot at least eight times by Louisville police officers who officials have said were executing a drug warrant, according to a lawsuit filed by the family, accusing officers of wrongful death, excessive force and gross negligence.

“Not one person has talked to me. Not one person has explained anything to me,” Tamika Palmer, Taylor’s mother, said in an interview. “I want justice for her. I want them to say her name. There’s no reason Breonna should be dead at all.”

BreonnAccording to the lawsuit, filed April 27, Louisville police executed a search warrant at Taylor’s home, looking for a man who did not live in Taylor’s apartment complex and had already been detained when officers came to Taylor’s apartment after midnight. Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, was also in the apartment and, according to the lawsuit, shot at officers when they attempted to enter without announcing themselves. The lawsuit alleges that police fired more than 20 rounds of ammunition into the apartment.

Taylor’s death is the kind that could have drawn national headlines in the Black Lives Matter era, like the deaths of Sandra Bland and Atatiana Jefferson, but has gotten little attention amid news of the spread of the coronavirus. The pandemic headlines were partly to blame in drowning out news of Taylor’s death, but so, too, is gender bias, said attorney Ben Crump, who has risen to prominence in recent years as the lawyer for several high-profile cases involving Black men killed by police and neighborhood vigilantes.

None of the officers involved have been charged in connection with the shooting. Walker, a licensed gun owner who was not injured in the incident, was arrested and faces charges of first-degree assault and attempted murder of a police officer.

Louisville Metro Police Department spokeswoman Jessie Halladay declined to comment on the case and said in a statement, “There is an ongoing public integrity investigation into this case and therefore it would be inappropriate for us to comment at this time.”

Crump, hired Monday to represent Taylor’s family, also represents the family of Ahmaud Arbery — whose killing in south Georgia while jogging was recorded by another man, video that sparked a movement among Black runners and gained public attention that resulted in the arrest of the two white men accused of shooting him nearly 80 days ago.

“They’re killing our sisters just like they’re killing our brothers, but for whatever reason, we have not given our sisters the same attention that we have given to Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Stephon Clark, Terence Crutcher, Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Eric Garner, Laquan McDonald,” Crump said. “Breonna’s name should be known by everybody in America who said those other names, because she was in her own home, doing absolutely nothing wrong.”

A phone call in the middle of the night was the first sign something was wrong for Palmer, Taylor’s mother, she said in an interview with the 19th.

When Palmer answered, her daughter’s boyfriend was on the other end, saying someone was trying to break into the couple’s apartment. Still shaking off the fog of sleep, Palmer jumped out of the bed at Walker’s next words: “I think they shot Breonna.”

Palmer got dressed and left home for what would be an hours-long ordeal. She drove to her daughter’s apartment, to the hospital and then back to the apartment as the sun rose. She said officers gave her little information and asked whether she had any enemies or whether she and her boyfriend were having problems.

Finally, Palmer figured out that her daughter was dead.

Palmer gets emotional when she considers that she was more concerned with her daughter’s safety as a health-care worker than she was about her being safe in her own home.

“She was an essential worker. She had to go to work,” Palmer said. “She didn’t have a problem with that. … To not be able to sleep in her own bed without someone busting down her door and taking her life. … I was just like, ‘Make sure you wash your hands!’”

The Black Lives Matter movement caught on in 2014, sparked by social media campaigns and public outrage, drawing attention to the killing of unarmed Black Americans by police officers and sometimes leading to the arrest, prosecutions and, in rare cases, convictions of the shooters. While many of the headlines and hashtags are often for men — the primary victims of such shootings — Black women are also impacted.

Taylor’s sister, Ju’Niyah Palmer, has been on social media daily, posting pictures of the two of them with hashtags like #JusticeForBre, to remind people that she was a victim and not a suspect in a crime. Taylor did not have a criminal record.

“I’m just getting awareness for my sister, for people to know who she is, what her name is,” said Ju’Niyah Palmer, 20, who lived with Taylor but was not at home at the time of the incident. “It is literally just as equal. There’s no difference.”

Photos and videos of runners with hashtags like #RunWithMaud and #AhmaudArbery were trending in recent days, including Friday, which would have been Arbery’s 26th birthday. Crump is now calling for the same attention for Taylor.

“If you ran for Ahmaud, you need to stand for Bre,” he said.

This story is part of a collaboration between The Washington Post and the 19th, a nonprofit newsroom covering gender, politics and policy.

This article originally appeared in The Washington Post.

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