Sometime in the early morning hours of Friday, March 13, 2020, a group of Louisville (Kentucky) Metro police officers served one of five related and simultaneous search warrants on the home of Breonna Taylor. The search warrant was issued by Jefferson Circuit Court Judge Mary Shaw, predicated on the probable cause spelled out in a search warrant affidavit authored by Detective Joshua Jaynes, of the Louisville Metro Police Department (LMPD), who indicated that the police had probable cause to believe, and did believe that Ms. Taylor was receiving packages on behalf of her ex-boyfriend, suspected drug dealer Jamarcus Glover. Mr. Glover was the alleged target of the LMPD’s ongoing narcotics investigation that led to the five search warrants, and he was arrested that same night on narcotics charges. Bear in mind that although purportedly not still romantically involved, the investigation uncovered myriad real-time links between Taylor and Glover, some of them clearly supporting the probable cause outlined in the affidavit.
At or about 12:40 a.m., the entry team of officers outside Taylor’s apartment began knocking on the door and announcing their presence, according to news reports and the testimony of the involved officers. At some point, the entry team breached the front door of Taylor’s home, and they proceeded to enter. They were immediately greeted by gunfire, whereby Sergeant Jonathan Mattingly suffered a gunshot wound to the leg which severed his femoral artery. He and others returned fire. So, let’s reassess the facts known so far: 1) Police acquired a lawful search warrant, issued by a judge, directing them to enter and search the home of Breonna Taylor. 2) Officers, acting on this lawful search warrant, knocked and announced prior to breaching the front door and making entry into the named target residence. 3) They were met upon entry by gunfire coming from the inside of the apartment, and one of the officers suffered a gunshot wound. Several officers returned fire. Taylor was hit and succumbed to her injuries.
Since that shooting, Detectives Jaynes and Myles Cosgrove have been fired, and Detective Brett Hankison was not only fired but indicted on three (3) counts of First-Degree Wanton Endangerment.[i] The latter charges stem from the fact that he reportedly fired his weapon in Taylor’s apartment causing bullets to enter an adjacent apartment as well. No one was injured outside Taylor’s apartment. Now a great deal has been made of the “no-knock” warrant; the media has been openly critical of the concept. Despite the fact that officers confirmed that they knocked and announced prior to entry – which they were not legally obliged to do – it somehow continues to be a significant point of contention. However, “no-knock” search warrants have been used in narcotics cases since the 1980’s and beyond, and we now know the inherent dangers officers face when approaching a home to be searched, as evidenced by the tragic deaths of two FBI agents killed during their approach on the home of suspected child-pornographer, David Lee Huber, in Sunrise, FL, on Tuesday, February 2, 2021.[ii] Has anyone in the media drawn this comparison? I have not seen evidence of it.
Despite the fact that she had no documented criminal history, Ms. Taylor clearly socialized and fraternized with underworld figures like her ex, Mr. Glover. He visited her residence, drove her cars, and spoke with her by phone while Glover was incarcerated months prior to her death. In 2016 (the same and only year she ever, briefly, worked as an EMT) the body of a homicide victim – shot eight times – was discovered in a rental car registered to Taylor, which she allowed Glover to drive. This would logically reinforce the probability that Taylor was aiding and abetting her then-boyfriend’s criminal enterprise. Did Breonna Taylor deserve to die that day under these circumstances? The simple answer is no. However, the officers who entered her home did so legally – indeed, mandated by a court order. It was NOT the wrong home, and it was NOT the wrong target. They entered the home under the lawful authority of the search warrant and were immediately confronted with enemy gunfire.
Self-defense in situations like these, that is gunfire emerging from a darkened apartment where police believe criminals reside, is not a surgical process where patience and judicious decisions prevail. One must consider that, while inside the apartment, this group of officers became targets of an unidentified threat firing live rounds at them. One of their own was quickly shot. Try to imagine this scenario: Sergeant Jonathan Mattingly’s femur was severed by the bullet.[iii] This is a life-threatening injury wherein a person can bleed out in minutes. He was probably bleeding profusely, visibly. It would not be inconceivable to imagine Mattingly screaming in horror, pain. His team experienced this horror and the perceived risk with him, and they logically returned fire. Having been in shootings during my career, I can tell you that the experience is typically defined as a heightened state of panic, punctuated by seconds of clarity where your training hopefully allows you to survive the encounter by pure instinct.
Police officers, like all Americans, are supposed to be immune from ex post facto laws, that is any law(s) “that retroactively changes the legal consequences of actions that were committed, or relationships that existed, before the enactment of the law.” And while I cannot argue this applies statutorily, I can posit that the application and interpretation of certain laws under which these officers and officers like them stand accused throughout our country are beginning to take on a new, inexplicable twist that becomes difficult to anticipate until you are caught in the prism of uncertainty that comes with these types of political prosecutions. Certain, shall we say, “unconventional” prosecutors are politicizing the rule of law to ensure a desired outcome. If our goal as a society is to guarantee that the best and brightest candidates seek to become certified law enforcement officers, that is our society’s protectors, then we need to anticipate that this prosecution by ambush will sooner than later have a chilling effect on the propensity of any intelligent human being looking to enter this honorable profession. We will quickly begin to see both the numbers and the quality of applicants diminish.
It is painfully obvious that our political paradigm is shifting: Our elected and government leaders are increasingly guided by nebulous social ideas that seem irrational or untenable, like showing contempt for merit and honor while praising anti-social behavior; like allowing police officers to be persecuted and condemned for doing their job, merely to appease a small, radical minority. We have martyred thugs like George Floyd, Rayshard Brooks, and Jacob Blake, while we sacrifice and make pariahs of heroes like Atlanta police officer Garrett Rolfe, Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, or Tulsa police officer Betty Jo Shelby. As forces combine in this effort to defund, disband, and weaken law enforcement in this country, law-abiding citizens from coast to coast will witness an exponential increase in violent crime. Innocent lives will increasingly be sacrificed at the alter of racial identity politics.
As a forty-year, dedicated veteran of the badge, I would never discourage active law enforcement professionals from doing their job to protect and serve; however, we must not ignore the very real, existential threat that police officers face in this climate of fear, shrouded in ambiguity, and ostracized by the very people they serve. We are witnessing an era of political transition designed to appease forces that do not seek the betterment of America or its inhabitants. The thin-blue-line stands between the wolves and the sheep; blur or remove this line, and those who have forgotten why police are necessary, will quickly, painfully regain their understanding of it. My only hope is that we experience this revelation before it is too late.
“Apocalypse does not point to a fiery Armageddon, but to our ignorance and complacency coming to an end.”
– Joseph Campbell
William V. Saladrigas is a 40-year veteran of law enforcement, currently employed as a special agent with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, where he has served in both the Miami and Orlando regions. He has worked for the State of Florida in this capacity for 10 years. Prior to that, he was a sworn member of the Miami-Dade Police Department where he served as an investigator for most of his 28-year tenure; he served in the Homicide Bureau, Internal Affairs Section, Public Corruption Unit, and Robbery Bureau. He honorably retired at the end of 2009 as a police sergeant.
[i] Costello, D., et al. (2020, September 3) Kentucky grand jury indicts 1 of 3 police officers in fatal Breonna Taylor shooting – but not for her death. USA Today. Retrieved from https://www.usatoday.com.
[ii] Burke, M., et al. (2021, February 2) Two FBI agents fatally shot, three others injured while serving warrant at Florida home. NBC News. Retrieved from https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us.
[iii] Costello, D. (2020, October 21) Breonna Taylor shooting ‘had nothing to do with race,’ officer says in exclusive interview. Louisville Courier Journal. Retrieved from https://www.savannahnow.com/story/news/2020.