A USC School of Law professor and students assisted in the civil case that ended in a $12 million settlement for Breonna Taylor's family and the promise of police reforms in the Louisville Metro Police Department.
“I reached out to the attorneys for Breonna Taylor's family and asked them if they could use some free assistance from a professor and some students at South Carolina, and they were happy to receive it,” Colin Miller, associate dean of faculty development at the USC School of Law, said.
Miller enlisted the help of two of his research assistants: Anna Catherine Parham, a third-year law student, and Jasmine Caruthers, a second-year law student.
Caruthers said, as a Black woman, working on this case was especially poignant for her.
“Just on the level of being a Black woman, Breonna could have been me," Caruthers said. "She could’ve been my sister. She could’ve been my mom, and so I think that made the case hit even closer to home.”
Breonna Taylor was fatally shot by Louisville Metro police officers on March 13. Detective Myles Cosgrove, former Detective Brett Hankison and Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly used a battering ram to enter the apartment under a no-knock warrant, according to ABC News.
While assisting with the wrongful death suit, Miller, Caruthers and Parham looked into no-knock warrants and similar civil actions in cases where civilians had died from no-knock warrants. They found that no-knock warrants disproportionately impact people of color.
“In one of the studies, I think 80% of the no-knock warrants were targeting African-American individuals," Miller said. "Those numbers are extremely troubling in terms of targeting communities of color."
According to Caruthers, when drugs are involved, they are often not found during the executions of no-knock warrants. Parham also said drugs can "easily be found" through the use of a regular warrant, and she said it’s likely police officers request no-knock warrants so they can create "less liability" for themselves.
"You have an emergency room technician who's at home at night in her own apartment," Miller said. "She's a frontline worker in COVID and who's putting her life on the line, and somehow, just because the person she used to date was involved in drugs, the police get not only a warrant, but a no-knock warrant for her apartment, and that tragically ends in her death."
The Louisville Metro Council voted to ban no-knock warrants on June 11.
The civil case resulted in a $12 million settlement for Breonna Taylor’s family and the promise of police reforms in the Louisville Metro Police Department. These reforms include establishing a housing credit program, which encourages officers to live in the same community they’re policing. They also include bringing social workers with police officers on some calls and creating an early warning system to track use-of-force incidents with citizen complaints.
“I do think some of the reform that is being discussed is a step in the right direction, but we're not nearly where we need to be,” Caruthers said.
Miller said the city wasn't as cooperative during discovery, a legal process in which both parties in a civil case exchange relevant documents and evidence.
“The city was definitely pushing back. They didn’t want to turn over discovery if it was an ongoing criminal investigation, so they were sort of fighting to keep that information from her attorneys,” Miller said.
Miller, Caruthers and Parham said they are somewhat pleased with the outcome of the civil lawsuit. However, they all said they're disappointed and frustrated with the indictment, or lack thereof, of the involved officers.
“Once the cameras are off, and the news stories change, they're still not going to have Breonna," Caruthers said. "I kind of sat with that for the days following the settlement."
Out of all three of the officers, Hankison was the only one indicted. He was charged with three counts of wanton endangerment. According to Kentucky law, this means a person "wantonly engages in conduct which creates a substantial danger of death or serious physical injury to another person."
“If you think about it, the wanton endangerment is because the bullet went through the wall, so essentially their walls — her neighbor's wall was worth more than her life, according to the indictment, which is absolutely disgusting to me,” Parham said.
Parham said the indictment makes her "question the legitimacy of the promise of police reform."
“If reform was actually happening, then there would have been an indictment on all of the officers involved, and it would have been voluntary manslaughter instead of just wanton endangerment,” Parham said.
Caruthers said she does not believe the officers were held responsible, and she said she hopes the family will continue to fight for an appeal.
“Oftentimes, we see victims — Black people that look like me — be victims of police brutality, and their killers not be held responsible, or their families don’t get the resources that they need to fight in court,” Caruthers said.
Miller, Parham and Caruthers all expressed frustration with Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron’s handling of the case.
“He has definitely acted as if Breonna Taylor's life doesn't matter, and I think that should upset everyone," Caruthers said. "He's in a position of power. He's in a position where he really could have ensured that people were held responsible, and I think he failed her, and he failed her family.”
Assisting on this case left an impact on Miller, Parham and Caruthers, they said.
“As someone who's about to become an attorney in a few short months, it's really driven home the prevalence of racial biases and racial discrepancies in not only the criminal justice system, but in the entire legal system," Parham said. "That's true not only in Louisville, but it happens right here in Columbia, South Carolina, and throughout the nation.”