Breonna Taylor Raid Focuses on Officers Lying for Search Warrants

Protesters gather in downtown Louisville, Ky., Saturday, March 13, 2021, to commemorate the anniversary of the murder of Breonna Taylor in a botched raid by Louisville police officers.  (Xavier Burell/The New York Times)

Protesters gather in downtown Louisville, Ky., Saturday, March 13, 2021, to commemorate the anniversary of the murder of Breonna Taylor in a botched raid by Louisville police officers. (Xavier Burell/The New York Times)

The day before police shot and killed Breonna Taylor in her apartment in Louisville, Kentucky, a detective tried to persuade a judge that a former boyfriend of Taylor’s might be using her home to hide money and dope.

Detective Joshua Jaynes said the former boyfriend had packages sent to Taylor’s apartment, and he even claimed to have proof: a postal inspector who confirmed the shipments. Jaynes described all of this in an affidavit and asked a judge for a no-knock warrant so officers could break into Taylor’s home late at night before drug dealers had a chance to break in. dispose of the evidence or flee. The judge signed the warrant.

But this week, federal prosecutors said Jaynes lied. It was never clear if the former boyfriend was receiving packages at Taylor’s home. And Jaynes, prosecutors said, had never confirmed so many with a postal inspector. As outrage over Taylor’s death grew, prosecutors said in new criminal charges filed in federal court, Jaynes met another detective in his garage and agreed on a story to tell. to the FBI and their own colleagues to cover up the false and misleading statements the police had made. to justify the raid.

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Amid protests over Taylor’s killing, much of the attention has focused on whether the two officers who shot him would be charged. But the Justice Department has focused most of its attention on the officers who obtained the search warrant, highlighting the problems that can arise when searches are authorized by judges on the basis of facts that police may have exaggerated. or even concocted.

“It happens a lot more often than people realize,” said defense attorney and former Ohio prosecutor Joseph C. Patituce. “We are talking about a document that allows the police to enter the homes of people, often minorities, at any time of the night and day.”

Taylor is far from the first person to die in an authorized law enforcement operation over what prosecutors have called police inaccuracies.

In Houston, prosecutors charged a police officer with falsely claiming an informant purchased heroin from a home to obtain a search warrant in 2019; officers killed two people who lived there in a shootout as they tried to execute the warrant, and it was only after that that then-police chief Art Acevedo said that there were “material untruths or lies” in an affidavit for the warrant that led to the raid. The officer pleaded not guilty and the case is still pending.

In Atlanta, officers burst into a home and fatally shot 92-year-old Kathryn Johnston in 2006 after an officer lied in a search warrant affidavit about an informant buying drugs from she.

And in Baltimore, a federal judge sentenced a detective to 2.5 years in prison last month after prosecutors said he lied in a search warrant affidavit about the discovery of drugs in a truck. man in order to justify a search of the man’s motel room.

Judges often rely solely on the sworn account of officers seeking warrants, which means police can carry out potentially dangerous searches targeting innocent people before their affidavits are challenged.

The Supreme Court has ruled that when police knowingly or recklessly include false statements in search warrant affidavits in cases where there would otherwise be insufficient cause, any recovered evidence cannot be admitted in court. False statements are often revealed during arrests, as defense attorneys challenge search warrants in court.

A number of flawed affidavits may never come under scrutiny, legal analysts say, because the defendants agreed to plead guilty on other grounds.

In Louisville, Thomas Clay, an attorney connected to the Breonna Taylor case, knows the issue on both sides.

Clay and a colleague, David Ward, once represented Susan Jean King, a short, single-leg amputee who was accused of shooting dead a former boyfriend in her home and then dumping his body in a river.

“It was his theory,” Ward said of the detective who took on the investigation as a cold case some eight years after the murder. “It was physically impossible for her to commit the homicide, drag her body out of her home and into her non-existent car, then pick up this large 189-pound man and dump his body over a bridge and into the Kentucky River. .”

King’s attorneys claimed the detective falsely implied in at least one of the search warrant affidavits that a .22 caliber bullet found in the floor of King’s home was one of the bullets that killed King. ‘man.

But it had already been established that the man died from .22 caliber bullets that lodged in his head but did not exit, King’s lawyers noted, and they argued the detective’s claim was implausible. A judge agreed, saying the detective omitted exculpatory evidence from his search warrant affidavits.

Nonetheless, King pleaded Alford to second-degree manslaughter – in which she pleaded guilty while maintaining her innocence – and was serving more than five years in prison when a man admitted to the murder. She was eventually exonerated.

In 2020, the state agreed to pay King a $750,000 settlement for malicious prosecution. Through his attorney at the time, the detective, who had by then retired from the force, denied any wrongdoing.

Now Clay is representing Jaynes, the detective accused of lying to get the search warrant for Taylor’s home.

“Search warrants are always fair game to review, and they should be reviewed,” Clay said, though he declined to discuss Jaynes’ case.

Jaynes pleaded not guilty to the federal charges Thursday and said he relied in part on information from another officer when he prepared the affidavit.

Officers who provide false information under oath when preparing search warrant affidavits may take shortcuts, Clay said, because they believe they already know the outcome of the case but don’t yet have enough. evidence to support the warrant.

“The most extreme example is when they’re just being dishonest, even if they’re under oath,” Clay said.

Ed Davis, a former Boston police commissioner, said the consequences of lying on a search warrant could be severe.

“It’s tragic when you see the police tampering with information to get a search warrant, and it’s also stupid,” Davis said. “Each of these search warrants can turn into a disaster.”

In Taylor’s case, prosecutors said another detective, Kelly Goodlett, whom the department fired on Thursday, also added misleading information to the affidavit, claiming that Taylor’s former boyfriend had recently used her address as his “current home address”. Prosecutors accused Goodlett of conspiring with Jaynes to tamper with the warrant.

Jaynes admitted that he did not personally verify the package information with a postal inspector. He said a sergeant told him about the packages and he thought that was enough to back up his claims in the affidavit.

“I had no reason to lie in this case,” he told a Louisville police commission considering his firing last year.

In the federal indictment against Jaynes, however, prosecutors claimed that this claim was also false and that the sergeant had in fact told Jaynes twice that he was unaware of any packages sent to the Taylor’s home for her former boyfriend.

The judge who signed the arrest warrant for Taylor’s apartment, Judge Mary Shaw, declined to comment through an aide on Friday, noting she may be called to testify in the criminal case. against the officers. Shaw is up for re-election in November, and the Louisville Courier Journal reported that she was the only one of 17 incumbent Jefferson Circuit Court justices to face a challenger for her seat.

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