Four Lessons of Caution Emerge from the Breonna Taylor Case

Crowd of people at a protest.

Jon Becker, Esq.

To my surprise, I discovered that my previous understanding of the case, primarily shaped by news coverage, was largely inaccurate.

In preparation for recording Episode 18 of “The Debrief with Jon Becker” on the Breonna Taylor case, I dedicated myself to studying all available information about the incident. To begin my research, I found a valuable resource on the Louisville (KY) Metro Police Department’s Web site, Breonna Taylor Investigation. This Web site contained a wealth of information and photos related to the case. I meticulously examined reports, complaints and news coverage. I scrutinized the pictures and videos of the scene, post-event interviews and the protests. Additionally, I engaged in extensive conversations with individuals directly involved in the events to gain their firsthand perspectives.

Many events I believed had occurred turned out to be false. Moreover, I came to realize that the people involved and the unfolding events were strikingly similar to those I have encountered throughout my years of work. Rather than being the racist monsters portrayed in some narratives, these individuals were ordinary narcotics detectives who found themselves thrust into a highly publicized controversy which devastated the lives of everyone involved.

What initially appeared to be a routine search warrant in pursuit of documents; money; and, potentially, drugs related to Breonna Taylor’s ex-boyfriend’s case quickly spiraled into a tragedy of monumental proportions. Regardless of one’s perspective on this case, it is indisputable that nobody emerged as a winner on March 13, 2020. Every person involved in the event suffered negative and permanent consequences. The execution of this seemingly “simple” warrant resulted in the loss of Ms. Taylor’s life, the near-fatal injury of Sgt. John Mattingly, criminal charges against several officers, the termination of careers, retirement of others, death threats against police officers, widespread protests, destructive riots, property damage, multimillion dollar settlements, and a significant catalyst for law enforcement reform. Regrettably, amidst the chaos, the valuable lessons from this “cautionary tale” became obscured by false narratives, accusations of racism and a fervent search for a scapegoat.

Throughout my research, four recurring issues demanded attention: agency transparency, dispelling false narratives, implementing effective knock and notice procedures, and employing dynamic tactics. These four issues highlight what could potentially be the most crucial lessons derived from the Breonna Taylor case.

    The Imperative of Agency Transparency

    On March 13, 2020, when the Breonna Taylor case unfolded, it received minimal media attention due to President Trump’s declaration of a national emergency for COVID-19 which prompted the country’s shutdown and quarantine measures. Consequently, the Louisville Metro Police Department (LMPD) managed to avoid immediate national scrutiny and chose to remain reticent about the case, possibly in an effort to prevent further escalation. However, this silence inadvertently fueled the narrative of a government cover-up and set the stage for subsequent events. Two months later, civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump took up the Taylor case and his prominence, coupled with his involvement in the Ahmaud Arbery case, resulted in near-daily media coverage. Employing a carefully selected version of the facts, he directed the spotlight on specific actions taken by the LMPD, potentially without providing proper context, to amplify pressure and prompt a settlement. Just ten weeks thereafter, the George Floyd case occurred, further amplifying the global narrative of unarmed black individuals being unjustly killed by the police.

    Throughout this onslaught of attention, the LMPD released very little information about the case. In fact, some of the information they did release, such as the incident report, was blatantly inaccurate. This perpetuated the perception of a police cover-up and, a few days later, Louisville erupted in riots. While it is impossible to determine the precise impact immediate transparency might have had in diffusing the subsequent events, an age-old adage holds true: Bad news does not improve with time. This sentiment is particularly relevant in law enforcement. The government operates with the consent of the people and police officers are entrusted with special powers to infringe upon citizens’ rights when necessary. Consequently, they are held to a high standard of conduct. When an incident arises which raises doubts about the legality of police actions, anything less than full transparency fosters perceptions of misconduct and cover-ups. While it can be argued that, regardless of their actions, police will face such accusations, that should not serve as a justification for arming critics by concealing or delaying crucial facts which ought to be disclosed. If anything, the adoption of body-worn cameras has demonstrated that transparency works and can effectively diffuse attacks from critics. In the future, agencies confronted with similar circumstances should prioritize swift and transparent responses as best practices.

    Challenging False Narratives Is of Utmost Importance

    In addition to transparency, it is crucial for agencies to actively and assertively counter false narratives with factual information. The Breonna Taylor case stands as one of the most flagrant examples of selective facts and misleading narratives in recent memory. While the media narrative simplifies the event as “racist cops shooting an unarmed black woman in her home,” the reality is far more complex. Not only were the initial reports of the incident inaccurate, but they were also widely disseminated, taking on a life of their own. Even today, many people still believe that the police executed a no-knock entry at the wrong address and shot Breonna while she was asleep in her bed after her boyfriend fired a warning shot. This misperception partly stems from the case becoming a “cause célèbre” due to its close proximity to the George Floyd case. Despite the stark differences in facts, the two cases were quickly conflated into the same narrative that “white cops are senselessly killing unarmed black citizens.” Moreover, influential figures such as Kamala Harris, Beyoncé, Alicia Keys, LeBron James, and others repeated inaccurate information (e.g., the warrant being served at the wrong house, Breonna being shot in her bed) to the national media, further cementing these false initial facts as the prevailing story.

    However, even a cursory examination of the physical evidence dispels these conclusions. For instance, although the warrant had a no-knock endorsement, no one disputes that the police announced their presence by banging on the door before entering. It is evident that both Breonna and her boyfriend, Walker, heard the knocking, as they were in the hallway with a gun. Contrary to popular belief, Breonna was explicitly named in the warrant due to her relationship with the target, Jamarcus Glover. Furthermore, Breonna was not found in her bed; she was discovered in the hallway and Walker himself admitted to being in the hallway when the shooting occurred. Perhaps most crucially, the “warning shot” fired by Kenneth Walker was not a shot fired into the air, but a near-fatal shot which struck a police officer’s femoral artery, prompting the officers to return fire in self-defense.

    The majority of these facts were known to the LMPD and city leadership from the outset. Yet, the city adopted a conciliatory approach, attempting to appease activists (and, at times, even supporting them) in an effort to prevent further unrest. Regrettably, this created the impression that the LMPD had made a mistake and bolstered the narrative that the officers’ actions were entirely unjustifiable. In hindsight, this was an incorrect course of action which serves as a cautionary tale for future incidents. If the city had actively challenged the false narratives and acknowledged the existing facts, it could have undermined some of the misconceptions earlier and potentially averted the subsequent condemnation.

    Effective Knock and Notice Procedures Are Crucial

    The requirement to provide a “knock and notice” during the execution of a search warrant is a constitutional mandate. Its purpose is to grant occupants of a location the opportunity to voluntarily open the door and submit to the search without the use of force. However, in the Breonna Taylor case, knock and notice was not legally obligatory. The LMPD possessed a valid search warrant with a “no-knock endorsement” which allowed them to enter without prior notice. Nevertheless, the LMPD chose to execute the warrant with a knock and notice approach because they believed Breonna Taylor was alone in the residence and their objective was limited to finding documents, money and, potentially, drugs.

    Contrary to initial narratives, it is now evident that LMPD officers knocked on Breonna Taylor’s door for approximately 45 seconds before breaching it. This is not only supported by the officers’ testimonies, but also by the accounts of at least one witness and the actions of Kenneth Walker. However, the dispute lies in whether the officers adequately identified themselves as the police executing a search warrant. In essence, the effectiveness of the notice provided by the police and whether Walker and Taylor were aware that it was law enforcement at the door become crucial factors in this case. One narrative, presented by Benjamin Crump, suggests that Walker believed it was Breonna’s ex-boyfriend (Glover) at the door and felt his life was in danger. This is used to argue that Walker’s actions align with this belief. For instance, he fired a single round and retreated to the bedroom, leaving Taylor behind in the hallway. These actions do not align with someone intending to engage in a shootout with the police. If this narrative holds true, it could indicate a case of mistaken identity on Walker’s part which then compelled the LMPD officers to respond forcefully, ultimately leading to Taylor’s tragic death. While most witnesses at the scene claim they never heard the police announce themselves, there is at least one witness who is not directly involved in the case stating otherwise.

    This raises the question: Could a more effective knock and notice procedure have potentially prevented this tragedy? According to reports, LMPD did not have a marked patrol car stationed in front of the house, the officers were dressed in plain clothes despite wearing tactical armor and they did not use a loudspeaker to amplify their announcements. Many law enforcement agencies commonly place a marked unit with lights on in front of the target location and combine it with a loud and clear announcement over a Public Address (PA) system to ensure that the knock and notice is effective. Some agencies even record their announcements from a different side of the house to ensure that everyone inside is aware that the police are present and executing a search warrant. While it is impossible to determine definitively if a loudspeaker or visual notifications would have made a difference in this particular case, it serves as a warning to other agencies to ensure that their announcements are heard by everyone involved in future incidents. Implementing such measures not only minimizes the risk of occupants claiming they never heard the announcement, but also prevents the potential misuse of self-defense claims to justify violent actions.

    Reevaluating Dynamic Tactics for Evidence Gathering

    Much attention has been given to the LMPD’s intention to employ dynamic entry tactics during the execution of the warrant in the Breonna Taylor case. Although the shooting occurred immediately after breaching the door, dynamic entry was part of their plan. Dynamic tactics are designed to be swift and startling, aiming to provide officers with the element of surprise and place suspects at a tactical disadvantage, increasing the chances of surrender and protecting officers from potential threats. While this may hold true in situations like hostage rescues where speed, unexpected entry and diversionary tactics are critical, the use of dynamic tactics for search warrants has raised concerns.

    In recent years, the utilization of dynamic tactics for search warrants has faced criticism for potentially heightening the dangers faced by both officers and occupants. Critics argue that these tactics compress decision-making timelines and increase the likelihood of errors. They point to numerous examples of unarmed occupants being shot by police and officers being shot by occupants who mistakenly believed they were being targeted by criminals. These errors have led to scrutiny of dynamic tactics not only from civil rights advocates but also from law enforcement organizations themselves.

    In the Spring 2022 issue of The Tactical Edge, the National Tactical Officers Association (NTOA) took a firm stance against the use of no-knock warrants and dynamic tactics in cases where the preservation of evidence is the primary objective. The NTOA emphasized that evidence falls lowest on the hierarchy of safety priorities –below the well-being of hostages/victims, innocent bystanders, public safety personnel, and suspects. The association argued, “No-knock search warrants, though well intended, no longer align with tactical science, risk mitigation practices, and liability conscious decision-making.” While this statement was influenced by the Breonna Taylor case, it is worth noting that many agencies had already abandoned dynamic tactics for search warrants in favor of a “contain and call-out” approach, where the location is surrounded and all occupants are verbally summoned to exit the premises before entry is made, long before this incident occurred.

    It is impossible to determine with certainty whether using a contain and call-out approach at Breonna Taylor’s apartment would have altered the outcome. However, cases like this raise significant doubts about the effectiveness and appropriateness of dynamic tactics for search warrants. Law enforcement agencies may be wise to carefully consider alternative approaches before employing such tactics, taking into account the potential risks and consequences involved.

    The Bottom Line

    In conclusion, when I took on the task of covering the Breonna Taylor case for The Debrief, I understood the sensitive nature of the issue and the need for careful handling. It is undeniable that strong opinions exist surrounding this case and, unfortunately, some of those opinions are not rooted in the actual evidence. However, the undeniable reality remains that a young woman lost her life at the hands of the police, an officer’s life was nearly lost, and countless lives were adversely affected during a search warrant for documents which warranted a Critical Incident Review.

    To say that my expectations differed from what I discovered would be an understatement. This was a tragic event that impacted everyone involved. There were questionable actions taken by the police both before and after the incident, ranging from potential misconduct to potential illegality. These actions are now the subject of federal criminal charges which will unfold in the coming months and have already resulted in a conviction.

    Surprisingly, the aspect I anticipated to be the most contentious – the shooting of Breonna Taylor – proved to be relatively straightforward to explain. Simply put, Breonna Taylor became an unintended victim caught in the crossfire as the police returned fire at her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, who had just shot a police officer while standing next to her. This explanation, however, does not in any way excuse the tragic loss of Breonna Taylor’s life. It was an utterly devastating event.

    It is all too easy in cases like this to retreat to our political corners, shouting at each other, as it allows us to avoid engaging in difficult discussions and avoiding the discomfort of self-reflection. Yet, in doing so, we fail to learn the vital lessons from the events of March 13, 2020, and risk repeating similar tragedies in the future. As the old adage goes, if we do not learn from history, we are destined to repeat it. Such a repetition would be yet another tragedy which we must strive to prevent.

    Jon Becker is an attorney admitted to practice in California. He is also the Founder/CEO

    of AARDVARK Tactical and the creator of Project7 Armor. He is also the host of the podcast, The Debrief with Jon Becker. Mr. Becker has over 35 years of experience equipping and training tactical units ranging from municipal and county law enforcement agencies to federal, military and international counterterrorism teams. He can be reached at or by visiting