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Former WA attorney general: No-knock warrants can lead to ‘critical mistakes’

A protester walks toward Portland police with a sign honoring Breonna Taylor on Sept. 23, 2020 in Portland, United States Protests erupted across the nation Wednesday following the results of a grand jury investigation into the police shooting death of Taylor. (Photo by Nathan Howard/Getty Images)

The grand jury’s decision in the Breonna Taylor case brings attention to use of a no-knock warrant. As KIRO Radio’s Dave Ross pointed out, the reason the officer who killed Taylor was not indicted is because her boyfriend fired first.

But if you’re an armed citizen, what are you supposed to do if you’re awakened by somebody trying to bash in your door?

It’s the middle of the night, someone is breaking down your door, they don’t look like police, so you defend yourself. This, Ross says, is a “classic case” of self-defense. And yet, he adds, this is the very reason why the officer who fired back and killed Breonna Taylor was not charged.

Ross: Breonna Taylor decision is about more than racial bias

“Exactly,” said Rob McKenna, former state attorney general. “It’s just a terrible tragedy that is clearly the result of a lot of errors on the part of the police, in terms of the procedure they were following.”

There’s also controversy, McKenna said, over the evidence and what may have actually happened.

“Breonna Taylor’s boyfriend, Mr. Walker, said he didn’t hear the police announce themselves,” McKenna said. “Of course, we can’t ask Ms. Taylor. Other neighbors said they didn’t hear. One neighbor did say that they heard the police announce themselves, but the point is, this is the most telling fact: Mr. Walker hasn’t been charged with any crime for firing first because they were breaking — or in the process of breaking — down the front door of her apartment when he fired.”

“And Kentucky has a stand your ground law. He was within his rights of self defense,” McKenna added.

If it had been clearer that Walker knew the men were police officers, McKenna says it’d be an entirely different story.

“In any event, once he fires his weapon, the police start firing theirs, and including Officer Mattingly, who was shot in the leg by Mr. Walker, in the femoral artery,” McKenna explained. “And including the other officer who actually fired the shot that killed Miss Taylor. And then you had the third cop, who’s shooting blindly through a sliding glass door and a window that are covered by blinds. What the heck is he doing? He’s the one who actually got charged with something.”

Again, McKenna says, it’d be different if one of the bullet fired that went into a neighboring apartment had struck and killed someone else. In that case, McKenna thinks he’d be charged with manslaughter because “what he was doing was reckless.”

“It was clearly contrary to department policy, he had no business firing blindly into Miss Taylor’s apartment,” McKenna said.

The legal experts who have been reviewing this case from the start, McKenna says, have concluded that under the facts, as we understand them, the officers are not going to be charged because the boyfriend fired at them first.

“And similarly, he’s got a defense, which is why they brought charges against [him that] they then dropped and he hasn’t been charged again,” McKenna said. “It’s just so much wrong with this whole situation.”

In no-knock warrant cases, there is a risk to the public, and McKenna thinks maybe it’s not worth it.

“I was thinking about the fact that most police departments, if not all of them, have outlawed high speed chases in their police cars because they’re so dangerous to the public,” he said. “Is it really worth risking people in a home by using a no-knock warrant? Is it really worth the risks of killing someone who’s innocent when what you’re trying to achieve is to prevent them from flushing drugs down the toilet?”

No-knock warrants are supposed to make it so the person you’re targeting doesn’t have advance notice of even a few seconds, he explained, allowing officers to charge in without announcing themselves to achieve “maximum surprise.”

“There are standards for obtaining a no-knock warrant — they’re not automatic,” McKenna added. “There is a standard you have to meet. But the number of botched raids resulting in innocent people dying causes me to think it’s just not worth it. Even if you lose some evidence, it’s not worth the risk to innocent people.”

“And when you when you read the horrific story from the early 90s out of Snohomish County, where a woman who was kneeling in front of a police officer with her children present, she was shot in the head, or in the neck. Everyone agrees she wasn’t armed,” he said. “But in the frenzy of this kind of raid, those kinds of critical mistakes and errors could be made. And we saw it again in the Taylor case.”

Listen to Seattle’s Morning News weekday mornings from 5 – 9 a.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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