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 Ms Taylor might be using her home to hide money and Drugs.
Detective Joshua Jaynes said the former boyfriend had packages sent to Ms Taylor’s flat, and he even claimed to have proof: a post office inspector who confirmed the shipments. Mr Jaynes described all of this in an affidavit and asked a judge for a no-knock warrant so officers could break into Ms Taylor’s home late at night before drug dealers got the hang of it. possibility of flushing out the evidence or fleeing. The judge signed the warrant.
But this week, federal prosecutors said Detective Jaynes lied. It was never clear whether the former boyfriend received packages at Ms Taylor’s home. And Mr. Jaynes, prosecutors said, had never confirmed so many with a postal inspector. As outrage over Ms Taylor’s death grew, prosecutors said in new criminal charges filed in federal court, Mr Jaynes met with another detective in his garage and agreed on a story to tell the FBI and their own colleagues to cover up the false and misleading. statements that the police had made to justify the raid.
Amid protests over Ms Taylor’s murder, much of the attention has focused on whether the two officers who shot her will 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.”
Ms Taylor is far from the first person to die in an authorized law enforcement operation over what prosecutors said were 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 two and a half 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.
Mr Clay and a colleague, David Ward, once represented Susan Jean King, a short, single-leg amputee who was accused of fatally shooting a former boyfriend in her home and then throwing her body in a river.
“It was his theory,” Mr 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. .”
Lawyers for Ms King claimed the detective had falsely implied in at least one of the search warrant affidavits that a .22 caliber bullet found in the floor of Ms King’s home was one of the bullets that had killed the man.
But it had already been established that the man had died from .22 caliber bullets that lodged in his head but did not exit, Ms 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, Ms 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 another man admitted to the murder. She was eventually exonerated.
In 2020, the state agreed to pay Ms 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 Mr. Clay is representing Mr. Jaynes, the detective accused of lying to obtain the search warrant for Ms. Taylor’s home.
“Search warrants are always fair game to review and they should be reviewed,” Mr Clay said, although he declined to discuss Mr Jaynes’ case.
Mr Jaynes pleaded not guilty to the federal charges on 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, Mr. Clay said, because they believe they already know the outcome of the case but have not enough evidence to support the warrant.
“The most extreme example is when they’re just being dishonest, even if they’re under oath,” Mr Clay said.
Ed Davis, the former Boston police commissioner, said the consequences of lying on a search warrant could be severe.
“It’s tragic to see the police falsifying information to get a search warrant, and it’s also stupid,” Mr Davis said. “Each of these search warrants can turn into a disaster.”
In Ms Taylor’s case, prosecutors said another detective, Kelly Goodlett, whom the department fired on Thursday, also added misleading information to the affidavit, saying Ms Taylor’s former boyfriend had recently used his address as his “current”. home address.” Prosecutors accused Detective Goodlett of conspiring with Mr Jaynes to tamper with the warrant.
Mr Jaynes admitted that he had not personally checked the information on the parcels with a postal inspector. He said a sergeant told him about the packages and 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 Mr. Jaynes, however, prosecutors claimed that this claim was also false and that the sergeant had in fact told Mr. Jaynes twice that he was unaware of no packages sent to Mrs Taylor’s home for her. old boyfriend.
On Friday, the judge who signed the arrest warrant for Ms Taylor’s apartment, Judge Mary Shaw, declined to comment through an aide, noting she may be called to give evidence in the criminal case against the police. Justice Shaw is up for reelection 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.
Susan C. Beachy contributed to the research.