The day before police officers shot and killed Breonna Taylor in her apartment in Louisville, Kentucky, a detective tried to convince a judge that a former boyfriend of Taylor’s could be using her home to hide money and drugs.
The detective, Joshua Jaynes, said the ex-boyfriend had packages sent to Taylor’s apartment, and he even claimed to have proof: a postal inspector who confirmed the shipments. Jaynes detailed all of this in an affidavit, asking a judge for a warrant not to knock so officers could raid Taylor’s home late at night before drug dealers had a chance to flush evidence or flee. The judge approved the order.
But this week, federal prosecutors said Jaynes had lied. It was never clear whether the ex-boyfriend received packages at Taylor’s house. And Jaynes, prosecutors said, had never confirmed so much to a postal inspector. As outrage over Taylor’s death mounted, prosecutors said in new criminal charges filed in federal court, Jaynes met another detective in his garage and agreed on a story to tell the FBI and their own colleagues to avoid the false and misleading statements. which the police had traveled to justify the raid.
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Amid protests over Taylor’s murder, much of the attention has focused on whether the two officers who shot her will be charged. But the Justice Department focused most of its attention on the officers who obtained the search warrant, highlighting the problems that can arise when searches are allowed by judges based on facts the police may have exaggerated or even fabricated.
“It happens a lot more often than people think,” said Joseph C. Patituce, a lawyer and former state attorney in Ohio. “We are talking about a document that allows the police to enter the homes of people, often minorities, day and night.”
Taylor is far from the first person to have died in a law enforcement operation cleared on what prosecutors said police had inaccuracies.
In Houston, prosecutors accused a police officer of falsely claiming that an informant bought heroin from a home in order to obtain a search warrant in 2019; officers killed two people living there in a firefight when they tried to carry out the order, and only after that, the then police chief, Art Acevedo, said there were “material falsehoods or lies” in an affidavit for the order leading to the raid. The officer pleaded not guilty, and the case is still pending.
In Atlanta, police officers raided a home and fatally killed a 92-year-old woman, Kathryn Johnston, in 2006 after an officer lied in an affidavit of a search warrant about an informant who had bought drugs from her home.
And in Baltimore, a federal judge last month sentenced a detective to 2 1/2 years in prison after prosecutors lied in an affidavit of a search warrant about finding drugs in a man’s truck for a motel room search. to justify the man.
Judges often rely solely on the affidavit of police officers requesting warrants, meaning the police can conduct potentially dangerous searches targeting innocent people before their affidavits are ever 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 to court. False statements often come to light when arrests are made, as defense attorneys challenge search warrants in court.
Some flawed affidavits may never be scrutinized, legal analysts say, as defendants have agreed to plead guilty for other reasons.
In Louisville, Thomas Clay, a lawyer associated with the Breonna Taylor case, knows the matter from both sides.
Clay and a colleague, David Ward, once represented Susan Jean King, a petite one-legged amputee who was accused of fatally shooting an ex-boyfriend at her home and then throwing his body into a river.
“This 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 murder, drag his body out of her house and into her nonexistent car, and then take this 189-pound big man and take his body over a bridge and into the Kentucky. River to throw.”
King’s attorneys claimed the detective falsely suggested in at least one of the search warrant’s affidavits that a .22-caliber bullet found in the floor of King’s home was one of the bullets that killed the man.
But the man had already been determined to die from .22-caliber bullets that lodged in his head without coming out, King’s lawyers noted, arguing the detective’s claim was implausible. A judge agreed, saying the detective had omitted exculpatory evidence from his search affidavits.
Nevertheless, King filed an Alford plea for second-degree manslaughter — in which she pleaded guilty while maintaining her innocence — and spent more than five years in prison when a man admitted to the murder. She was eventually acquitted.
In 2020, the state agreed to pay King a $750,000 settlement for malicious prosecution. Through his then lawyer, the detective, who had then retired, denied any wrongdoing.
Now Clay represents Jaynes, the homicide detective accused of lying to obtain the search warrant for Taylor’s house.
“Search warrants are always fair to investigate, and they should be investigated,” Clay said, though he declined to discuss Jaynes’ case.
Jaynes pleaded not guilty to the federal charges Thursday and has said he relied in part on information from another officer when drafting the affidavit.
Officers who give false information under oath when preparing affidavits of search warrants may take shortcuts, Clay said, thinking 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 though they’re under oath,” Clay said.
Ed Davis, a former Boston Police Commissioner, said the consequences of lying on a search warrant could be serious.
“It’s tragic when you see the police falsifying information to get a search warrant, and it’s stupid too,” Davis said. “Any one of those search warrants could turn out to be a disaster.”
In Taylor’s case, prosecutors said another detective, Kelly Goodlett, who was fired from the department on Thursday, also added misleading information to the affidavit, saying Taylor’s former boyfriend had recently used her address as his “current.” home address’. Prosecutors accused Goodlett of conspiring with Jaynes to falsify the warrant.
Jaynes has admitted that he did not personally verify the information about the packages with a postal inspector. He has said that a sergeant told him about the packages and that he believed this was enough to substantiate his claims in the affidavit.
“I had no reason to lie in this case,” he told a Louisville police council that was considering being fired last year.
However, in the federal indictment against Jaynes, prosecutors charged that this claim was also false and that the sergeant had actually told Jaynes twice that he was unaware that packages were being sent to Taylor’s house for her ex-boyfriend.
The judge who signed the warrant for Taylor’s apartment, Judge Mary Shaw, declined to comment through an aide on Friday, noting that she could 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 the 17 sitting Jefferson Circuit Court judges to face a challenger for her seat.
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