Almost everyone in America knows the name Breonna Taylor, the 26-year-old African American woman who was killed in Louisville last year in a botched police drug raid. But they may not know much about the circumstances around her death, other than that she was shot to death by police officers serving a “no knock” warrant at her home early on March 13, 2020.
The FX documentary The Killing of Breonna Taylor, part of The New York Times Presents series, investigates the succession of events that ended with a young woman dead on the floor of her own apartment.
“What we tried to do is to show how and why this tragedy happened as much as we could,” director-producer Yoruba Richen explained during Deadline’s Contenders Television: Documentary + Unscripted virtual panel. “There were so many problems— obviously, obviously there were, because look what happened.”
With the help of New York Times investigative reporters who worked their sources, the filmmakers uncovered details that raised questions about whether a valid basis existed for obtaining the search warrant in the first place.
“The reason that they reportedly went into her house is they suspected drugs or money [were present] because of her association with an ex-boyfriend,” Richen said. “[But] that was never found. … Their purported reason for doing what they did— they never got evidence of it.”
Police claimed they announced themselves before bashing in the door with a battering ram. But Kenneth Walker, Taylor’s boyfriend who was home with her in bed when officers barged in, said he didn’t hear them identify themselves as police. He picked up a gun, thinking criminals had broken in.
“We had all these neighbors who said they never heard them announce themselves. We had one neighbor who said he did,” Richen noted. “But the fact is, even if they did announce themselves, it was not loud enough because the neighbors never heard them, Kenny [fired] one shot…because he did not hear them. So there were real problems with how the warrant was executed. It was not executed by a seasoned S.W.A.T. team.”
The filmmakers established a relationship with Walker and Taylor’s mother, Tamika Palmer, and were able to interview them both for the documentary.
“One of the challenges throughout was navigating the sense of trauma…this is just months after Breonna was killed. So it was really fresh and we wanted to be respectful of that but at the same time we knew that these interviews were critical,” producer Lora Moftah said. “The trauma was compounded by the narrative that took shape in the immediate aftermath of the killing. There were news reports referring to someone being shot in connection to a drug case and anyone who knew Breonna was just completely appalled by that. So there was this sense that the narrative was taking shape in a way that made no sense.”
Check out the panel video above.