Suburban lawmaker reintroduces ‘Breonna’s Law’ to ban no-knock warrants

A memorial for Breonna Taylor

A memorial for Breonna Taylor is seen during the Good Trouble Tuesday march for Breonna Taylor on Tuesday, Aug. 25 in Louisville, Ky. (Amy Harris/Invision/AP Photo)

State Sen. Tim Kearney, who represents parts of Delaware and Chester counties, has reintroduced Breonna’s Law in the Pennsylvania legislature.

“It’s a law, essentially, which would prohibit police from using no-knock warrants — which, of course, led to Breonna [Taylor’s] death in Kentucky a little over a year ago,” Kearney said.

Taylor was killed by plainclothes police officers in her Louisville apartment as they were executing a no-knock warrant, a search warrant that allows police to enter spaces without announcing themselves.

If passed, Senate Bill 296 would require law enforcement to knock and make themselves known when serving a warrant. In addition, officers would have to wear body cameras and clothing that identifies them as law enforcement.

Kearney, a Democrat, introduced the bill last year, but the Republican leadership in the Senate did not give it a vote.

“And so, this year, when we reintroduced it, we’re making more of an effort to reach out to some of our Republican colleagues to co-sponsor — which, as of yet hasn’t happened, but we’re still trying,” Kearney said.

So far, the bill has seven Senate co-sponsors, including Philadelphia-area Democrats Amanda Cappelletti, Maria Collett, Katie Muth, and Vincent Hughes.

Kearney has also deployed a citizen co-sponsorship campaign that allows for Pennsylvanians to express their support for the bill.

“This was something that we kind of spread out around the state through various networks,” Kearney said.

The no-knock warrant, a product of the War on Drugs era, has grown to be quite controversial. In most cases, law enforcement officers do announce themselves. No-knock warrants are typically issued when there is suspicion that evidence will be destroyed upon the officers’ arrival or that the subject of the warrant may respond violently. However, real-world circumstances have often shown no-knock warrants can have deadly consequences for innocent people.

“We’ve learned through experience, in many cases, Pennsylvania, and in other places that no-knock warrants often lead to terrible results,” said David Rudovsky, a civil rights lawyer and senior fellow at the University of Pennsylvania School of Law.

Although Breonna Taylor’s death might be the best known recent example, there have been many notable cases of innocent people being killed by police as they served no-knock warrants — from the death of 92-year-old Kathryn Johnston to that of 7-year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones.

“The accumulation of these cases has led a number of police departments to say that they won’t use no-knock warrants, including the Philadelphia Police Department,” Rudovsky said.

Currently, the Philadelphia Police Department does ban the practice for regular officers, but it allows no-knock warrants for SWAT teams in rare cases. Despite local law enforcement’s reluctance to use the practice, other police departments stand by it. According to Rudovsky, that’s where a lot of the opposition comes from.

“And the police lobby in Harrisburg, historically, has been very strong. And I think that’s why this kind of initiative has not gotten even to a vote before,” he said.

If the law were to pass, Pennsylvania would join Virginia, Oregon, and Florida as the only states to ban no-knock warrants.

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