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The University of Kentucky J. David Rosenberg College of Law hosted a daylong Breonna Taylor Symposium in October 2021 in the college’s G. Chad Perry III Grand Courtroom. It was the law school’s second daylong symposium related to the case, following the first symposium in October 2020.

Law professors, criminal justice scholars, judges, attorneys, journalists and activists discussed the validity of the search warrant in the Breonna Taylor case. UK Rosenberg Law students Sarah Byres and Bennett Tuleja organized the event with Blanche Bong Cook, Robert E. Harding Jr. Associate Professor of Law.

“The killing of Breonna Taylor, however, is not just a story about the illegality of the warrant, it is also about the legality of the circumstances that facilitated her killing,” Byres said, reading from Cook’s law review article titled Something Rots in Law Enforcement and It’s the Search Warrant: The Breonna Taylor Case.

In her remarks, Byres, a second-year law student, said a police officer came to her home to arrest her for a fake identification card when she was 17 years old. She had skipped school that day and was carrying a cooler full of beer when the officer found her. Byres said she was never handcuffed or taken to the station. She avoided other potential charges, and the officer told her mother it was not a big deal.

“You may be thinking, ‘Why is Sarah standing in front of people who could be her future employers, talking about all the laws she broke at 17?’ Well, I give this example not to frame the conversation from a white perspective because I will never be able to understand what it is like to live in this country as a person of color,” Byres said. “I only offer that perspective as an example of the responsibility that myself and my white counterparts have to acknowledge, and draw attention to, the instances of privilege we experience whether large or small.”

UK Rosenberg Law Dean Mary J. Davis provided opening remarks and reminded the audience about the events that occurred before Taylor’s death on March 13, 2020, in Louisville, Kentucky. Police were issuing a search warrant at Taylor’s apartment shortly after midnight.

“I wanted to remind us all of what happened to Breonna Taylor that night,” Davis said. “It seems to me to be important to try to put ourselves, as much as we can, in the space that she occupied on the night of her death.”

The symposium featured four panels: legal scholars; criminal justice scholars; judges and attorneys; and journalists and activists. Cook provided closing remarks.

“Symposia like this keep us focused on the deaths of Black and brown Americans, like Breonna Taylor, whose killings continue to cause needless and tragic suffering and highlight this country’s still very long road on the struggle for racial and social justice,” Davis said.

Cook provided an overview of problems with search warrants and how they are executed. 

“I think it’s terribly important to recognize the humanity of Breonna Taylor fundamentally,” Cook said. “But as the flagship institution that serves this community and as a law school, it has been an absolute honor and a privilege to spend a full day looking at the search warrant that led to this killing and pulling back the layers of problems within the search warrant.”

The panels and panelists were:

Legal Scholars
Samuel Marcossan (University of Louisville)
Michael Mannheimer (Northern Kentucky University)
Jennifer M. Kinsley (Northern Kentucky University)
Chris Bryant (University of Cincinnati)
Moderator: Blake Sims (University of Kentucky law student)

Criminal Justice Scholars
Dr. Philip Stinson (Bowling Green State University)
Dr. Ebony Ruhland (University of Cincinnati)
Dr. Peter B. Kraska (Eastern Kentucky University)
Moderator: Kennedy Weathers (University of Kentucky law student)

Judges and Attorneys
Judge Denise Clayton (Kentucky Court of Appeals)
Judge David Tapp (US Court of Federal Claims)
Sam Aguiar (Breonna Taylor attorney)
Jason Rothrock (Director of Prosecution in Fayette County)
Moderator: Sarah Byres (University of Kentucky law student)

Journalists and Activists
Tessa Duval (The Courier-Journal)
Darcy Costello (The Courier-Journal)
Bailey Loosemore (The Courier-Journal)
Chanelle Helm (Black Lives Matter organizer)
Tim Findley (Pastor, Kingdom Fellowship Christian Life Center, Louisville)
Moderator: Bennett Tuleja (University of Kentucky law student)