Fulton County, Georgia, District Attorney Paul Howard is moving to indict three Atlanta narcotics officers on charges including murder in the killing of 92-year-old Kathryn Johnston, who opened fire on invading undercover officers executing an apparently bogus "no-knock" search warrant. But Johnston's family is not happy, fearing any state indictment could hamper an ongoing federal investigation and possible federal charges.
The proposed indictment accuses officers Gregg Junnier, Jason Smith, and Arthur Tesler of felony murder, aggravated assault, false imprisonment, burglary, making false statements, and violation of oath. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that a defense attorney for one of the officers received an email from DA Howard Wednesday including the proposed indictment and saying prosecutors would take the matter to a grand jury on February 26.
The three officers sought and received a search warrant from a magistrate after Smith told him he and Tesler had a confidential informant buy crack at that house. But in the wake of the botched drug raid, which also left three officers wounded, it became evident that the officers had lied to the magistrate. There was no informant who had purchased crack at the house. After the raid, the officers attempted to get another informant to lie and say he had bought drugs there, but he instead told investigators about the request.
As community anger over the killing simmers, Howard has made efforts to let the Johnston family and the community know he was serious about doing justice in the case. "The death of Mrs. Johnston constitutes one of the greatest tragedies ever to occur in Fulton County," Howard wrote in a letter to the Johnston family spokesman Markel Hutchins. "I will not rest until every person responsible for her death is held accountable. When homicides occur in Fulton County, whether committed by a civilian or a law enforcement official, it is the obligation of the District Attorney's Office to take the appropriate legal actions."
While it would normally seem that indicting police officers whose lies led to the death of an elderly woman would be the appropriate legal action, by doing so Howard has broken with the ongoing federal investigation by the FBI. FBI spokesman Stephen Emmett told the Journal-Constitution, "We did not know this was taking place prior. The FBI has been charged with leading this investigation. And to date, this investigation has not been completed."
The Johnston family was also unhappy that Howard is moving to indict the officers. "The family of Kathryn Johnston is extremely unhappy and disappointed with today's turn of events," Hutchins said Wednesday. "Mr. Howard's move today of pressing charges would effectively limit the scope of and the potential charges of a federal investigation, and borders on tampering with a federal investigation."