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Feature: Guilty Pleas Only the Beginning in Aftermath of Atlanta "Drug Raid" Killing of 92-Year Old

Last Thursday, two Atlanta narcotics officers pleaded guilty to manslaughter charges in the shooting death of an elderly woman during a botched drug raid, but that is just the beginning in what looks to be an ever-expanding investigation into misconduct in the Atlanta narcotics squad. A federal investigation is already underway, and yesterday, Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), chair of the House Judiciary Committee, called on Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to launch a thorough investigation of issues raised by the case, including police misconduct, the use of confidential informants, arrest quotas, and the credibility of police officials.

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/kathrynjohnston.jpg
Kathryn Johnston
Things began to unravel for the Atlanta Police Department's 16-man street narcotics team on November 21, when three Atlanta narcs broke into the home of 92-year-old Kathryn Johnston using a "no-knock" warrant that claimed drug sales had taken place there. The elderly Johnston responded to the intruders dressed in plain clothes by firing one shot from an old pistol, which missed the officers. The narcs responded with a barrage of bullets, firing 39 shots, five or six of which hit Johnston, who died shortly afterward.

Since then, investigators have found that in the Johnston case:

  • The narcotics officers planted drugs to arrest a suspected drug dealer, who in turn pointed them toward Johnston's residence.
  • The narcotics officers lied on their search warrant application, saying that a confidential informant had bought drugs at that address when that did not happen.
  • The narcotics officers lied on their search warrant application, saying the house was occupied by a large man who employed surveillance cameras.
  • The narcotics officers planted marijuana in Johnston's basement after they shot her in order to bolster their case and impugn her reputation.
  • The narcotics officers asked another confidential informant to lie for them after the fact and say he had bought drugs at Johnston's residence.

But that confidential informant, Alexis White, instead went to the feds with his story (and this week, he went to Washington, DC, to talk to congressional leaders about snitching), and the fabric of lies woven by the Atlanta narcs rapidly unraveled. Last Wednesday, three of them, Officers Gregg Junnier, Jason Smith, and Arthur Tesler, were indicted on numerous state charges, including murder, as well as federal civil rights charges. The following day, Junnier and Smith pleaded guilty to a state charge of manslaughter, with sentencing to be postponed until after the federal investigation is complete. They face up to 10 years on the manslaughter charge and up to life in prison on the federal civil rights charge.

But the problems in the Atlanta narcotics squad run deeper than one incident of misconduct. According to federal investigators, what the Atlanta narcs did during the botched Johnston raid was business as usual.

"Junnier and other officers falsified affidavits for search warrants to be considered productive officers and to meet APD's performance targets," according to a federal exhibit released Thursday. "They believed that these ends justified their illegal 'Fluffing' or falsifying of search warrants. Because they obtained search warrants based on unreliable and false information, [the officers] had on occasion searched residences where there were no drugs and the occupants were not drug dealers."

Cutting corners, though, can have serious consequences. As prosecutors noted, once the narcs had received a tip there were drugs at Johnston's residence, Officer Junnier said they could get a confidential informant to make a buy there to ensure there actually were drugs at that location. "Or not," Smith allegedly responded.

At a news conference last Thursday, FBI Atlanta Special Agent in Charge Greg Jones called the officers' conduct "deplorable." In an ominous addendum, Jones added that the agency will pursue "additional allegations of corruption that other Atlanta police officers may have engaged in similar conduct."

US Attorney David Nahmias said Johnston's death was "almost inevitable" because of such widespread activity and vowed a far-reaching investigation into departmental practices. He said he expects to find other cases where officers lied or relied on bad information. "It's a very ongoing investigation into just how wide the culture of misconduct extends," Nahmias said. "We'll dig until we can find whatever we can."

And now, House Judiciary Committee head Rep. Conyers wants to ensure that the feds dig deep. In a letter released yesterday, Conyers told Attorney General Gonzales:

"There are several key issues raised by the Johnston case: police misconduct (falsifying information and excessive use of force); misuse of confidential informants; potentially negative impact of arrest quotas and performance measures; and the integrity and credibility of law enforcement officials. We are particularly concerned about the misuse of confidential informants. The reliability of confidential informants used in narcotics cases is often compromised because they are cooperating with law enforcement in order to extricate themselves from criminal charges. The absence of corroboration requirements for information obtained through confidential informants leaves room for abuse. All these factors can have the effect of eroding public confidence in the criminal justice system.

"We are concerned that the Atlanta incident may be indicative of a systemic problem within the Atlanta Police Department. Additionally, we are disturbed that the actions of the Atlanta Police Department may be a reflection of conduct used in other jurisdictions throughout this country. Significantly, the number of "no knock raids" has increased from three thousand in 1981 to more than fifty thousand in 2005."

Former New Jersey narcotics officer and current head of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition Jack Cole shares Conyers' concerns. "I think this kind of thing is going on across the country," he told Drug War Chronicle. "If anyone really dug into this, you would find similar things in a lot of departments. It's about using a war on drugs metaphor. When you have a war, you need an enemy, someone despicable, so you can do whatever you want to them," he said. "We train our police to feel like they have to win at any cost because it's a war."

Maybe, just maybe, the federal investigation into the Atlanta narcs will morph into the kind of hearings on drug war policing that are long, long overdue. If not, at least Kathryn Johnston has won a measure of justice.

Wrongful death suit to be filed in fatal police shooting of woman, 92

Localização: 
Atlanta, GA
United States
Publication/Source: 
The Telegraph (GA)
URL: 
http://www.macon.com/220/story/32395.html

Futile drug war ignores target: Safety

Localização: 
Atlanta, GA
United States
Publication/Source: 
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
URL: 
http://www.ajc.com/opinion/content/opinion/tucker/stories/2007/05/01/0502edtuck.html

What Do Cops Think About the Atlanta Indictments?

What do police officers have to say about the indictment of three Atlanta police officers -- two of whom have now pled guilty -- in the murder of Kathryn Johnston? Well, not much.

Officer.com has a thread on this topic, which consists primarily of debate over the facts of the case. There are a few factually incorrect statements, and several corrections, but what you won't find is any substantive discussion of the systemic drug war corruption that made this tragedy inevitable.

The only exception is this comment from the ubiquitous Howard Wooldridge of LEAP:
The 'facts' will probably always remain murky. I blame the Drug War for the entire incident and grandma was simply more collateral damage. This is far f/ the first oops which caused death and won't be the last. Until we become as wise as our grandparents and end this New Prohibition, our profession will continue to suffer, as does the community we protect. Someone tell me one advantage, one good outcome of this policy after we have spent a trillion taxpayer dollars and arrested some 36 million people...Hiway Howie
Sadly, no one even responds to Howard. It is really quite disappointing to find that one of the most shocking revelations of police misconduct in recent years provokes such shallow discussion from law-enforcement officers.

Until police take interest in the numerous lessons to be learned from such tragedies, the list will just continue to grow.
Localização: 
United States

Open Letter: You Screwed Up the "Snitch" Story, Anderson Cooper

Dear Mr. Cooper:

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/borden12.jpg
David Borden
As a CNN viewer who generally appreciates your work, I was stunned by how badly your report on the "Stop Snitching" movement missed the mark. It's easy to find someone willing to make an extreme statement, as hip-hop artist Cameron Giles did when he said he wouldn't report a serial murderer. But do you really think the most extreme voice on the airwaves is the one that merits such a large portion of the face time in your report?

My issue is not with the criticisms leveled at people like Giles or the Stop Snitching movement. My concern is over that which was not said. For example, the most interesting moment in the piece was David Kennedy's comment about police tactics in the war on drugs. However, you did not offer even a second sentence about that on the screen (at least in the CNN version) for Prof. Kennedy to elaborate on what those tactics might be or why they might have such an effect. Do you really consider those three seconds to constitute an adequate fulfillment of your professional responsibility to provide balanced and informative reporting?

A real examination of the "snitching" issue was provided in Ofra Bikel's 1999 documentary for Frontline, "Snitch." One of the prisoners Bikel interviewed, Clarence Aaron, received three life sentences while in college at age 23 because of a minor role in a drug transaction -- "conspiracy," as the government calls it. All the other participants got less time, even though their responsibility level in the deal had been greater. Aaron's cousin James, in fact, was sentenced to mere probation -- in exchange for testifying against Aaron -- and walked out of the courtroom a free man.

According to Aaron, his cousin told him that he "had to do what [he] had to do" and that that included lying to the jury. One of the objectives of prosecutor Deborah Griffin, apparently, was to cause a mistrial and force Aaron to switch to a less skilled attorney than the one he had, and she was able to use James to manipulate the situation to bring that about. If James didn't cooperate, he told Aaron, she threatened to "put [him] in prison for the rest of [his] life."

Of course, Aaron is still in prison today. You can read a little more about him in a column by the San Francisco Chronicle's Debra Saunders here. She writes about him every year, at Christmas pardon time, so far to no avail.

Unfortunately, Aaron's case is unusual mainly for how much attention it's gotten. The exchange of leniency -- or even money -- for testimony that will help the prosecution is an absolutely routine tactic in the drug war. The DEA, in fact, continued to use a "super-snitch" named Andrew Chambers for numerous prosecutions after a court had determined him to be a repeat perjurer. Common sense tells us that testimony acquired in this way is not always reliable. It is a disgusting commentary on the state of our justice system that prosecutors would use a tactic like that so often. The fact that the mandatory minimum laws that garnered Aaron his life sentences were passed by Congress with neither hearings nor expert advice in other forms (according to my colleague Eric Sterling who appeared in Bikel's report), is equally troubling. The use of these laws to imprison minor offenders for long periods of time is also very common, but the term "mandatory minimum" did not appear in your report even once. Nor did you mention it was an anonymous informant's incorrect tip that led to the killing of 92-year old Kathryn Johnston by police officers in a no-knock raid in CNN's own hometown of Atlanta last year.

Research by the Sentencing Project has found that literally one in three young black men between the ages of 20 and 29 are under the supervision of the criminal justice system -- prison, jail, probation or parole -- on any given day. Here in Washington the numbers are even higher. How difficult must it be for all of these people with convictions on their records to go on to find legitimate jobs? What kind of impact does such a massive and ongoing operation have on the bonds of family, friendship, or community? How many of these people go to jail or prison, what kinds of things do they learn there, how many of them catch serious diseases there and bring them back out? How often do they receive harsh mandatory minimum sentences like Clarence Aaron? At a conference I attended recently, a professor from Morehouse College, lamenting the situation, delivered a talk entitled "Where are the Men?" What should we be doing differently, or for that matter what should we stop doing, in order to address this? What does all of this do to change people, mostly in ways that we don't want, to cause more crime? I simply do not believe that one in three black men in this age group are criminals in any meaningful sense of the word.

I respectfully suggest it is the overuse and misuse of the criminal justice system -- not the words of some rappers -- that are the primary reasons anti-police sentiment in some of our communities runs so deep. I urge you to do a follow-up report to take a deeper look at these issues. After all, just because Lou Dobbs thinks we can stop drugs at the border doesn't make it so -- and if we could people would just use more of the drugs that can be grown or manufactured here. We therefore need to change the way we deal with drugs in a fundamental sense. Ending the disgraceful practice of purchasing or coercing testimony from "snitches" to send people away for years or decades would be a start.

Don't be a part of the problem, Mr. Cooper, be a part of the solution -- talk about this.

Sincerely,


David Borden, Executive Director
Stop the Drug War
Washington, DC
http://stopthedrugwar.org

Drug Raids: Cops Looking Worse and Worse as Facts Emerge in Deadly Atlanta Case

The shooting death of 88-year-old Atlanta resident Kathryn Johnston at the hands of undercover Atlanta police after she fired at them as they burst through her front door continues to cause outrage in the community. And as the days go by, more and more questions are being raised about police behavior that night.

Police originally said they had bought drugs at Johnston's address. Police originally said they knocked and announced their presence before entering. But the search warrant that led to the raid, which Fulton County officials originally refused to release, is clearly marked as a "no-knock" warrant. The affidavit that led to the warrant describes not the police but a confidential informant making the alleged drug buy.

It gets worse -- The confidential informant said this week he never bought drugs at the house and that the police asked him to lie about it after the fact. This has provoked a counterattack by unknowns unhappy with the "reliable" informant, who have leaked his identity to the press and described him as a "drug dealer" as a prelude to discrediting him. [Ed: Somehow that doesn't seem to discredit such people sufficiently to throw out their testimony in mandatory minimum cases.]

Police Chief Richard Pennington now says the department will review its "no-knock" policy. In a preemptive move, Pennington also announced that the killing of Kathryn Johnston will be the subject of a federal investigation. But even those moves haven't taken the heat off of the Atlanta police, with Pennington manfully enduring raucous public meetings where member after member of the community have excoriated him and his department over Johnston's death and trigger-happy police practices.

More community meetings are coming, and multiple investigations are ongoing. Perhaps the killing of Kathryn Johnston will end up serving some purpose if her death helps to rein in law enforcers who treat citizens as if they were enemy combatants.

Visit The Agitator blog for ongoing updates on this case and other bad drug raids.

Informant denies buying drugs at elderly Atlantan's home (CNN)

Localização: 
United States
URL: 
http://www.cnn.com/2006/US/11/28/atlanta.shooting/

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