Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Serious Police Problem in Georgia

If you haven’t been following the Kathryn Johnston story, being publicized heavily by Radley Balko, wait till you hear this. On November 21st, the Atlanta PD busts into the house of an 88 year old woman. Since it’s a no knock warrant, she has no idea and grabs the old revolver her family had given her for protection and starts firing; the police gun her down. The police say they got a warrant to go in because an informant had told them that he had bought cocaine there. The AJC picks up the story:

Atlanta police Chief Richard Pennington confirmed Monday that the informant now claims police asked him to lie about his role in an alleged drug buy that led to the shooting.

The informant, who has not been identified, complained to department officials that the drug investigators involved in the bust had asked him to go along with a story they concocted after the shooting, said Pennington. He said the informant had been placed in protective custody.

I’d say he needs to be protected from those cops he just ratted out. And there’s much more:

The informant, who said he worked with Atlanta police for four years, also told WAGA-TV that he hadn’t been to 933 Neal St. His identity hidden, he told the TV station that one of the drug officers called him soon after the shooting with instructions.

Quoting the officers, the informant told Fox 5 News: ” ‘This is what you need to do. You need to cover our [rear]. … It’s all on you man. … You need to tell them about this Sam dude.’ ”

Pennington said investigators were trying to determine the truth. “I don’t know if he went in or not,” he said.

Many questions and conflicting accounts have surfaced since police shot the woman, described by neighbors as feeble and afraid to open her door after dark. At first police said that the drug buy was made by undercover police, but later they said the purchase was made by an informant. Early on, police said narcotics were found at the house after the shooting, but on Sunday investigators said they had found only a small amount of marijuana, which police don’t consider a narcotic.

Also, even though the affidavit said that the house was outfitted with surveillance cameras, Pennington said the informant had told internal affairs investigators that police officers had asked him to lie about the cameras. Pennington could not confirm whether the cameras existed.

From the beginning, it has been unclear why police targeted the woman’s house, and the affidavit and warrant documents shed little light. The documents do not suggest that police had been keeping the house under surveillance and provide no rationale for entering it other than the informant’s alleged buy earlier in the afternoon. The raid did not produce the cocaine, money, computers and other equipment related to the drug business alleged in the affidavit. The documents listed the only resident as Sam, who was described as at least 6 feet tall and 250 to 260 pounds. Johnston’s family said she lived alone.

As Balko points out, no matter what the truth is the police have some serious explaining to do:

At this point, Atlanta police have no good options. They’re screwed.

Attack the informant’s credibility and you admit that you conducted a high-risk, forced-entry raid based entirely on a tip from an informant you now say is unreliable. You admit you did no corroborating investigation. You admit you didn’t even send an officer to check to see if the informant was right about, for example, an external surveillance system. And all of this ineptitude led to the death of an innocent woman, not to mention to three officers getting wounded.

And that’s if the guy’s lying about the cover-up. If he’s telling the truth? Now you’re talking about a major-league shit storm. If this guy’s telling the truth, not only did the officers originally investigating this case lie, but the officers investigating after the shooting then lied to cover it up. That means you not only have corruption problems with your narcotics officers, but you have problems with your internal affairs unit, the cops who are charged with investigating the other officers.

What a mess.

Comments

  1. #1 TomMil
    November 30, 2006

    part of the problem with these situations is that some Judges hand out “no knock” warrants like candy.

  2. #2 kehrsam
    November 30, 2006

    I hate to say it, as I like most judges, but TomMil is entirely correct here. There is almost never any reason for a no-knock warrant, particularly in a residential neighborhood.

    For the record, most of the law enforcement personnel I have spoken to about the subject don’t like no-knocks, either. They are dangerous for everyone involved. But they make great TV footage (not that that is the only reason DAs and police chiefs like them).

  3. #3 Matthew Young
    November 30, 2006

    Christ!

    I know I am pig-ignorant about all things legal, but a no knock warrant? That sounds insane.

    People in America are allowed to have guns, and are as adamant about private property and scared of crime as any people I have come across in the Western World. And in the middle of the night police with guns break into their houses, knowing they are probably armed, without having to knock on the door. Does this sound like a policy that has been specifically designed to kill innocent people in unnecessary shoot-outs to anyone else? I mean, what else would anyone do if a large group of men broke into their house in the middle of the night and they had a gun handy? You’d defend yourself as best you could, and then you’d be shot.

    That sounds completely, utterly insane.

  4. #4 JIM COLELLA
    November 30, 2006

    yES IT MAKES GREAT TV FOOTAGE AND IT BACKFIRES ON THEM, THEY DID THAT TO A FRIEND OF MINE THEY KICKED HIS DOOR IN AT 7AM THER WERE ABOUT30 PLUS COVERING OUR APT IN SANTA BARBARA CA. THEY DIDN’T HAVE A WARRENT FOR MYSELF AND WIFE OR THE LADY IN THE FRONT APT (ACTION) 2 COPS HIT FRONT HOUSE FIRST ONE IN GETS SHOT WITH 357 IN LIVER STAGGERS OUT
    I MEAN BLOWN OUT THE DOOR GUY RUNS OUT BACK DOOR TO WAITING POLICE ARRESTED(THOUGHT SOMEONE WAS BREAKING INTO HIS HOUSE)WE SUEDTHEM GOT 130.000 FOR FALSE ARREST, 1989

  5. #5 DuWayne
    November 30, 2006

    Yet another ugly paramilitary raid gone horribly wrong. I am at a loss as to how this can actually be dealt with. If the national media would get on the ball and make it a story every time the police conduct raids of this sort and they go wrong, this would turn from an issue that’s pure political suicide, into political neccesity.

  6. #6 DuWayne
    November 30, 2006

    Matthew Young –

    It’s worse than that. There has been a proliferation in thugs (non-police thigs mind) who bust into peoples homes, claiming to be the police. In a lot of places, people have good reason to be suspicious of hoods with guns breaking into their homes – even if they claim to be cops.

  7. #7 chris
    November 30, 2006

    But don’t we all want to be “tough on crime”?

    And damn the consequences?

  8. #8 Bing
    November 30, 2006

    I’m sure this type of occurrence isn’t really all that rare, just the magnitude of the screw-up got it on the network news.

    Example: 3 or 4 years ago the narcotics section of the London (Ontario) Police Service executed a warrant on a “drug dealer’s” apartment. Once inside they were confronted by the young woman who had rented the apartment in the previous month, and her dog. They shot the dog in the back. Even though they were looking for middle aged non-caucasian man and they found a young caucasian woman they arrested her and then proceeded to toss her apartment. They destroyed all her furniture, cutting it open to look for a hidden stash. She was eventually released, although I don’t believe she ever returned to that apartment.

    It turned out that the information provided by the confidential snitch was months out of date. The alleged dealer had moved out, the apartment had been vacant for a month, and then the woman had moved in. The police did no investigation to confirm who was in the residence, they just relied on the statement and got a warrant.

    What was most amusing was the police talk in the media. It was somehow all the woman’s fault, for moving into an apartment that had been previously rented by an alleged dealer. I am as disgusted now by the recent story as I was then.

  9. #9 DuWayne
    November 30, 2006

    Chris –

    That is exactly the problem. Too few people really see the consequences. They do however, see lower crime rates and assume that this is a result of said tactics. Others, who do see the consequences, find the results to be worth the collateral damage.

  10. #10 Roadtripper
    November 30, 2006

    Another thing this case makes quite clear is the serious need for some marksmanship courses for senior citizens. She didn’t even wing one of them?

    Rt

  11. #11 kehrsam
    November 30, 2006

    Roadtripper: Remember, they are wearing body armor and helmets, which makes for a difficult shot. The granny in this case wined three of them in either arms or legs, so she went down fighting.

  12. #12 Shawn Smith
    November 30, 2006

    One other thing that wasn’t pointed out here, is that the initial reports were that Kathryn Johnston was 92, not 88, when she was offed by the cops.

    Also, Radley Balko, who has been on top of this case pretty hard now, pointed out that the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported that the cops have turned on their “reliable informant,” claiming he has a long rap sheet, and that it wasn’t really their fault.

    I also remember reading that the Drug Unit has been disbanded until this matter gets sorted out.

  13. #13 djmullen
    December 1, 2006

    This whole “no knock” warrent business started in the Nixon administration. The reason: fear that drug dealers might flush the evidence down the john before the cops got in.

    So, to help facilitate some utterly useless small time drug busts, the Consitution is trashed and we have the gestapo… er swat teams kicking in American doors at 3 in the morning and shooting anybody inside who so much as moves.

    I remember back in the Nixon administration, cops raided a small ranch, the elderly homeowner had a gun in his bedroom and defended himself against the armed, unidentified intruders and got murdered in his own bed by the cops. He turned out to be completely innocent, of course, and even a Republican supporter. The bust was based on false information.

    Investigation showed that the police had already divided up his property before the raid, deciding which police department got the land, which got the house, etc.

    “It can’t happen here.”
    Bang! It sure can.

  14. #14 Roman Werpachowski
    December 2, 2006

    The war on drugs at the heights of its absurdity. The problem is not even with the fact that drugs are illegal, but with the fact that their illegality is taken so damn serious. Really, what’s the point of arresting small dealers? They just satisfy a demand and sell to willing customers.

    In my country before the IInd world war, prostitution was technically illegal. However, police very rarely busted prostitutes or the whore-houses. They developed a symbiosis with them, treating them as sources of information about other, serious criminals (thieves, robbers, murderers). It was the “you tell me what happened on your street today and I’m not arresting you for prostitution” deal. Both sides were satisfied with the arrangement.

    If you want to keep your tough, moral anti-drug laws, fine. But don’t treat them so god-damn seriously, use them just as a tool to gather informants about *real criminals*.

  15. #15 steve
    February 27, 2007

    this question is for the chief. HOW DOES IT FEEL TO HAVE SUCH A HIGH RANKING IN ONE OF THE MOST VIOLENT AND CORRUPT GANGS IN THE WORLD?

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