Pubdate: Mon, 19 Nov 2007
Source: Atlanta Journal-Constitution (GA)
Copyright: 2007 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Author: Rhonda Cook, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Bookmark: (Drug Raids)
Bookmark: (Policing - United States)


Neal Street: Officers' Shooting of an Elderly Woman in Her Home a 
Year Ago Quickly Ballooned
into a Major Scandal.

Little has changed at Kathryn Johnston's yellow brick house on Neal
Street since the first few days after the elderly woman was killed
during a botched drug raid.

Someone regularly tends the yard and, on a recent day, was careful to
rake around the pile of stuffed animals and fake flowers left on the
curb a year ago - apparently undisturbed since they were placed there
in memory of the 92-year-old's death at the hands of Atlanta police
Nov. 21.

No one lives at the house owned by Johnston's niece. The plywood
nailed over several windows days after her shooting is still there.

But elsewhere in the city is evidence of the change and the fallout
from the shooting death of a woman gunned down in her living room in a
run-down section of town.

Lives were altered; some were damaged beyond repair. Institutions were
forced to review their procedures and how routinely those procedures
were ignored or violated to the extent that an innocent person could
be killed.

"So much has happened as a result of Ms. Johnston's death," said
family spokesman Markel Hutchins. "She's become something of an epic
hero ... a catalyst for change for the better."

The FBI investigation into the Atlanta Police Department and its
officers, especially those assigned to narcotics at this time last
year, continues.

But Chief Richard Pennington said he expected the yearlong federal
investigation of his department to be completed within a few weeks.

So far, two officers who were at the Johnston house that evening,
Jason R. Smith and Gregg Junnier, have pleaded guilty to voluntary
manslaughter and other state charges and to federal allegations of
conspiracy to violate a person's civil rights ending in death.

No date has been set for their sentencing, but part of their plea deal
was that Smith would serve no more than 12 years in federal prison,
and Junnier would get 10 years - and they could receive less time if
they provide "substantial assistance" to federal agents investigating
the Atlanta police.

A third narcotics officer, Arthur Tesler, is facing state charges of
violating his oath, making false statements and false imprisonment of
a confidential informant. His trial in Fulton Superior Court most
likely will be in April.

Three more APD officers, including one who was a member of the
narcotics teams at Johnston's house that evening, were suspended with
pay last June when the FBI told Pennington federal agents were
investigating the trio, the chief said.

"It doesn't look like it's [the FBI investigation] going to expand,"
Pennington said. "They don't think there will be any more criminal

The FBI and the U.S. attorney's office would not discuss the status of
the cases.

Johnston's shooting - sometimes referred to as simply "Neal Street"
- - was the beginning of one of the biggest APD scandals in years.

The woman lived alone and was afraid to go outside at night because of
drug dealing and neighborhood violence. She had her rusty .38 revolver
that evening when officers, with a "no-knock" warrant based on lies
and looking for a kilogram of cocaine, broke through the burglar bars
on her front door.

Johnston's one shot went over the officers' heads, but police got off
39 rounds. Fragments and ricochetting bullets hit three officers.

Smith, Junnier and reportedly Tesler attempted to cover up their
mistake by planting marijuana in Johnston's basement and trying to
persuade an informant to say he told them they would find cocaine at
933 Neal St. in northwest Atlanta.

"I just wish officers had told the truth when it first happened,"
Pennington said.

As the truth came out over the next few days, weeks and

All APD narcotics officers were suspended with pay. Investigations of
street-level drug crimes were left to a special unit made up of local,
state and federal officers.

Eventually, all officers assigned to the APD drug unit when Johnston
was killed, including those who were not on Neal Street at the time,
were reassigned as part of an agency-wide reorganization.

APD now requires all narcotics officers to rotate to new assignments
after two to three years in the unit.

The informant, Alex White, has made three trips to Washington to speak
to federal legislators considering limits on the use of confidential

The Atlanta City Council created a Citizen Review Board last spring to
investigate complaints against APD and its officers.

Johnston's relatives and White, who lost his income as an informant,
have notified the city they intend to sue.

Four men were released from prison because their convictions were
based on the work of the two officers who lied to get the warrant. The
district attorney also dropped charges in 41 pending cases that
involved Smith and Junnier, and he is reviewing files in the event
there are others.

More supervision is required for warrant applications. A police major
must sign off on applications for no-knock warrants before they are
taken to a judge. A lieutenant or higher officer has to approve
applications for search warrants and tactical plans.

A new and larger drug unit has been created. Fifteen officers have
finished training and are working the streets, and another 15 will
soon join them.

"It's going real well," Pennington said of the training for the new
drug unit's members. "Since we were shut down for several months, I
wanted them to come back and hit the ground running."

The Fallout

All APD narcotics officers were suspended with pay. Now, more
supervision is required for warrant applications. A police major must
sign off on applications for no-knock warrants before they are taken
to a judge. 
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake