FBI to Investigate Police Shooting of 88 Year Old Woman

Some may not be aware of this but there is a rather tragic story unfolding in Atlanta Georgia. An 88 year old woman was shot in what looks like (at best) a botched no-knock raid (link to original story) Here are the facts that I am aware of.

  1. An elderly woman, Kathryn Johnston, lived alone at the house.
  2. The police executed a no-knock raid.
  3. Johnston meet the intruders with a handgun and fired several shots wounding three police officers.
  4. The police returned fire killing Johnston.
  5. The police lied to the public by claiming initially that an undercover cop made a drug buy at the house.
  6. The actual warrant states that a confidential/citizen informant made the buy.
  7. The warrant was issued only hours before the raid.
  8. No cocaine was found in the house, but a small amount of marijuana was.

Now, somebody claiming to be the informant has showed up on a television interveiw with some rather disturbing claims. The Atlantic Journal Constitution article also has the claims,

Commenting on revelations that the informant narcotics officers say led them to the Johnston’s house is accusing the officers of asking him to lie about his role, Trawick said, “I hope he is telling the truth.

[snip]

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.

[snip]

“The informant said he had no knowledge of going into that house and purchasing drugs,” Pennington said. “We don’t know if he’s telling the truth.”

All seven narcotics investigators and a sergeant have been suspended with pay pending the investigation, Pennington said. Their names were not made public.

[snip]

Smith’s affidavit was sufficient to persuade Fulton County Magistrate Kimberly Warden to sign a warrant allowing the officers to enter the house without knocking at the door. Smith asked for the special “no-knock” authorization because of the possibility that officers would be injured or evidence would be destroyed. Warden signed the warrant shortly before 6 p.m., about an hour before the shooting.

However, the informant has since denied to police and a local television station that he purchased the drugs. He also said there was no person named Sam.

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.’ “

Now the Chief of Police in Atlanta, Richard Pennington, has asked the FBI to conduct an investigation into what has happened.

What is still not known is whether or not the signatures on the warrant in question were forgeries (see also this link for more on the warrant). Also, the claims of the informant about the secruity cameras have to be checked into. The warrant claims that the informant stated that “Sam” the drug dealer had a system of security cameras. My guess is that there are no cameras, and no “Sam”. It is looking like a great deal of butt covering, and if this is the case it may go beyond the officers involved in the shooting.

Further, the news about the informant is bad for the officers. If the officers attack the statements of the informant then they are attacking the integrity and reliability of an informant they have already sworn is reliable. Basically, they’ll undermine their justification for the warrant and all subsequent actions upto and including the killing of Kathryn Johnston. After all, if the informant is a liar, then perhaps he was lying about the house, the drug buy, and so forth. The means the police are incompetent, stupid or both. Further, that they did no additional investigation.

If it turns out that the informant is telling the truth then there would appear to be some very serious amounts of corruption in the Atlanta police department and even perhaps the courts. After all, they managed to get a warrant, which according to the news stories, was after the shooting.

All in all, a very bad story. The only good thing that might come out of this is that there might be so much focus on this no-knock raid that went wrong that something might be done about their use. It is common to use these tactics to prevent drug dealers from destroying/disposing of evidence (e.g. flush it down the toilet). The problem is that these tactics have also cost the lives of innocent people of which it appears Kathryn Johnston might be the latest.

If you are interested in this story, keep checking at Radley Balko’s site as he has been on top of this story for some time now with lots of links.

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Steve Verdon
About Steve Verdon
Steve has a B.A. in Economics from the University of California, Los Angeles and attended graduate school at The George Washington University, leaving school shortly before staring work on his dissertation when his first child was born. He works in the energy industry and prior to that worked at the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the Division of Price Index and Number Research. He joined the staff at OTB in November 2004.