When I first wrote about the botched drug raid in which Atlanta police killed a 92-year-old woman, I assumed that none of the officers were at fault. After all, the raid was legal because they had a warrant. Mrs. Johnston wasn’t actually a drug dealer, but apparently she didn’t realize the invaders were police, so she shot at them in self-defense. The police, in fear for their lives, also acted in self-defense when they shot and killed her.
I saw it as a tragedy all the way around. I think a drug enforcement policy that creates deadly confrontations in which both sides are shooting in self-defense is asinine and dangerously stupid, but as far as I knew, the officers involved were just doing the job as they were told to do it.
Then the story got more interesting when it started looking like the police lied on the warrant application by inventing a story from an informant. That could mean a lot of trouble for the cops who staged this raid.
Suppose you’re walking down the street, minding your own business, when a guy pulls a gun on you. In fear for your life, you quickly use your own gun to shoot him first, killing him. That’s self defense, and it’s a justified reason for killing someone.
Now suppose you’re robbing a bank when the guard pulls a gun on you. In fear for your life, you quickly use your own gun to shoot him first, killing him. Even though you killed to save your life, that’s not justifiable homicide, because one of the requirements for legal self-defense is that you have to be innocent. Criminals can’t claim self-defense if they kill someone in the process of committing their crimes, and if police lied to get the warrant, they committed a crime.
Whether the police officers are charged with any crime is a matter for the District Attorney’s office, and since the D.A. depends on the police department to investigate crimes, there’s a conflict of interest which tends to discourage a criminal charge in these kinds of cases.
Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard will seek criminal charges, including felony murder, against three Atlanta narcotics officers involved in a botched drug raid that resulted in the shooting death of an elderly woman, according to a proposed indictment.
The proposed indictment drawn up by the prosecutor’s office names officers Gregg Junnier, Jason R. Smith and Arthur Tesler. Howard accuses them of felony murder, aggravated assault, false imprisonment, burglary, making false statements and violation of oath.
Those three officers were involved in securing a search warrant on Nov. 21 for the home of Kathryn Johnston. Shortly before the raid, Smith told a magistrate he and Tesler had a confidential informant buy $50 worth of crack at 933 Neal Street from a man named “Sam.”
But, according to the proposed indictment, no informant went to the house.
Given the way these botched raids have played out elsewhere, I’m shocked that this is happening. My inner cynic is of two minds—maybe three—about this turn of events.
On the one hand, D.A. Howard could be planning to present the grand jury with a case that he knows they won’t accept. Then when they return a no bill, he could say he tried to bring justice for the Johnston family but his hands were tied by the grand jury.
On the other hand, there’s this:
Patrick Crosby, spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office, said Howard had not informed his office about plans to seek indictments.
FBI spokesman Stephen Emmett said, “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.”
That suggests to me that D.A. Howard is grandstanding to make some headlines for himself, which is often not a good thing for justice. Maybe the cops don’t deserve to be charged with a crime.
On the third hand, or maybe the first hand again, there’s this:
Johnston’s family was angry that Howard was bringing the case to the grand jury, spokesman Hutchins said.
“The family of Kathryn Johnston is extremely unhappy and disappointed with today’s turn of events. 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.”
That makes it sound like D.A. Howard is trying to protect the police by heading off a federal investigation. I’m not real comfortable with that argument, however, because Howard’s job is to prosecute cases in the Fulton County court system. He has no duty to help the feds with their case. The bigger picture is just not his problem.
It’s hard to figure out what to believe. I am, however, pretty sure I don’t believe defense attorney Rand Csehy:
Csehy conceded his client may have made mistakes, but he said Junnier didn’t commit murder. “There was no malfeasance here. It was sloppy police work,” Csehy said. “It was cutting corners.”
If I cut corners while driving my car and I accidentally run someone over, I think I’d be charged with a serious crime (although admittedly not murder).
On perhaps the fourth hand, there’s even a quote from the police union rep, who can’t believe the officers are being charged with a crime.
Howard’s actions have managed to upset the police, the feds, the defense, and the victim’s family. That might mean he’s crazy, but I’m beginning to hope that’s just what happens when the D.A. is genuinely seeking justice.