Tuesday, November 28, 2006

NO EXCUSE IF NO-KNOCK WARRANT MAKES NO SENSE

An excellent editorial from the Atlanta Journal Constitution on the murder of a little old lady by lying, thug narcotics officers. I am so glad Granny let fly some lead of her own before they shot her down like a dog. Imagine living to be that old and having to die like that.

When Police Burst In Without Merit, Tragedy Ensues

Faced with troubling new allegations in the shooting of 88-year-old Kathryn Johnston by three of his officers, Atlanta police Chief Richard Pennington has wisely asked the FBI, assisted by the GBI, the Fulton County district attorney and the U.S. Justice Department, to take over the investigation.

The Atlanta police version of events has changed in disturbing ways. First, the department claimed that an undercover officer had bought drugs at Johnston's house earlier in the day, establishing grounds for a search warrant. Later, police said that an informant had actually made the drug buy. Now that alleged informant, under wraps awaiting an FBI interview, apparently disputes that story, saying that he never purchased any drugs at Johnston's home and that police asked him to lie to cover up their deadly error.

Given the controversy and the conflicting details, Pennington's decision to bring in an independent review team was appropriate and necessary if the police department hopes to reclaim any public confidence. In fact, an outside investigation should be standard in any police shooting of a civilian.

Pennington also pledged to review the force's use of no-knock warrants. Those warrants allow police offers to dispense with the standard practice of knocking, declaring their identity and purpose, demanding entry and then resorting to force only if entry is denied.

Those steps are more than mere niceties --- they protect residents as well as officers who might otherwise be shot by civilians, as the Johnston tragedy demonstrates.

According to neighbors, a frightened Johnston lived behind locked doors and burglar bars in her one-story brick home near the Georgia Dome. She went to bed at dark and rarely let people into her home because of her fear of crime. It is not hard to understand why a woman living alone in those circumstances would have grabbed an old
revolver and begun firing when three men burst through the door after dark. Five of her shots struck the officers, who then fired back.

Under the circumstances --- being fired upon while serving a warrant - --- the decision of the officers to fire back may have been justified. The real issue is whether they had justification to invade Johnston's home in the first place.

The only time police officers should smash their way into a home without giving notice to its occupants is when they have compelling reason to believe that announcing themselves would jeopardize their lives or their investigation. At the very least, officers should conduct sufficient preliminary investigations to know who lives in the house and who is likely to be present before they crash through a door.

Before narcotics agents went to Johnston's home last week, did they ascertain who lived there? Considering it was two days before Thanksgiving, did they establish whether visiting children or other family members were in the home? Did they lean on an informant to lie on their behalf?

If the informant never fingered Johnston's house as a drug source, how did police end up there? What evidence did police have that the drug quantities involved were significant enough to call for forced entry?

Based on what is known so far, it's hard to argue that Johnston was at fault. She was not the professional trained to investigate a situation before taking any action that could endanger innocent people. She had no information to alert her to what was really happening in her home that night.

Unfortunately, it appears that the APD didn't either.

1 comment:

Roberto Alvarez-Galloso,CPUR said...

We had the same problem in Miami Florida. A Journalist named Varela was fired from the Miami Herald. While his response [invading the newspaper with a toy gun] was foolish, the fact that the Miami Herald called the Latin Population, Libertarians, Greens, and Independent Parties "Chihuahuas" did not help the situation. I think people should start reading these blogs to find the real truth.

Roberto C. Alvarez-Galloso,CPUR
alvarezgalloso.blogster.com