The Daily Whim

The Daily Whim

Sat. Apr 28, 2007

Two Plead Guilty, One Shoe Drops

We know more facts than we did two months ago when I wrote “Rumors Versus Facts and Locals Versus Feds.” We know that two Atlanta Police officers have pleaded guilty to charges that will put them in jail for ten to twelve years each. We know they first planted drugs on a street dealer to force a “confession” from him, and then lied to a judge to get a no-knock warrant for the address he gave them. We know they violently broke into the home of 88 year old Kathryn Johnston, shot the elderly homeowner, planted drugs in her home, and tried to coerce a snitch into lying to cover their butts. We know that Kathryn Johnston fired one warning shot which hit no one, and the police responded with 39 shots, 85% of which hit either “air” or a fellow officer.

But there is still a lot we don’t know. Because there is another shoe left to drop: why did this happen?

Gregg Junnier pleaded guilty in U.S. District court to participating in a conspiracy to violate Johnston’s civil rights and faces 12 years and seven months in federal prison, with a possible reduction if he provides “substantial assistance” in the FBI’s ongoing investigation into the Junnier’s contention that officers frequently lie to get search warrants. The maximum sentence on the federal charge is life in prison.

Junnier and fellow narcotics officer Jason R. Smith were indicted on multiple state murder charges. Today, both pleaded guilty to a single county of voluntary manslaughter, a lesser charge. Smith is also expected to plead guilty to the federal charges. He is expected to serve about 10 years in federal prison.

The third, Officer Arthur Tesler, is charged only with three felony counts involving making false statements. Tesler, with eight months on the job, has vowed to fight charges against him.

AJC: Officers plead guilty in elderly woman’s death

Tesler claims he was covering the back door, and was not a part of the entry or shooting. He’s still charged with falsifying information for the warrant, and the other officers have said they regularly submitted lies to get warrants:

Atlanta police narcotics officers often falsified search warrants to make busts and pad their arrests records hoping to satisfy goals set for them by upper brass, federal investigators said.

That accusation was noted in the guilty plea agreements of narcotics officers Gregg Junnier and Jason R. Smith and confirms what police union members and other critics have long said: that pressure on quotas caused officers to bend the rules.

“Junnier and other offices falsified affidavits for search warrants to be considered productive officers and to meet APD’s performance targets,” according to a federal exhibit released Thursday. “They believed that these ends justified their illegal ‘Fluffing’ or falsifying of search warrants.

“Because they obtained search warrants based on unreliable and false information, [the officers] had on occasion searched residences where there were no drugs and the occupants were not drug dealers.”

AJC: Feds: Atlanta police routinely falsify search warrants

Let me spell out that last part: they busted into innocent people’s homes nearly as regularly as they lied to get warrants. And, as we’ll see, they had no problem with planting drugs when their search had found none.

When you see this level of rule breaking, you’d expect to see some profit. Cops on the take to one drug gang, helping them take out a rival gang. But there seems to be no evidence of that kind of “corruption for profit” with these cops. By what we’ve heard so far, they appeared to be motivated to get drugs and drug dealers off the street, by whatever means necessary. Over motivated, by decree from above.

According to investigators, Atlanta narcotics officers hoped to satisfy goals set by police commanders by repeatedly lying to obtain search warrants, barging into homes and sometimes restraining innocent people, an atmosphere that led to tragedy.

U.S. Attorney David Nahmias called Johnston’s death “almost inevitable” because of such widespread activity and vowed a far-reaching investigation into departmental practices. He said he expects to find other cases where officers lied or relied on bad information.

Pennington didn’t hesitate to respond to questions that police higher-ups set arrest goals.

“The Atlanta Police Department does not have a quota system,” he said. “Yes, we get on officers for performance. Any corporate system does that.”

“We have enough crime in Atlanta; we don’t have to get quotas,” he said.

AJC: Pleas won’t end probe of Atlanta police

Well, then. From the above statements, taken from the very same press conference, it would appear that either U.S. Attorney David Nahmias or Atlanta Police Chief Pennington isn’t telling the truth. Haven’t we had enough of that in this case already?

I place my money on Pennington being gone before this calendar year is. Because U.S. Attorney David Nahmias also made it clear … he’s not done yet. He’s got two plea agreements that stipulate the officers’ cooperation and testimony in the ongoing federal investigation. I also have a feeling he would have said a lot more if it was not for the fact the third officer has chosen to go to trial, as releasing certain information now might compromise that proceeding.

Because these two officers claim their activities were not “irregular,” they were told to falsify certain information and “spin” other information in certain ways to get judges to issue warrants. If they are telling the truth (and under the circumstances of this plea, I have no reason to think they aren’t), take a look at how they operated on the job:

Eventually they set their sights on some apartments on Lanier Street, usually fertile when narcotics agents are looking for arrests and seizures.

Gregg Junnier and another narcotics officer went inside the apartments around 2 p.m. while Jason Smith checked the woods. Smith found dozens of bags of marijuana — in baggies that were clear, blue or various other colors and packaged to sell. With no one connected to the pot, Smith stashed the bags in the trunk of the patrol car. A use was found for Smith’s stash 90 minutes later: A phone tip led the three officers to a man in a “gold-colored jacket” who might be dealing. The man, identified as X in the documents but known as Fabian Sheats, spotted the cops and put something in his mouth. They found no drugs on Sheats, but came up with a use for the pot they found earlier.

They wanted information or they would arrest Sheats for dealing.

While Junnier called for a drug-sniffing dog, Smith planted some bags under a rock, which the K-9 unit found.

But if Sheats gave them something, he could walk.

Sheats pointed out 933 Neal St., the home of 92-year-old Kathryn Johnston. That, he claimed, is where he spotted a kilogram of cocaine when he was there to buy crack from a man named “Sam.”

By 6 p.m., they had the legal document they needed to break into Kathryn Johnston’s house, and within 40 minutes they were prying off the burglar bars and using a ram to burst through the elderly woman’s front door. It took about two minutes to get inside, which gave Johnston time to retrieve her rusty .38 revolver.

Tesler was at the back door when Junnier, Smith and the other narcotics officers crashed through the front.

Johnston got off one shot, the bullet missing her target and hitting a porch roof. The three narcotics officers answered with 39 bullets.

Five or six bullets hit the terrified woman. Authorities never figured out who fired the fatal bullet, the one that hit Johnston in the chest. Some pieces of the other bullets — friendly fire — hit Junnier and two other cops.

AJC: Chain of lies led to botched raid

The “chain of lies” wasn’t over yet.

They took three baggies of the pot they found earlier in the day, planted it in the basement, and then tried to twist the arm of one of their regular snitches to get him to back up their lies (he’s now suing the city). They did everything they could to lie their way out of it … until they were sat down in front of the FBI. That’s when Greg Junnier started telling the truth.

It would also appear that of the 39 shots fired, at most, 15% hit Kathryn Johnston, 15% hit the cops themselves, and 60-70% hit … air. I’m sorry, professionals who handle guns ought to have the opposite numbers; 60-70% of shots hit the intended target. And don’t give me that “heat of the moment” crap. That’s what professional training is supposed to be about; so that when the “heat of the moment” arrives, they are trained and prepared to respond … as professionals. Because when 85% of your fired shots hit either “air” or a fellow officer, you’re no better than your neighborhood drive-by gang. You are merely a danger to the public, and your fellow officers.

I also question the idea that when a shot is fired through a door (and into the porch roof, hitting no one), the proper response is to continue barging through that door. That seems a certain way to get officers injured. It took them a full two minutes (go ahead, count off 120 seconds) to get the burglar door open, and during that time is when the shot was fired. It hit no one. When the house is already surrounded by a dozen cops, if the goal is to limit injury (“serve and protect”), and those making the entry are not the SWAT team itself … the prudent thing to do is abort the entry, back off, and bring in support (i.e., the SWAT team).

That old lady wasn’t going anywhere. Nor would “Sam,” the alleged drug dealer inside, if he’d actually existed. Instead of an old lady with a rusty .38, what if there had been a drug dealer on the other side of that door … with an AK-47 and a 30 round clip? Barge on in.

In summary, these cops found some drugs, planted them to catch one alleged dealer, took his resulting “confession” as fact, lied to a judge to get a no-knock warrant, violently broke into a home where there were no drugs, shot an elderly homeowner who had fired a warning shot at the people busting down her door, and in the process also shot themselves five times. Then they handcuffed the dying woman before planting pot in her basement, and told the whole world “drugs were found” in the home.

In short, they were every single thing you would not want your cops to be. And it would appear this is just the tip of the iceberg. Because, “Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard said his office has started looking at hundreds of cases in which the officers were involved. He said ‘as soon as we find out’ corruption was involved, those convictions will be undone.” In addition, U.S. Attorney David Nahmias said these practices do not appear to be limited to these three officers.

And they intend to pursue that information. ““‘It’s a very ongoing investigation into just how wide the culture of misconduct extends,’ Nahmias said. ‘We’ll dig until we can find whatever we can.’ Nahmias said: ‘The department must look forward to reform itself.’ But he added ‘ongoing public scrutiny’ on APD is needed to make that happen.

You got it.

Peanut Gallery

1  Paul wrote:

In short, they were every single thing you would not want your cops to be.

I’ve long believed that the only difference between most cops and crooks is a tin badge and about 35 pounds of fat.

Keep the traffic cops because their job is to collect revenue for the municipality. Keep the detectives and investigators because their job is to hunt down real criminals and bring them to justice. The rest are just ignorant, worthless bags of meat I wouldn’t trust with my laundry.

2  Todd++ wrote:

Nice, Paul. Let the bad apples spoil the entire barrel.

I’ve had the opposite experience- with rare exception, police officers are hard-working protectors of our society. Clearly there are exceptions, like those described above, but don’t paint the whole lot of them with the same brush.

3  Paul wrote:

Let the bad apples spoil the entire barrel.

Your metaphor is backwards. It’s a barrel full of rotten apples with only a few good ones to be found. I like how the “a few bad apples” defense always comes out, and then we learn that it’s a systemic and widespread problem. You’d think people would refrain from using such a tired cliche with a dubious history.

Get rid of the uniformed lowlifes. If they’re that important, make them answerable for their actions in the neighborhoods they serve, not to the State, the County, or the City. Make them subject to fines and suspension from a neighborhood council. At least they’d have to act a little better than common criminals and treat the citizenry with respect.

4  Reid wrote:

I’m not crazy about the apples metaphor, but let’s take them out of the barrel. Because in this case, there’s a federal investigation into how widespread these practices are within the department. These officers claim they were told to falsify information for warrants. This was not the first time they busted down a door on bad info or outright lies, this is just the first time somebody shot at them for doing so.

So that means the apple tree might have a bad branch outputting bad apples. And I want it cut off.

I’d also be willing to bet money that some of the most angry person people you might find on this issue wear a uniform … and detest what these guys did, because it stains the uniform.

I lived within the Atlanta city limits from 1985-1995. Since 1995, I’ve lived in DeKalb County, about 3/4 of a mile from the city limits. And every encounter I’ve had with a cop over those two decades has been nothing less than professional.

But I’d be less than honest if I didn’t admit that incidents like this, as well as the high rate of shootings by the DeKalb County Police over the past year, have made me much more leery than I once was.

5  Paul wrote:

I’ve never had a good experience with a uniformed police officer, so I’m biased. From what I’ve seen, they don’t do anything other than react to incidences of crime, and even then, they just take down information and kick it up to smarter people to handle. Other than that, they just seem to cruise around and harass people for petty crap. I think they’re much better suited to ditch digging or sewer cleaning.

On the other hand, every plainclothes officer I’ve met has been outstanding, as well as SWAT members and highway patrolmen.

6  emcee fleshy wrote:

Do good cops a favor: don’t trust them.

When you consistently give someone the benefit of the doubt, they take it.

1) When we generally trust the police force, we give the cops the benefit of the doubt and relax oversight. This increases corruption.

2) But when we generally distrust the police, we increase oversight and give less benefit of the doubt. This decreases corruption.

7  Tom wrote:

If you’re looking at the ratio of good to bad apples, you should look to what the article says about the police department’s management. It looks like they have shifted the goal from “Protect and Serve” to “Make more Arrests”. Which type of officer will meet this new goal? Which type of officer do you want around your neighborhood? If arrests is the present management’s goal or main criterion of officer effectiveness, which type of officer will the force wind up with?

Comment by Tom · 05/03/2007 03:56 PM
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