Thoughts, essays, and writings on Liberty. Written by the heirs of Patrick Henry.

December 4, 2007

Breaking: Two Officers Surrender In Johnston Death

by Stephen Littau

(WSB Radio) Two Atlanta Police narcotics officers have turned themselves in to federal marshals as part of their plea agreements in the manslaughter death of 92-year-old Kathryn Johnston.
WSB’s Veronica Waters reports Gregg Junnier, 40, and Jason Smith, 35, pleaded guilty in April to civil rights charges and voluntary manslaughter in Johnston’s death. Both admitted they lied to a judge to get a no-knock search warrant for the woman’s Neal Street home in November 2006, then conspired to plant marijuana in the home when there were no drugs there.

Those revelations prompted an in-depth probe of corruption in the APD narcotics unit, and in Fulton County some 70 cases have not been prosecuted–having had the charges thrown out–as a result. Smith and Junnier have been cooperating with the FBI, which could help them when they are sentenced likely next year, after the Fulton County trial of a colleague.

The men are expected to testify in the April 2008 trial of Arthur “Bruce” Tesler, who has pleaded not guilty to violating his oath, false imprisonment of a confidential informant and making false statements.

Defense attorney John Garland describes J. R. Smith as a man who once viewed himself as “a war hero and a good-guy cop getting drugs off the street,” yet now has grasped the idea that he deserves to go to prison.

“The realization of what he did that day that led to the death of Kathryn Johnston, and the practices and procedures that led up to that, has really forced him to reanalyze who he is as a person,” Garland tells WSB. “He’s come out a totally different person. He’s a fragile human being. He’s suffered.”

The APD’s narcotics squad has since been revamped and restaffed, adding more checks and balances, structure and supervision as well as providing the officers with extensive outside training.

On the anniversary of her death, Johnston’s family filed suit against the city of Atlanta.

While its good to see that Kathryn Johnston’s killers will face justice, perhaps even more importantly, this case should shed some light on this phenomenon of late night “no-knock” raids and the ease at which warrants for these raids can be obtained. My fear is that far too many people are willing to give authority figures from the police all the way up to the president the benefit of the doubt instead of giving our public servants the scrutiny a free society requires. I believe this to be the case when a jury convicted Cory Maye for “murdering” Officer Ron Jones when Officer Jones and other narcotics officers kicked his door down in the dark of night nearly 6 years ago. The prosecution wanted the jury to give more weight to the testimony of the police officers than the testimony of the defendant. The jury dutifully complied.

The police always act in good faith when seeking a search warrant.

Informants are always reliable sources.

The police never lie under oath or make false statements in police reports.

The police never plant evidence.

The police would never violate an individual’s civil rights.

Judges always consider requests for search warrants carefully.

This is what we are supposed to believe. By now we should know better. Are we supposed to believe the Atlanta Police Department (or any police department for that matter) when they say they will have “more checks and balances, structure, and supervision” with “additional training” ?

Color my skeptical.

The only way we can expect change is to demand citizen oversight. Ronald Regan used to say “trust but verify” when dealing with the Soviet Union. As citizens, this should be our motto as well when dealing with our public servants.

This crime against Kathryn Johnston and her family in the prosecution of the war on (some) drugs should also be used to confront each and every one of the presidential candidates. What is their position on no-knock raids? What should happen to individuals who have been placed in a position of trust who cover up their crimes against citizens? As unbelievable as it may be for many of us how presidential candidates can cavalierly blow off individuals who use cannabis to relieve their pain, surely such an arrogant treatment towards victims of no-knock raids would not play as well in the general public?

Maybe they should also be asked the follow-up question: “Is the lives of innocent citizens worth continuing to pursue this losing war on (some) drugs?”

Authoritarians in both political parties want to dismiss us libertarians as crazy for demanding an end to the war on (some) drugs, that doing so would result in chaos.

Wait a minute…they call us crazy?

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  • http://thelibertypapers.org/ Brad Warbiany

    I’m glad that they’re getting their punishment. I’d love to see it go higher, though. These were the foot soldiers in the war on drugs, and as we’ve often seen, the behavior of these men is not limited to “a few bad apples”. As the friend of Smith says, he thought he was doing a great thing and being a “good cop” until he finally realized that he was responsible for destroying an old woman’s life through lies and deceit. Those lies and deceit go farther up the chain of command, I’m sure, and I’d like to see some of them get their just desserts.

    The truly sad thing about this is that it will do nothing to end the War on (some) Drugs. There is a wider lesson here, but the public doesn’t want to see it, the government is trying to hide it, and the media can’t sell any ads with reasoned discourse (they do better with perp walks).

  • http://www.two--four.net/weblog.php Billy Beck

    “Authoritarians in both political parties want to dismiss us libertarians as crazy for demanding an end to the war on (some) drugs, that doing so would result in chaos.”

    I see this rubbish all the time. I challenge it: “Look around you. We now have more law & order than ever before. How’s it working out for you?”

    They just blank-right-out.

    It’s an astonishingly durable delusion. I cannot imagine what it’s going to take to bring it into contact with reality.

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