More on the Tragic Raid

Well, the tragic raid that caused the death of a 92 (or 88?) year old woman gets more embarassing:

The confidential informant on whose word Atlanta police raided the house of an 88-year-old woman is now saying he never purchased drugs from her house and was told by police to lie and say he did.

Chief Richard Pennington, in a press conference Monday evening, said his department learned two days ago that the informant — who has been used reliably in the past by the narcotics unit — denied providing information to officers about a drug deal at 933 Neal Street in northwest Atlanta.

“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.”

The search warrant used by Atlanta police to raid the house says that a confidential informant had bought crack cocaine at the residence, using $50 in city funds, several hours before the raid.

In the document, officers said that the informant told them the house had surveillance cameras that the suspected drug dealer, called “Sam,” monitored.

Pennington on Monday evening said the informant told the Internal Affairs Unit hat he did not tell officers that the house had surveillance equipment, and that he was asked to lie.

The story of the raid doesn’t sound very reassuring either:

The police chief said officers found marijuana inside the house but “not a large quantity.” The officers were not wearing uniforms but had on bulletproof vests with “Police” emblazoned across the front and back. And they identified themselves as they burst through the doors, police said.

Johnston grabbed a rusty six-shot revolver and emptied it. Five shots struck the officers, hitting one of them three times. The other two were each hit once. The officers returned fire, shooting Johnston twice in the chest and elsewhere, police have said.

The three officers were released from the hospital the next day. They are on leave with pay.

Let’s see, non-uniformed officers announced themselves as they “burst through the door” of a 88 (or 92) year old woman. Something clearly went terribly wrong. Of course, we don’t know whether this informant is actually telling the truth (and I’m not sure why the age of the woman has changed), but, no matter what, this does not paint a very competent picture of the Atlanta Police Department. The FBI has been called in to investigate.

The AJC has a pdf of the warrant available also. I’m not used to looking at warrants, so maybe someone with a little more experience with them could comment on it.

[Quick Update]: It’s a little unfair of me not to mention that I think that Chief Pennington is doing a decent job of responding to this situation (apparently, he was out of down in the initial days after). He seems genuinely concerned about this incident and is taking appropriate measures to get to the bottom of it.

10 Comments so far

  1. Adam (unregistered) on November 28th, 2006 @ 8:36 am

    Interesting, so they did find drugs in the house.

  2. Jim V. (unregistered) on November 28th, 2006 @ 2:18 pm

    Ok Adam. I’ll bite. How is it “interesting” that the police found marijuana in the house?

  3. greg (unregistered) on November 28th, 2006 @ 2:32 pm

    Unfortuately the media, the beast that it is, will fail in giving fair coverage to this tragedy. The facts will be distorted. The lies will be broadcast without verification. The police, for all their failings, will come out the losers.
    Personally, I think they went to the wrong house. That said, how does a 92 old woman successful put 5 of 6 rounds (assuming that she had the old rusty revolver) into three police officers before either could fire a shot? Doesn’t appear that her vision was bad.

  4. Annie (unregistered) on November 28th, 2006 @ 3:05 pm

    I agree with Greg that the interesting part of this story is that Grandma got off six shots, five of which hit their mark, before these three supposedly well-trained professionals were able to take her down.

    Really, though, the tragedy of the whole thing is that she would still be here, and the cops would be healthy, if we weren’t waging a pointless war on drugs. I’ll spare the readers my thoughts on that, though, as I think it was discussed fully in recent posts. Suffice it to say that this is a lot of pain and suffering caused by a little bit of marijuana. Doesn’t really seem worth it to me.

  5. Madmen (unregistered) on November 28th, 2006 @ 5:34 pm

    Who cares about marijuana? And as far as crack, unless this is a “stash house” (i.e. where dealers store large caches of dope), executing a search warrant to “sieze” a few vials seems like a waste of time, money and manpower.

    Oh and, uh, don’t forget about life.

  6. Andisheh Nouraee (unregistered) on November 28th, 2006 @ 8:15 pm

    At this point, the interesting part of the story is the obvious police cover-up combined with the non-leadership of Mayor Franklin and Chief Pennington.

    From the night of the shooting until Sunday, the police told the public that an undercover officer bought drugs from the house. Sometime between Sunday night and Monday morning, “undercover officer” became “confidential informant”.

    I don’t think for a second that three police officers meant to have an old lady shoot at them before killing her, but it’s indisputable at this point that police have misinformed the events that led up to them going to Ms. Johnston’s front door.

    Compare what’s happened in Atlanta to the tragic police shooting of a groom leaving his bachelor party in NY on Saturday morning. In NY, the mayor was in front of cameras immediately telling the city that the police have no business shooting unarmed people 50 times.

  7. Daniel (unregistered) on November 29th, 2006 @ 11:22 am

    That is a good point – where has Mayor Franklin been during all of this?

  8. james (unregistered) on November 29th, 2006 @ 11:41 am

    actually the mayor and the chief were at a town hall meeting in vine city last night talking about the shooting ( the mayor and the chief both asked the residents to give time for the investigation to take place.

    i would bet, like many things, that the story on this will prove to be more complex that a soundbite or quick post will reveal. clearly something went tragically wrong here and there will be a lot of people looking at why that is, including the fbi.

    i believe it would be inappropriate for the mayor or any public official to be making speeches passing judgement on any facet of this situation until everything has been sorted through.

  9. Andisheh Nouraee (unregistered) on November 29th, 2006 @ 4:47 pm

    How is it inappropriate for the Mayor to express sadness (both about Johnston’s death, and the wounding of the three officers) while at the same time expressing that any encounter that leaves an old woman dead and three policeman wounded is, by definition, bad policing?

    A lot of the mindless anger (for example, the idiotic Black Panther placards on display at the rally last night) could have been short-circuited if Mayor Franklin and Chief Pennington simply spoke last week.

    Daniel — I don’t know where the Mayor has been. I don’t know where Pennington was either. Reporters need to press them on this, but they simply haven’t. On Sunday, Pennington said that he was “unable” to get a flight back to Atlanta (you know, it’s not like we have a big airport here or anything). He was out-of-town for Thanksgiving.

    I think that one of the reasons that Bloomberg’s response to Saturday morning’s shooting has been so different to Franklin’s is that the NY press corps would never tolerate a Franklin-like non-response.

    I’ve been blogging angrily about it at

  10. james (unregistered) on November 29th, 2006 @ 11:35 pm

    andisheh, i am not about to suggest that the mayor shouldn’t have said something. that is not what my comment was about at all.

    you specifically refernced bloomberg and paraphrased him as saying:

    “In NY, the mayor was in front of cameras immediately telling the city that the police have no business shooting unarmed people 50 times.”

    in what appeared to me to be a suggestion that franklin should have done the same. that is what i was commenting on.

    my comment was specifically directed at that. i believe it would be inappropriate for the mayor or any other official to passs judgement before the facts are in.

    yes, this is a tragedy. yes, it is horribly clear that something went very wrong here. and okay the mayor should acknowledge that, and finally did.

    but to suggest she should be out there passing judgement on what happened, as your paraphrase of bloomber does, would be, imho, misguided.

    thats all. and again it is just an opinon.

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