Three narcotics agents were trolling the streets near the Bluffs in northwest Atlanta, a known market for drugs, midday on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving.
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."
They needed someone to go inside, but Sheats would not do for their purposes because he was not a certified confidential informant.
So about 5:05 p.m. they reached out by telephone to Alex White to make an undercover buy for them. They had experience with White and he had proved to be a reliable snitch.
But White had no transportation and could not help.
Still, Smith, Junnier and the other officer, Arthur Tesler, according to the state's case, ran with the information. They fabricated all the right answers to persuade a magistrate to give them a no-knock search warrant.
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.
The officers handcuffed the mortally wounded woman and searched the house.
There was no Sam.
There were no drugs.
There were no cameras that the officers had claimed was the reason for the no-knock warrant.
Just Johnston, handcuffed and bleeding on her living room floor.
That is when the officers took it to another level. Three baggies of marijuana were retrieved from the trunk of the car and planted in Johnston's basement. The rest of the pot from the trunk was dropped down a sewage drain and disappeared.
The three began getting their stories straight.
The next day, one of them, allegedly Tesler, completed the required incident report in which he wrote that the officers went to the house because their informant had bought crack at the Neal Street address. And Smith turned in two bags of crack to support that claim.
They plotted how they would cover up the lie.
They tried to line up one of their regular informants, Alex White, the reliable snitch with the unreliable transportation.
The officers' story would be that they met with White at an abandoned carwash Nov. 21 and gave him $50 to make the buy from Neal Street.
To add credibility to their story, they actually paid White his usual $30 fee for information and explained to him how he was to say the scenario played out if asked. An unidentified store owner kicked in another $100 to entice White to go along with the play.
The three cops spoke several times, assuring each other of the story they would tell.
But Junnier was the first to break.
On Dec. 11, three weeks after the shooting, Junnier told the FBI it was all a lie.
Note: Junnier will face 10 years and one month and Smith 12 years and seven months. No sentencing date was immediately set, and the sentences are contingent on the men cooperating with the government. Arthur Tesler, also on administrative leave, was charged with violation of oath by a public officer, making false statements and false imprisonment under color of legal process. His attorney, William McKenney, said Tesler expects to go to trial.
3 Atlanta Police Officers
Charged in Drug Raid Death of 92-Year-Old Woman
2 Plead Guilty
Harry R. Weber, Associated Press
April 26, 2007
San Diego Union-Tribune
ATLANTA — Two police officers pleaded guilty Thursday to manslaughter in the shooting death of a 92-year-old woman during a botched drug raid last fall. A third officer still faces charges.
Officer J.R. Smith told a state judge Thursday that he regretted what had happened.
"I'm sorry," the 35-year-old said, his voice barely audible. He pleaded guilty to manslaughter, violation of oath, criminal solicitation, making false statements and perjury, which was based on claims in a warrant.
Former Officer Gregg Junnier, 40, who retired from the Atlanta police in January, pleaded guilty to manslaughter, violation of oath, criminal solicitation and making false statements. Both men are expected to face more than 10 years in prison.
In a hearing later in federal court, both pleaded guilty to a single charge of conspiracy to violate a person's civil rights, resulting in death. Their state and federal sentences would run concurrently.
The charges followed a Nov. 21 "no-knock" drug raid on the home of Kathryn Johnston, 92. An informant had described buying drugs from a dealer there, police said. When the officers burst in without warning, Johnston fired at them, and they fired back, killing her.
Fulton County prosecutor Peter Johnson said that the officers involved in Johnston's death fired 39 shots, striking her five or six times, including a fatal blow to the chest.
He said Johnston fired only once through her door and didn't hit any of the officers. That means the officers who were wounded likely were hit by their own colleagues, he said.
Junnier and Smith, who is on administrative leave, had been charged in an indictment unsealed earlier Thursday with felony murder, violation of oath by a public officer, criminal solicitation, burglary, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, and making false statements.
The third officer, Arthur Tesler, also on administrative leave, was charged with violation of oath by a public officer, making false statements and false imprisonment under color of legal process. His attorney, William McKenney, said Tesler expects to go to trial.
Tesler, 40, is "very relieved" not to face murder charges, McKenney said, "but we're concerned about the three charges."
Both men could have faced up to life in prison had they been convicted of murder. Instead, Junnier will face 10 years and one month and Smith 12 years and seven months. No sentencing date was immediately set, and the sentences are contingent on the men cooperating with the government.
The deadly drug raid had been set up after narcotics officers said an informant had claimed there was cocaine in the home.
When the plainclothes officers burst in without notice, police said, Johnston fired at them, and they fired back.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Yonette Sam-Buchanan said Thursday that although the officers found no drugs in Johnston's home, Smith planted three bags of marijuana in the home as part of a cover story.
The case raised serious questions about no-knock warrants and whether the officers followed proper procedures.
Atlanta Police Chief Richard Pennington asked the FBI to lead a multi-agency probe. He also announced policy changes to require the department to drug-test its nearly 1,800 officers and require top supervisors to sign off on narcotics operations and no-knock warrants.
To get the warrant, officers told a magistrate judge that an undercover informant had told them Johnston's home had surveillance cameras monitored carefully by a drug dealer named Sam.
After the shooting, a man claiming to be the informant told a television station that he had never purchased drugs there, leading Pennington to admit he was uncertain whether the suspected drug dealer actually existed.
The Rev. Markel Hutchins, a civil rights activist who serves as a spokesman for Johnston's family, said the family was satisfied with Thursday's developments.
"They have never sought vengeance. They have only sought justice," he said.
Hutchins said the family is considering civil action against the police department.
"I think what happened today makes it very clear that Ms. Johnston was violated, that her civil rights were violated," he said.
Associated Press writer Jason Bronis in Atlanta contributed to this report.