A federal judge in Atlanta Tuesday sent three former Atlanta narcotics officers to prison for their roles in a misbegotten drug raid that ended in the death of a 92-year-old woman and shone a disturbing light on police practices in the Atlanta police drug squad. The victim, Kathryn Johnston, was killed when the three officers fired 39 rounds at her after she fired one shot at them as they were breaking down her door on a bogus drug raid.
US District Court Judge Julie Carnes sentenced former officer Arthur Tesler to five years in prison, Gregg Junnier to six years, and Jason Smith to 10 years. All three sentences were less than those called for by federal sentencing guidelines. Johnston was killed about 7 p.m. on November 21, 2006. Three hours earlier, Tesler arrested and roughed-up a small-time drug dealer named Fabian Sheats and threatened to send him to prison unless he gave up another drug dealer. Sheats eventually pointed out Johnston’s home, apparently at random, telling Tesler and his partners he saw a dealer named “Sam” with a kilo of cocaine there.
The three officers wanted to make a buy, but didn’t consider Sheats reliable, so they called an informant named Alex White to come make the buy. But White was unavailable, so the trio simply wrote a false affidavit saying they had watched White make a cocaine buy at Johnson’s home. Shortly before 6:00 p.m., they had their no-knock search warrant. An hour later, Johnston was dead after firing upon the intruders she apparently thought were robbers.
Then the cover-up kicked in, with the trio creating more false documents to hide the truth. But their cover-up fell apart when their informant, Alex White, grew frightened and went to the FBI.
In her sentencing statement, Judge Carnes criticized the Atlanta Police Department for its performance quotas for search warrants and arrests, saying the “pressures brought to bear did have an impact on these and other officers on the force.” If anything good came from Johnston’s death, it will be “a renewed effort by the Atlanta Police Department to prevent something like this from ever happening again,” Carnes said. “It is my fervent hope the APD will take to heart what has happened here,” the judge said.