WASHINGTON – The Justice Department announced today that former Atlanta Police Department (APD) Officer Arthur Bruce Tesler pleaded guilty in federal district court to conspiring to violate the civil rights of Kathryn Johnston, 92, in connection with her fatal shooting during the execution of an illegal search warrant at her Atlanta home on Nov. 21, 2006.
Tesler, of Ackworth, Ga., joins two other former APD officers who pleaded guilty last year to state and federal charges in the case. Gregg Junnier, of Woodstock, Ga., and Jason R. Smith, of Oxford, Ga., pleaded guilty in state court to voluntary manslaughter, violation of oath by a public officer, criminal solicitation and false statements, and in federal court to a civil rights conspiracy violation that resulted in the death of Ms. Johnston. Smith also pleaded guilty in state court to one count of perjury. Junnier and Smith also agreed to cooperate in a broader investigation of APD officer misconduct, which has since been completed.
"When law enforcement officers do not live up to the high ideals they typically uphold, we will not hesitate to take action," said Grace Chung Becker, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. "The Department of Justice will continue to vigorously prosecute those who cross the line and commit such violent criminal acts."
According to the information presented in court, Junnier and Smith, on several occasions while working as APD narcotics officers, made false statements in sworn affidavits to state magistrate judges in order to obtain "no knock" search warrants for residences and other locations where the officers believed illegal drugs would be found.
On the afternoon of Nov. 21, 2006, Smith, Junnier and Tesler executed such a warrant at Johnston’s home, knowing that the warrant had been obtained on the basis of false information that Smith had presented to a magistrate judge. The victim, who was the only occupant of the house, fired through the door a single .38 caliber shot, which hit no one. Junnier, Smith and four other officers returned fire, hitting the victim with five or six shots, one of which was fatal.
Officers searched the home after the shooting, but found no drugs. Smith then planted in the basement of the house three bags of marijuana that the officers had seized elsewhere earlier that day. Tesler then filed a false APD incident report stating that a purchase of crack had been made at Johnston’s home earlier that day and Smith submitted two bags containing crack that falsely indicated the drugs were bought by an informant at 933 Neal Street, the home of the victim. The defendants also met to fabricate a story, which they later recounted to APD homicide investigators, falsely justifying the events leading to the shooting of Kathryn Johnston.
Under Tesler’s plea agreement, the parties agreed that the appropriate sentence under the advisory federal sentencing guidelines is 121 months. The federal sentence will run concurrently with Tesler’s 54 month state sentence arising from the same criminal conduct. Junnier also faces a guidelines sentence of 121 months, and Smith faces a guidelines sentence of 151 months; those two defendants may, however, receive reductions based on their cooperation with the Government’s investigation.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jon-Peter Kelly, U.S. Attorney David E. Nahmias, and Department of Justice Civil Rights Division Special Litigation Counsel Paige M. Fitzgerald are prosecuting the case.