ATLANTA - Two Atlanta Police Department (APD) officers pleaded guilty today to state and federal charges related to the fatal police shooting of Kathryn Johnston, a 92-year-old woman, in her Atlanta home during the execution of a search warrant in November 2006. A third officer was indicted yesterday by a Fulton County grand jury on charges related to the death of Ms. Johnston. The pleas and indictment are the result of a joint investigation conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, and overseen by the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia, and the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.
Officer Gregg Junnier, of Woodstock, Ga., and Officer 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.
The third officer, Arthur Tesler, of Acworth, Ga., was indicted on state charges of false statements, violation of oath of office by a public officer, and false imprisonment.
“Any act of police misconduct threatens to undermine public trust in the worthy goals of law enforcement,” said Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales. “The overwhelming majority of law enforcement officials – men and women of strong integrity who risk their lives to protect ours – perform their essential duties with dignity and professionalism. We cannot allow misconduct of this nature to undermine the good work of so many others. I commend the dedicated efforts of the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Civil Rights Division for working collaboratively with the District Attorney’s Office to prosecute these egregious wrongs, and the excellent investigative work done by the FBI, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and investigators of the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office.”
“The killing of Kathryn Johnston by Atlanta police officers was a horrible and unnecessary tragedy,” said David E. Nahmias. “While the police officers involved were attempting to rid the streets of drug dealers, their means toward that end violated their oath, the Constitution, and the civil rights of the citizens they are sworn to protect, and it was inevitable that one day someone would get seriously hurt. This conduct demands accountability. Beyond holding the officers responsible for their crimes, however, Ms. Johnston’s family has made clear that they want some good to come out of her death. We are committed to working with the FBI to find out just how wide the culture of misconduct that led to this tragedy extends within APD and to bring any other officers who have violated the law to justice.”
Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard called the shooting of Ms. Johnston, “one of the most horrific tragedies to occur in our community. Moreover, our investigation showed that many of the practices that led to her death were common occurrences in this unit of the Atlanta Police Department. Cooperation between federal, state, county and local authorities has resulted in an unprecedented and swift dispensation of justice. When this terrible crime occurred—and that’s what it was, a crime—we promised the Johnston family and our community that we would get to the bottom of this and let the chips fall where they may. These charges and sentences represent a fulfillment of that pledge. And we will continue to keep this commitment to all of our citizens.”
FBI Special Agent in Charge Gregory Jones said, “A few days following the police shooting and death of Kathryn Johnston, we promised to conduct a thorough and swift investigation. The conduct of these police officers is both troubling and deplorable. As law enforcement officers we take an oath to uphold the law and to protect the innocent. These officers chose to break the law and in doing so, they took the life of an innocent elderly woman. Although the Kathryn Johnston homicide is essentially solved, the FBI will continue to pursue additional allegations of corruption and violations of civil rights as we have learned through this investigation that other Atlanta Police officers may have engaged in similar misconduct.” Jones also commended Atlanta Police Chief Richard Pennington for “having the courage to refer this case outside of his department and for taking action to implement changes to police training and procedures as direct result of this investigation.”
Vernon Kennan, Director, Georgia Bureau of Investigation, said, “Investigations into police use of force are priority cases for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. The community deserves a full accounting of the actions of police that result in serious injury or death.”
According to the information presented in court today, 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 a “no knock” search warrant at the home of Kathryn Johnston, knowing that the warrant had been obtained on the basis of false information that Smith had presented to a magistrate judge to procure the warrant. 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 baggies 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.
Junnier and Smith have resigned their positions with the APD and Tesler is on paid administrative leave.
Assistant District Attorneys Sheila Ross, Shukura L. Ingram and Peter Johnson; Assistant U.S. Attorneys Yonette Buchanan and Jon-Peter Kelly; and Special Litigation Counsel Paige M. Fitzgerald, of the Civil Rights Division, are prosecuting the case.