Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Crime: Atlanta cops jailed for killing of 92 year old woman

Three former Atlanta Police Department (APD) officers were sentenced to prison today by Chief U.S. District Judge Julie E. Carnes on a charge of conspiracy to violate civil rights resulting in death, arising from the fatal police shooting of Kathryn Johnston, a 92-year-old Atlanta woman. Johnston was fatally shot at her home during the execution of a search warrant obtained by the defendants based upon false information on Nov. 21, 2006. The announcement was made by Acting Assistant Attorney General Loretta King of the Civil Rights Division; U.S. Attorney David E. Nahmias for the Northern District of Georgia; and Gregory Jones, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI's Atlanta office.

Jason R. Smith, 36, of Oxford, Ga., was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison; Gregg Junnier, 42, of Woodstock, Ga., was sentenced to 6 years in federal prison; and Arthur Tesler, 42, of Acworth, Ga., was sentenced to 5 years in federal prison. There is no parole in the federal system. Each defendant was also sentenced to serve 3 years of supervised release following his prison term, and collectively to pay $8,180 in restitution for the costs of Johnston's funeral and burying.

"The Justice Department is committed to vigorously prosecuting law enforcement officers who willfully disregard the Constitution and abuse their authority to violate the rights of others," said Acting Assistance Attorney General Loretta King. "This sort of unlawful behavior, resulting in Ms. Johnston's tragic death, undermines the efforts of law enforcement officers who honorably perform their duties."

In a news conference after the sentencing hearings, U.S. Attorney David E. Nahmias said in part, "As Atlanta police narcotics officers, these three defendants repeatedly failed to follow proper procedures and then lied under oath to obtain search warrants. Their routine violations of the Fourth Amendment led to the death of an innocent citizen. The death of Kathryn Johnson in a police shooting was a terrible tragedy for a law-abiding elderly woman, her family and our entire community. But as her family and others hoped, from this tragedy have come two positive results. First, it has led the Atlanta Police Department to implement useful reforms in training and supervision and to entirely revamp its Narcotics Unit, reducing the possibility of a similar tragedy in the future. Second, the significant prison sentences imposed by the Court today should send a strong message to other law enforcement officers who may be tempted to lie under oath or otherwise violate the law. Officers who think, as these defendants once did, that the ends justify the means or that 'taking shortcuts' and telling lies will not be discovered and punished should realize that they are risking their careers and their liberty. And officers who try to obstruct justice when their misconduct faces exposure, rather than cooperating in the investigation, should realize that they will face even more severe punishment."

Gregory Jones, Special Agent in Charge, FBI Atlanta, said, "This is a sad day in the law enforcement community. Few crimes are as reprehensible as those committed by police officers who violate the very laws they have sworn to uphold. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Johnston family, and we hope today's sentencing helps bring closure to this tragedy. Further, we want the public to know the FBI will continue to pursue and bring to justice those who violate their oaths of office and the civil rights of others."

Junnier and Smith pleaded guilty to the federal charge, as well as to voluntary manslaughter and related state charges in Fulton County, Ga., Superior Court, on April 26, 2007. According to their plea agreements, they will be sentenced in state court on March 5, 2009, to the same sentence imposed in federal court, with the sentences to be served concurrently. Tesler initially declined to plead guilty and was indicted in state court on charges of violation of oath of office by a public officer, false imprisonment and false statements. In 2008, Tesler was convicted at trial in state court on the false statement charges, but that conviction was reversed on appeal. Following the state trial, federal authorities re-evaluated Tesler's case, conducted further investigation, and determined that federal prosecution of Tesler was appropriate. Tesler pleaded guilty to the federal charge on Oct. 30, 2008.

Junnier began cooperating truthfully with federal authorities shortly after the incident and provided valuable assistance in the investigation and prosecution of Smith and Tesler. Additionally, Junnier's cooperation led to guilty pleas by two additional APD officers to federal charges, including the sergeant who commanded the narcotics team involved in the shooting. Smith cooperated to a more limited extent. Both former officers provided information relevant to a broader FBI investigation of misconduct by APD narcotics and other officers, which culminated in a report provided by the FBI to APD Chief Richard Pennington in October 2008 for consideration of potential administrative discipline against other APD officers. As a result of their cooperation, the court reduced Junnier's sentence by 40 percent and Smith's sentence by 20 percent. Tesler did not provide substantial assistance in the investigation and received no sentence reduction on that ground, although his sentence was reduced based on his lesser role in the conspiracy.

The facts and other details regarding the case are set forth in the Government's sentencing memorandum.

This case was investigated by the FBI. The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jon-Peter Kelly, U.S. Attorney David E. Nahmias and Special Litigation Counsel Paige M. Fitzgerald of the Civil Rights Division.

Source: U.S. Department of Justice
Published by Mike Hitchen, Mike Hitchen Consulting
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