Turn on Fan. Cue Shit.

The latest from Atlanta:

The confidential informant on whose word Atlanta police raided the house of an 88-year-old woman is now saying he never purchased drugs from her house and was told by police to lie and say he did.

Chief Richard Pennington, in a press conference Monday evening, said his department learned two days ago that the informant — who has been used reliably in the past by the narcotics unit -- denied providing information to officers about a drug deal at 933 Neal Street in northwest Atlanta.

"The informant said he had no knowledge of going into that house and purchasing drugs," Pennington said. "We don't know if he's telling the truth."

The search warrant used by Atlanta police to raid the house says that a confidential informant had bought crack cocaine at the residence, using $50 in city funds, several hours before the raid.

In the document, officers said that the informant told them the house had surveillance cameras that the suspected drug dealer, called "Sam," monitored.

Pennington on Monday evening said the informant told the Internal Affairs Unit hat he did not tell officers that the house had surveillance equipment, and that he was asked to lie.

Not sure why her age changed.  But that's sorta' beside the point.

Atlanta police are pretty much screwed at this point.  They have no good options.

Attack the informant's credibility and you admit that you conducted a high-risk, forced-entry raid based entirely on a tip from an informant you now say is unreliable.  You admit you did no corroborating investigation.  You admit you didn't even send an officer to check to see if the informant was right about, for example, an external surveillance system.  And all of this ineptitude led to the death of an innocent woman, not to mention to three officers getting wounded.

And if the guy's telling the truth?  Well, now you're talking about a major-league shit storm.   If this guy's telling the truth, not only did the officers originally investigating this case lie on the warrant, but the officers investigating after the shooting then lied again to cover it up.  That means you not only have corruption problems with your narcotics officers, but you have problems with your internal affairs unit, the cops who are charged with investigating the abuses of other police officers.

At risk of sounding like an arrogant bastard, every assumption I made about this case at the outset has proven correct.  And then some.  But I didn't predict there would be problems with the informant, that Johnston would be unconnected to the drug trade, and that the police would cover up their mistakes because I harbor particular resentment for the police, or because I have some sort of prognosticating superpower.  I predicted these things because they fit the same pattern I've observed over and over in researching hundreds of these raids gone wrong.  The pattern extends from the short cuts in the investigation to the post-raid ass-covering, to the bunkering down and lack of transparency, to the tendency of police officers to look after their own, even when fellow officers' mistakes led to the death of an innocent person. 

I do think Atlanta Police Chief Richard Pennington deserves some praise here.  He seems to be genuinely concerned, and is working to clean up the mess his subordinates created in his absence (he was out of town in the days immediately following the raid).  That may be because unlike many of the officers working under him, he faces some genuine accountability for the way he does his job.  Unfortunately, there's a heaping pile of mess to scrub away.

By conservative estimates, there are about 110 of these types of raids per day in America.  The vast majority are for drug crimes.  I find it hard to believe that the only time time these shortcuts have been used are, coincidentally, in those raids we read about over and over in the newspaper.

And all of this to stop people from getting high.

MORE:  Pennington has also suspended seven narcotics officers, and asked the FBI to investigate.

MORE II:  Here's a copy of the search warrant and affidavit.

MORE III:  From the Atlanta Journal Constitution:

The informant, who said he worked with Atlanta police for four years, also told WAGA-TV that he hadn't been to 933 Neal Street. His identity hidden, he told the TV station that one of the drug officers called him soon after the shooting with instructions.

Quoting the police officers, the informant told Fox 5 News: " 'This is what you need to do. You need to cover our (rear). ... It's all on you man. ... You need to tell them about this Sam dude.'"

Pennington said investigators were trying to determine the truth. "I don't know if he went in or not," he said.

Many questions and conflicting accounts have surfaced since police shot the woman, described by neighbors as feeble and afraid to open her door after dark. At first police said that the drug buy was made by undercover police, but later they said the purchase was made by an informant. Early on, police said narcotics were found at the house after the shooting, but on Sunday investigators said they had found only a small amount of marijuana, which police don't consider narcotics.

Also, even though the affidavit said that the house was outfitted with surveillance cameras, Pennington said the informant had told internal affairs investigators that police officers had asked him to lie about the cameras. Pennington could not confirm whether the cameras existed.

From the beginning, it has been unclear why police targeted the house on Neal Street, and the affidavit and warrant documents shed little light. The documents do not suggest that police had been keeping the house under surveillance and provide no rationale for entering it other than the informant's alleged buy earlier in the afternoon.

The raid did not produce the cocaine, money, computers and other equipment related to the drug business alleged in the affidavit. The documents listed the only resident as Sam, who was described as at least 6 feet tall and 250 to 260 pounds. Johnston's family said she lived alone.

Court officials initially refused to release the affidavits and search warrant even though state law makes such records available immediately. The documents were made public Monday, nearly a week after the incident.

If the informant is telling the truth, here, everything in the warrant was fabricated.  If that's the case, you have to wonder:  Is this a common occurrence at APD?  If so, how many people are in jail because of bad warrants?  If not, what was it about that house that made police so anxious to get inside?

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  • ||

    "not only did the officers originally investigating this case lie on the warrant, but the officers investigating after the shooting then lied again to cover it up. "

    Did anyone ever tell these guys that when you're stuck in a hole, you should stop digging?

  • ||

    Amen.

    Say it, brother!

    Yes, you are correct. You are correct on the small questions, you are correct on the medium-sized questions, and you are correct on the big questions.

    Keep it up.

  • ||

    At risk of sounding like an arrogant bastard, every assumption I made about this case at the outset has proven correct.

    I doubt anyone here is going to call you that, at least RE: this case, probably because we all probably thought the exact same thing.

    Any pejorative we could hurl at you could never come close to the ones deserved by the Atlanta police department (well, most PDs, for that matter).

    But I didn't predict there would be problems with the informant, that Johnston would be unconnected to the drug rade, and that the police would cover up their mistakes because I harbor particular resentment for the police... I predicted these things because they fit the same pattern I've observed over and over in researching hundreds of these raids gone wrong... By conservative estimates, there are about 110 of these types of raids per day in America.

    Not sure how you can make the latter two statements and say the first one with a straight face. So I'll say it: Given that the police conduct thousands of these raids a month, the vast majority for non-violent crime, frequently kill/shoot innocent people/family pets and then have the nerve to try and lie about it... every time... I harbor particular resentment for the police.

    I'm not saying every cop is bad or dishonest, and I'm not trying to exonerate the politicians and members of the general population who give these departments the authority to conduct these raids, but c'mon, just say it with me. Fuck the police.

  • ||

    So, when do you expect the apology from Patterico?

  • ||

    Chief Pennington does NOT deserve any praise here. He might not have been in on this one but this is not the only mess. Any bets on accountability? I'm guessing a couple days of vacation for a few of the new guys; Penningtion will swear regret and reform and that'll be the last of it. In a few months they'll kill another old lady and, once again, say "oops."

  • ||

    Andy - Balko didn't say he didn't harbor a resentment toward the police; he just said that he didn't base his predictions on them!

    FUCK THE POLICE

    And a little OT but not too far - FUCK the NYPD for shooting that 23 year old groom 50+ times the other day.

  • ||

    In other cop news:

    http://starbulletin.com/2006/11/27/news/story01.html

    "Honolulu motorcycle police officer Steve Favela died yesterday, five days after he was critically injured while escorting President Bush's motorcade.

    "An investigation into Tuesday's accident is ongoing. In the five days he was hospitalized, Favela, who joined the motorcycle force two years ago, remained in critical condition with a broken pelvis, a severed artery in his right leg and multiple internal injuries. But there was some renewed hope on Friday when his condition improved slightly following the amputation of one of his legs."

    Those are not the sort of injuries one would expect if you laid 'er down on a wet road at "motorcade" speed. Either those guys were really hauling ass, or he was run over by an armored Suburban.

    I read about murderous asshole cops in Atlanta and New York, and I find it uncomfortably easy to be unsympathetic toward Officer Favela and his wife and kids.

  • ||

    Federal Probe time.

    http://www.cnn.com/2006/US/11/27/atlanta.shooting/index.html?eref=rss_topstories

    Federal authorities will investigate last week's police involved shooting death of an elderly woman in Atlanta, the city's police chief announced Monday.

    (snip)

    And a Justice Department official in Washington confirmed the Civil Rights Division's interest in the case.

    "We have begun a review of the matter, and are collecting information," spokesperson Cynthia Magnuson said. "The FBI has already begun its investigation and we are coordinating with other agencies."

    Hutchins said he urged Justice Department officials to pressure local police departments to stop using "no knock" search warrants.

  • ||

    What do you want to bet that they actually didn't find a small amount of pot in her house, too?

  • Stephen Macklin||

    I don't have a lot of faith that anyone, or at least the right people, will be held accountable.

    To the extent that the first guys through the door were a tactical team given orders to conduct a raid at a given address, I cannot blame them for returning fire. Based on their understanding of the situation they were under fire from drug dealers.

    To the extent that they or the people who ordered the raid knew they were going in on inadequate and false information, they should be hung out to dry.

    Or perhaps just hung.

  • Billy Beck||

    Sweet Jesus.

    If this doesn't go to murder charges, then...

    I don't know, man. I don't know.

  • ||

    the cops say the informant cant be trusted when he says the cops are lying but the informant can be trusted when he says you have dope. basically, just trust the police like alito says....they'll tell you what they found in the remains of your home and congress will tell the judges how long to put you in jail. justice.

    mike

  • Bazil||

    Way to go, awesome reporting, please don't let them sweep the dirt under the rug.

  • ||

    Having seen the Presidential motorcade scream by many times while staggering around outside Old Ebbetts, I can tell you that they almost always have the pedal to the metal. I never cease to be amazed by the cornering ability of the DC cops on their big Harleys.

  • ||

    Federal Probe time.

    Not happening. Why? If you good people only knew how much anti-constitutional legislation was behind the average law enforcement day, you'd be nauseated. All you need is a judge and a cop and somebody's gonna get hurt. Legally.

    Don't think for a second that police are more than the very tip of that iceberg. Every primary constitutional right you thought you had has at some legal point and by some law been written out of existence by the entirely lawful (not legal) expression of force reserved by your local, state, and federal authorities.

    Look a TON deeper. Back up and read mike's comment. And as libertarians, then ask yourself why you're not down at your legislature watching special interest or even the judiciary itself writing any damn thing they please.

    The closest thing you have to justice is that little sidebar staff diligently checking the mountains of new social legislation for "constitutional acceptability", while Mr. Legislator is at lunch, selling out to his next highest reelection bidder.

  • tellthetruth||

  • ||

    Fish,
    He sort of has, though not on the informant stuff.

  • ||

    Tellthetruth,

    What is that link you sent. It just looks like a right-wing radio talk show. I couldn't find anything about the story.

  • Matt||

    Here's something I'm curious about:

    How many of these tactical units are (more or less) directly funded by federal homeland security grants?

  • ||

    This is good news for now.

    So, have we finally put to rest the myth that a 92-year-old grandmother was lying in wait to ambush the brave guardians of the law who were sent to break up her drug empire?

    Or, at least, that's the way the story was coming down over at Patterico.

  • brian423||

    andy:
    I'm not saying every cop is bad or dishonest, and I'm not trying to exonerate the politicians and members of the general population who give these departments the authority to conduct these raids, but c'mon, just say it with me. Fuck the police.

    As I've said before, if some doctors are quacks and some lawyers are shysters, then some cops are indeed pigs.

  • ||

    How many of these tactical units are (more or less) directly funded by federal homeland security grants?

    This crap goes way back before DHS.

    For years now local police and Sheriff's departments have been able to get all kinds off military hardware from M-16s to Armored Personel Carriers and helicopters. In many cases the training in using them has not followed.

  • ||

    Matt, they're actually funded by and large by the "Byrne Justice Assistance Grant" program of the DOJ, and Grits for Breakfast says they were instrumental in the 1999 mass incarceration of innocent blacks on the word of a lying, previously unreliable, racist informant in Tulia, Texas. So, pre-"homeland security" to be sure.

    That said, I wouldn't doubt for a minute that "homeland security" bucks are being spent to outfit these thugs with the latest cop toys, not to mention paying informants to give them information to keep them occupied and smashing down doors. Gotta justify their own existence, of course, and a little collateral damage is only natural, see.

  • ||

    In many cases the training in using them has not followed.

    They seem to know how to use them just fine. It's the whole "when to use them" that they need work on.

  • Thomas Paine\'s Goiter||

    They seem to know how to use them just fine.

    Except for those pesky "accidental" shootings.

  • David Nieporent||

    Has anybody noticed the pathetic excuse for why they needed a no-knock warrant?

    Regardless of how much the cops lied, there's someone else who deserves to be on the hook here: the magistrate who issued the warrant, particularly signing off on the no-knock part with such a flimsy justification.

  • David M.||

    Pennington's had worse to deal with, with two of his former officers, Len Davis and Antoinette Frank, on death row.

  • ||

    Wasn't there a no-knock warrant bill after 9/11?

  • ||

    Omar:

    I think 'tellthetruth" is just a sock puppet spamming for said bible-beating, right-wing radio squawk show.

  • ||

    This is the front page story on CNN.com.

    Nice to see the national attention.

  • ||

    The real question here is why does Radley Balko hate America?

  • ||

    Sean

    Nice attempt at a troll--Now go back to fark.com.

  • ||

    So what's the word, did the find dope in the house or not?

    I really, really hope they found at least a small quantity. The sort of quantity an officer might keep in his or her pocket should their little commando team ever need to *find* some.

    Best case scenario as far as I'm concerend: Overturned convictions of previous cases involving whoever the investigating officer is. Maybe then people will start to take notice of their police department's extra constitutional activities.

  • ||

    Sounds like "The Wire"

  • ||

    Petunia Picklehead,

    Mouse over Sean's nick.

  • ||

    It's time for NORML or somebody to get on the stick and start a serious crusade to put an end to this kind of stupidity. End the War On (some) Drugs, legalize 'em and tax 'em and leave the stupid dopers alone! Put the damn cops to work stopping REAL crimes like theft, rape and murder, instead of blowing away little old ladies in their homes.

  • Libby Spencer||

    Clyde, there's a raft of NGOs besides NORML, including Marijuana Policy Project, Drug Policy Alliance, DRCNet, Media Awareness Project, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and dozens of drug policy reform bloggers, including myself who have been working for years to end the WOsD.

    What needs to happen is for the citizens to start hounding their legislators to legalize and regulate the industry. It's the only sensible answer. So after you leave your comments here, write to your Senators and Congressmen and tell them to stop the madness. When the enforcement of the law so clearly causes more harm than the breaking of the law -- it's time to change the laws.

  • ||

    I am shocked, yes shocked, by allegations that police would lie about the specifics of a drug raid gone wrong. This must be some aberration caused by sunspots or perhaps a libertarian conspiracy to foster distrust of our noble law enforcement officers.

    Either that, or there are alot of corrupt cops in the WoD. Hmmm, I'll have to think about that.

    I never thought I'd get to this point but, FUCK THE POLICE

  • ||

    I know this is gloating. A post from last week.

    J sub D | November 22, 2006, 9:34am | #

    I have some questions. Did the police talk to the neighbors about the house and residents?
    Did the police do surveillance on the house and residents. Did the police do a GODDAM THING to corraborate the evidence (that led to the warrant)? Was there more than one piece of "evidence" relating to the warrant? Did the judge who signed the warrant ask ANY FUCKING QUESTIONS before signing it. Finally I have to ask this because of the numbers in the WOD. Was she a white person?

    Does anyone. ANYONE, want to wager that the answer to one of these question is YES.


    Unfortunately, nobody bet me on any of those questions.

  • ||

    What was the value of the house or property it was located on.Remember the rich dude in California that was killed in a no knock on charges he was growing pot?Where all the agencies lied to get the warrant,just so they could consficate his property to resell and divy up the proceeds?

  • ||

    Loudon Prowd,

    A 92-year-old black woman living alone in a not-so-good area of town? Her place probably wasn't worth too much. I'm starting to think that the SWAT team was applying Russ R's reasoning that they needed some real-life training, not simulated, and just picked some random house with bars on it for the hell of it.

    J sub D,

    No one took your bet because it just isn't worth it to bet a penny. I would want at least 1000 to 1 odds before I would bet anything (if you win, you get $1.00, if I win, I get $1,000.00). I totally understand if you don't want to take the bet under those circumstances.

  • ||

    No one took your bet because it just isn't worth it to bet a penny. I would want at least 1000 to 1 odds before I would bet anything (if you win, you get $1.00, if I win, I get $1,000.00). I totally understand if you don't want to take the bet under those circumstances.
    So true. But in hindsight, I still would have won your dollar.

  • ||

    Did you guys see the add on this site with the chick in the santa outfit and the nice rack?? That made my day--put me in the X-mas spirit.

    Now, what are we talking about today? Who shot who in the what now?!?

  • ||

    Libby Spencer,

    It's strange. When I get outraged about things like this, I am so much more excited to go straight to NORML and their types and throw cash and praise on them than I would ever be to write Saxby Chambliss a letter asking for change. I guess I can chalk that up to my belief in the private sector and my lack of faith in elected folk. Time to change my attitude I guess and start writing letters.

  • ||

    What do you want to bet that they actually didn't find a small amount of pot in her house, too?

    "Gimme $500 on the Bandit!"

  • Libby Spencer||

    Omar, it's good to support NORML and all the other fine NGOs out there. They're doing tremendous work in lobbying and bringing forward citizen's initiatives but it's even more important to hound your legislators. In the end the police were enforcing the laws.

    I don't have much faith in legislators either and chances are all you'll get back is a form letter in response, but if enough people contacted them, they would listen. The trouble right now is that legalization is seen as a drug users issue. We need to make it into a wider social issue.

    Alcohol prohibition didn't end until the citizens demanded change. Drug prohibition won't end until we do the same.

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