Policy

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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?