Drug Policy

Atlanta Police Nearly Killed 80-Year Old Woman—Two Months Before Kathryn Johnston

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From today's Atlanta Journal:

Two months and a day before Kathryn Johnston, there was Frances Thompson.

The 80-year-old Thompson was in her bedroom the afternoon of Sept. 20, when she heard a terrible crash and shouting. Startled and confused, she grabbed a pistol and was immediately confronted by three Atlanta narcotics officers.

"They had masks covering their face. I thought I was being robbed," she recalled. "They pointed those big guns at me."

Lead officer Gary Smith said repeatedly "Police! Drop the Gun!" from behind his raid shield, according to a police report. Thompson, who had pointed the gun at the intruders, put down the black revolver as officers searched her apartment for a drug dealer named "Hollywood."

No one else was home. No drugs were found. And her pistol was a toy cap gun.

[…]

The two incidents share striking similarities: Two elderly women living alone with guns; police battering in a door; faulty reports from street-level dealers helping narcotics officers; and police parsing the truth, if not outright lying.

They also lived a little more than a mile apart. And let's not forget, in March 2005 narcotics agents conducted yet another raid on the house next door to Johnston's, which again turned up nothing. You have to wonder, at what point should Atlanta's judges start to question these officers' competence? More support for my recommendation that every large police department in the country keep a searchable database of every warrant applied for, issued, and executed. Mistakes need to be documented. And if the same judges continue to issue warrants to bad cops, they need to be held accountable, too. Ditto for prosecutors. Three wrong-door raids in the same neighborhood within the same 18-month period?

And of course, we now know of those other two raids only because of Kathryn Johnston's death. How many other wrong-door raids haven't we heard about? It's pretty clear now that the police were treating these neighborhoods like a war zone, with no consideration whatsoever for these peoples' civil rights.

More:

The team did not have a no-knock warrant as they did in the Johnston case. But narcotics agents are allowed to quickly batter in a door if they hear the residents scurrying around, presumably hiding drugs, or if they hear nothing. The team that day heard nothing, the police report said.

Emphasis mine. So if they hear something, they can break down the door. And if they don't hear something, they can break down the door. Meaning—as I've been arguing for some time—there's really no difference at all between a "no-knock" warrant and a "knock-and-announce" warrant, at least when it comes to giving the people inside a chance to avoid the show of violence. The problem lies with the license the warrant gives the police to make a destructive, volatile entry into a private home.

The prior raid seems to have been based on a wholly manufactured warrant as well. The affidavit states that an informant went into this old woman's home, and came out with a bag of cocaine. More evidence that this sickness permeates the entire Atlanta narcotics police unit, and isn't the work of a few rogue officers. More:

She never made a fuss about the incident.

"I thought it was all over with," she said. "I didn't know what to do. There's no one but just me. I thought I was just supposed to get over it."

Which is what I've found a lot of low-income, powerless people (or for that matter, even wealthier, more privileged people) tend to think. They're terrified and embarrassed. And so they never report what happened. They never go to the media. And they're certainly not going to call the police. Which suggests that awful as this map is, the real picture is likely quite a bit worse.

And as if this story couldn't get any sadder:

But what about the people who were mentioned in the affidavit — those supposedly going in and out of the apartment to buy drugs?

The police report answered that question: "We were advised that Ms. Thompson's son had just passed away and that there have been people and church members in and out of her apartment."

By the way, here's a news blurb from Idaho today:

The Sandpoint Police Department on a drug raid broke into the wrong northern Idaho home on Wednesday.

Police had their search warrant amended and returned to the Ponderay Mobile Home Park to raid the right trailer two doors away.

Police say they found illegal drugs on the second attempt and took a suspect into custody.

Police then made a third trip to pay $350 to replace the door on the home they raided by mistake.

Sandpoint Police Chief Mark Lockwood says "It was our mistake. We told the owner we will take care of any damages."

Sandpoint attorney Bryce W. Powell says he has a hard time believing that police exercised reasonable care before violating the homeowner's rights.

But at least no one in Atlanta or Idaho is getting high.

NEXT: Start Handicapping His Chances Now

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  1. This is madness

  2. You know why it takes so long for an old lady in Atlanta to go to the bathroom?

    Because she has to flush all the drugs down the toilet first.

  3. The failure of the War on Drugs has been blatantly obvious to libertarians for oh, over 15 years now. In that time, has there been any change whatsoever in public opinion? Is this a meme that will eventually, someday, go somewhere?

  4. The failure of the War on Drugs has been blatantly obvious to libertarians for oh, over 15 years now.

    I’m starting to wonder if there might be a connection between things that libertarians find blatantly obvious and policies that either don’t change a bit or get progressively worse.

  5. Sandpoint Police Chief Mark Lockwood says “It was our mistake. We told the owner we will take care of any damages.”

    I’m surprised. Don’t they usually leave it up to the homeowner? After all, they can’t be sued.

  6. Holy fucking shit.

    I’m starting to wonder if there might be a connection between things that libertarians find blatantly obvious and policies that either don’t change a bit or get progressively worse.

    What?

  7. Warrants? Property? What’re they?

    Somewhat related video (insofar as it shows police incompetence when it comes to warrants):

    http://www.pandachute.com/videos/health_inspector_trespassing

  8. I checked out Arizona and one of the raids listed was the great pot grower bust on Jerome AZ back in 1985. Most of the main suspects pursued in that raid were my relatives, one of them hid under a pile of blankets while the cops did their Rambo act. He then fled down the hill on foot (and was ultimately caught some months later). The reason for the ham handed tactics was this: the DEA had been flying helicopters out of Flagstaff AZ looking for dope growers and one day when they returned they found bullet holes in the helicopter and flipped out. The local police chief was a good guy (not corrupt or on the take, but not looking to lock people up for dope if he didn’t have to). They went after him big time. The whole local cop shop was replaced.
    The idiot with the gun was well known locally as a plant torturer and a moron. He topped plants mersiliously

  9. whoops hit post when I didn’t mean to. Anyway the idiot also had a prominent role in a Werner Hertzog movie and probably knows how to spell merciless. As in Ming the…
    Ever see Aguiere Wrath Of God?

  10. But narcotics agents are allowed to quickly batter in a door if they hear the residents scurrying around, presumably hiding drugs, or if they hear nothing. The team that day heard nothing, the police report said.

    If you think about that for a second, wouldn’t that mean that they’d be able to knock down the door in every conceivable scenario? They can batter in a door if they hear you, and they can better it in if they can’t hear you. Am I getting this right?

  11. How does a judge even know there’s really an informant?

    He’s just supposed to (or willing to, anyhow) take a cop’s word for it?

    Betcha dimes to dollars that some cops took to making up fake buys and pocketing the proceeds (buy money, pay off money for the phony snitch, not to mention whatever the cops get paid for conducting a raid…with the added bonus of the raid being on a victim selected for the safety of the state sanctioned home invaders)

    cops and criminals are cut from the same cloth

    the cops are color coded for your convenience

  12. I hate to say this, but I think it is going to take some “meat going through the grinder” to get this issue sufficiently front-and-center for the public (or their remaining non-corrupt representatives) to demand action.

    I mean, come on, I think we can all get behind the need to not have geriatrics riddled with bullets.

    It’s just going to take a freak show to get us to the point where we realize that.

  13. bob mologna,

    “The idiot with the gun was well known locally as a plant torturer and a moron. He topped plants mersiliously”

    Marijuana plants, much like gamefowl, are PROPERTY. They do not have RIGHTS.

  14. Keep ’em coming, Radley. You are doing a great public service.

    So what is next for those cops who murdered Kathryn Johnston? They pleaded guilty and now they’ll just be sentenced, right? I am really glad that they admitted what they did, but as far as publicizing the case more, a sentencing hearing lacks the spectacle of a trial. There need to be people at the hearing protesting the APD — but also trying to get the message across that this type of police corruption and brutality is a national issue that is related to the drug war.

    I know it sounds really lame, but if I could afford the trip to Atlanta, I’d want to be there.

  15. Make that “corruption, brutality, and criminality.”

  16. In a completely unrelated note, why is 3/4 of Hit and Run struckthrough? Did someone leave a tag open or something?

  17. Three wrong-door raids in the same neighborhood within the same 18-month period?

    So maybe a three-strikes-and-you’re-out kinda rule might be in order?

  18. I live in Idaho and can assure you that plenty of us get high all the time. 🙂

    That said, I’ve a suspicion they’re just conducting random raids and hoping they get lucky at this point.

  19. This is so horrifying, and most middle class white folk just have no clue how bad it is. Stop the drugs at any cost. Argh.

  20. UFB. Keep it up. People need to know the harm that’s being done in the name of WoD.

    And I’ll bet that Radley’s right about the “Botched Paramilitary Police Raids” Google Map – how many other such incidents have gone unreported? If no one was killed, no shots were fired…

  21. Atlanta is a horror show.

    In Idaho at least they’re replacing doors.

  22. Where’s Al Sharpton when you need him? This is one case where a little rioting wouldn’t bother me a bit. Without the looting, of course.

  23. Somewhat relatedly, my father-in-law was visiting us last night, and we ended up watching network cops-and-robbers shows. Not something I normally watch. Anyway, I was struck by how pro-cops and pro-prosecutors the three shows we watched were. The cops and especially the prosecutors were disgustingly smug and self-righteous, and yet it was obvious that they were the ones the audience was expected to sympathize with.

    Whatever happened to The Practice? Was it a casualty of 9/11?

    I’m going to need to watch some Rumpole of the Bailey tonight to re-balance my humors.

  24. I keep trying to convince my parents of how this government is turning this country into a police state. This is another example of police overstepping the law.

    I encourage you all to watch “Never Get Busted” by Gary Cooper. It’s anti drug war and he talks about how all of his partners were racists and how everyone were addicted to adrenaline.

    And I should provide a link to what I am talkin g about:

    http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-7591132612473019047&hl=en

  25. Somewhat relatedly, my father-in-law was visiting us last night, and we ended up watching network cops-and-robbers shows. Not something I normally watch. Anyway, I was struck by how pro-cops and pro-prosecutors the three shows we watched were. The cops and especially the prosecutors were disgustingly smug and self-righteous, and yet it was obvious that they were the ones the audience was expected to sympathize with.

    In the criminal justice system, the people are represented by two separate yet equally important groups: the police, who investigate crime; and the district attorneys, who prosecute the offenders. These are their stories.

  26. “Whatever happened to The Practice? Was it a casualty of 9/11?”

    It became Boston Legal, which not particularly cop friendly and pretty damn funny sometimes.

    You are right about the cops and robbers shows. Law and Order is a terrible offender. The Sam Waterson character is the classic smug nasty prosecutor. I will say this in Law and Order’s defense, it reflects a certain level of reality. There are a lot of Sam Watersons out there. Don’t forget, Nancy Grace didn’t slither out of some corporate TV host factory. She was an assistant DA in Atlanta. From what I am told by the people who pacticed against her, her on screen persona is not an act. She really is that gross and sleazy.

  27. So, jp, does that mean that your wife is She Who Must Be Obeyed?

    And thank you, again and again, Radley, for beating the drum on this.

  28. Is S.W.A.T the 21st century version of fire hoses and german shephards. Are these the same folks what let the dude run from court killin folks with a deputie’s weapon?

    Mr.Moose, the lake in sandpoint is particularly pretty this time of year. ?

  29. “””Where’s Al Sharpton when you need him? This is one case where a little rioting wouldn’t bother me a bit. Without the looting, of course.””””

    He’s moved into bullying the media since he won in the Imus affair

  30. “The failure of the War on Drugs has been blatantly obvious to libertarians for oh, over 15 years now.”

    A lot of people will admit its a failure privately, but won’t admit it publicly for fear of being ostracized. Sort of like if you ask someone about Communism in the Soviet Union circa 1982.

    The Republicans won’t end the drug war because it goes against their ideology, the Democrats won’t end it because it would play into their image as “soft on crime”.

    If any politician in Congress, or any President in the future finally turns against the drug war, it will have to be a “tough on crime” Republican so no one can accuse him of having sympathy for criminals.

  31. “I mean, come on, I think we can all get behind the need to not have geriatrics riddled with bullets.”

    Think of the money we’d save on social security and Medicare!

  32. Sorry, that was kind of evil.

  33. I’m a big L&O fan, watched all of it.

    And yeah, it’s not exactly anti-authoritarian.

    One thing I’ve notice is that they are using SWAT teams like all the time now. During the middle period of the show they’d just two man arrest most guys. Now they are using squads for every child molestor on SVU.

    Am I crazy or has anyone else noticed that?

  34. So, jp, does that mean that your wife is She Who Must Be Obeyed?

    Yes!

  35. So Sharpton has commented on the case, and is calling for a congressional probe of it and the case of Sean Bell, the young man who was killed by NY police when leaving his bachelor party.

    http://tinyurl.com/2f9elv

    However, the article is dated last September, 9-11-06, to be exact.

    Another article, from the Revolutionary Communist Party website, is dated 12-10-06, and lists some of the people who have attended and/or organized rallies:

    “Grieving relatives and people outraged at the killing have kept a vigil outside Ms. Johnston’s home. Spontaneous outpourings of anger have given way to organized protest and resistance. There have been rallies and public meetings-of 400-500 or more people at a time-to demand justice. Prominent among the organizers are the New Black Panther Party, FTP Movement, Malcolm X Grass Roots, and New Order Human Rights Organization. Present at one mass meeting were professor and Native rights activist Ward Churchill and former Representative Cynthia McKinney.”

    article:

  36. Oops. Here it is:

    http://revcom.us/a/072/altanta-en.html

    Unfortunately, I’m not so sure the Revolutionary Communist Party, Ward Churchill, and the New Black Panther Party are going to get the regular Joes out there to look at the case from the critical perspective it warrants.

    I also think that if Al Sharpton had any sense of perspective and were less interested in jumping on whatever media bandwagon is going to get him the most attention at any given time (read: Imus), he would have been working too hard trying to get national attention drawn to this case and others like it to bother meeting with Imus to reject his apology for making racial slurs. I still can’t get my head around the lack of attention being paid to Kathryn Johnston’s death.

  37. I’m shocked that We The People are still allowed to have cap guns. I thought those things were banned in the 70s. Good thing the old lady wasn’t able to pop one of those caps or she’d be pushing up daisies just like Johnston.

  38. Cynthia McKinney is exactly the kind of smack a cop rioter I want to see. Seriously, although she’s nuts, she’s persistant and I wouldn’t be surprised if she gets some results.

  39. Unfortunately, I’m not so sure the Revolutionary Communist Party, Ward Churchill, and the New Black Panther Party are going to get the regular Joes out there to look at the case from the critical perspective it warrants.

    Good point. If anything, these people will convince Mr. & Mrs. Middle America that it’s all a big show by racial conspiracy nuts with a political ax to grind.

  40. Way smart of Frances Thompson to place that Bible over her vital parts. It might not stop a 9mm, but in the event of a “tragic incident” Jay-sus would be alerted to her demise. Forward-thinking like this should be rewarded.

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