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Kin of Woman Killed in Botched Drug Raid Awarded $5M

Kin of Woman Killed in Botched Drug Raid Awarded $5M

Police officers burst into Kathryn Johnston's house (left). She was killed in a hail of bullets after firing a shot. [AP]

Atlanta Journal Constitution via YellowBrix

August 17, 2010

ATLANTA – One of the most divisive chapters in the history of the Atlanta Police Department has come to a close.

Four years after rogue APD narcotics officers killed 92-year-old Kathryn Johnston during an illegal raid of her home, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed has offered her family a $4.9 million settlement.

Under the structure of the settlement the estate, represented by Johnston’s niece Sarah C. Dozier, will get $3 million immediately and another $1.9 million in fiscal year 2012.

“Clearly a terrible wrong was committed in this tragic case. In the end, the city was forced to step up and right this wrong, as well as can be under our system of laws," said Nicholas Moraitakis, an attorney for Dozier. "It is always gratifying to be on the side seeking and receiving justice.”

Markel Hutchins, a spokesman for the family, said he spoke with Dozier on Monday, but added that she would not be commenting. Her attorneys from The Cochran Firm confirmed that and held a press conference Monday after the council voted 14-0 to settle the case.

Reed said the resolution of the case is an important healing step for the city and the police department, which was nearly ripped apart because of the shooting.

“As a result of the incident, several police officers were indicted in federal and state court on charges and were later convicted and sentenced for their actions,” said Reed, adding that the Narcotics Unit has been totally reorganized.

Johnston was killed in November 2006 when a police drug unit tried to execute a “no-knock” warrant on her home, using information provided by an informant who claimed he had purchased drugs at from the home. After officers kicked in the door, the elderly Johnston reached for a gun and fired one shot. Police returned fire, killing her. No drugs were found, and officers planted drugs in the home that had been recovered from a different raid.

After an extensive local and federal probe, three officers — Arthur Tessler, Gregg Junnier and Jason R. Smith — pleaded guilty and were sentenced to federal prison for conspiring to violate Johnston’s civil rights.


Kathryn Johnston, 92, was shot and killed Nov. 21, 2006, when police officers illegally raided her northwest Atlanta home. [Family Photo]

In June 2009, a fourth officer, Wilbert Stallings, a former sergeant, also pleaded guilty to conspiring to violate Johnson’s civil rights and was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison. A fifth officer, Daniel Betts, pleaded guilty to taking payments from businesses in exchange for extra police vigilance and was sentenced to probation.

This past June, two Atlanta police officers involved in the shooting were fired by new police chief George Turner after an internal investigation found they lied and falsified documents; another officer resigned and six more were disciplined.

Turner, who was officially ratified as police chief Monday in a 13-0 council vote, said the settlement allows the department to focus on rebuilding trust in high-crime neighborhoods where residents both often distrust the police and need the most protection.

Councilwoman Felicia Moore told Turner Monday that she questioned whether he could reform the department’s culture of silence regarding police wrongdoing that the Johnston case unveiled because he was a product of that culture.

“That culture needs to change,” she said.

Turner responded that he had had already began to reform the Office of Professional Standards to make it more accountable.

“Since being in this role, I have terminated nine employees, specifically those employees who have not lived up to the standards,” Turner said during a committee on council meeting Monday morning.

In an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Turner said that complaints that arrest quotas drove the wrongdoing in the Johnston case were invalid. He acknowledged that the department evaluates officers in part on the number of arrests but said that was only part of the evaluation.

“Quotas are against state law and federal law,” he said. “People want an police force that is accountable, that has high integrity and that gives a good day’s work…..You don’t have to set quotas in a community with the crime rate that we have in the city.”

In a strange twist Monday at City Hall, just hours after Reed’s announcement four groups representing different aspects of the English Avenue area were honored for the work they are doing in the community.

“The tragedy was a horrific tragedy that does call for a monetary award of some significance,” said John Gordon, the founder of Friends of English. “My recommendation to our city fathers is that they avoid similar awards in the future by fixing the inadequacies that we have in the police department. We receive too many calls and get too many complaints. The accountability is still not there yet.”

The Rev. Anthony Motley, whose church Lindsay Street Baptist Church became a rallying point in the wake of the Johnston shooting, called her the “patron saint” of the community.

“No amount of money can ever be a satisfactory replacement for a loved one. But, if it is a satisfactory representation for the family, if it represents a dignified atonement for the death, then that is all that matters,” Motley said.

This is the second time in less than a month that the city has been on the short end of a multi-million legal matter. In July, the city lost a six-year legal battle over an airport advertising contract.

A federal jury awarded Corey Airport Services $8.5 million in compensatory damages to be split among several defendants. Atlanta, which is appealing the verdict would have to pay around $2.8 million. If the city ultimately has to pay the Corey settlement the money would come out of the airport’s enterprise fund.

Acting city attorney Peter Andrews said the Johnston payment comes from monies set aside in the general fund to address lawsuits.

As of Aug. 11, the city had 312 open legal matters it was dealing with ranging from the Johnston suit to slip and falls.

“As a lawyer, I understand that lawsuits are going to happen. We just have to be prepared to manage them,” said City Council President Ceasar Mitchell. “I am glad we have the opportunity to bring as much to head and closure as possible, because litigations can linger and become toxic. The fact that Corey went to trail and we settled this shows a level of progress.”

  • Wpns_table_max50


    almost 5 years ago


    What always drives me crazy when they talk about quotas is there are so many drug cases in almost in jurisdiction you shouldn't have to make up anything even if there was a quota. The other thing is going off just an informant is not always the best practice even if it is a trusted and reliable source; always back up their information with a little research.

  • Img_0103_max50


    almost 5 years ago


    "Bump" Whalewatcher.....

  • Anonymous-killer-whale-232189_1__max50


    almost 5 years ago


    Finally some closure on a bad chapter in Atlanta's history. Rest in peace, Mrs. Johnson. Time for all involved to move on .....

  • Native_clip_art_4_049_max50


    almost 5 years ago


    Rest In Peace

  • Rob___i_max600_max50


    almost 5 years ago


    RIP Ms Johnston

  • Ralphie_max50


    almost 5 years ago


    may she RIP

  • Pug_max600_max50


    almost 5 years ago


    As the saying goes, A few bad eggs...........

  • Sfa_iv_max50


    almost 5 years ago


    A good ending to a bad start, I pray that the family is now at some peace. For thos rouge LEO(s), I pray that justice was served for marking a great profession.

  • 45089_396847393722850_1055776862_n_max50


    almost 5 years ago


    I"m also for getting rogue and corrupted cops off the force. I still love the police, that will never change. Just angers me what rogue cops do is all angels4ever. I'll always continue supporting LE.

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    almost 5 years ago

    This is a horrible story.I love PL and even though myself who don't have a record not even for a ticket.I have never even been in trouble with the law.I'm for the Police all the way.I also had two bad run in with something that had nothing to do with me. It never changed me,even though it wrecked my life. So for the good Police I hope this doesn't affect what the bad Police did.You should never judge someone for what someone else did.RIP Ms.Kathryn.Johnson and May God Bless You.

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    almost 5 years ago


    Horrible tragedy inflicted upon this family and my heart goes out to them. Tax payers have to carry the burden now because of these few corrupt cops.

  • 45089_396847393722850_1055776862_n_max50


    almost 5 years ago


    R.I.P Ms. Johnston. I'm so very sorry for what happened to you. My thoughts and prayers go out to your family. Justice was served.

  • 45089_396847393722850_1055776862_n_max50


    almost 5 years ago


    I'm not going to hold back, I"m so freaking angry at those rogue cops!!! How dare you! You all should be ashamed of yourself for what you did. You killed an innocent elderly woman! she was protecting her life when y'all broke in unlawfully into her home. How the hell could you do this?!!! You got what you deserved by going to prison and you'll have a long time to think of what you did.

  • 45089_396847393722850_1055776862_n_max50


    almost 5 years ago


    I live just south of Atlanta and I was horified about what happened. Huge mess! I'm embarrassed for the City of Atlanta. I do love cops very much, but I don't appreciate corrupted police officers! The victim's family deserved a settlement. I pray this never happens again, ever!

  • John_groh_max50


    almost 5 years ago


    Wow, that sounds like a real mess. All it takes is a few idiots, not doing the job correctly and then trying to cover up thier mistakes, for stuff like this to happen.

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