Rogue raid redux
Twenty months before the Johnston shooting, did the same cops raid another wrong house?
Some of the same narcotics officers involved in the shooting death of Kathryn Johnston conducted an earlier raid that raises similar questions about police misconduct, according to a lawsuit filed in Fulton County Superior Court in December.
Attorneys for Alphonso Howard and Tia Carter say seven officers, including Gregg Junnier, Cary Bond and Gary Smith, obtained a no-knock search warrant in February 2005, and in March rammed open the door of the couple's southwest Atlanta home in search of weapons and illegal drugs.
Bond and Smith were wounded in the November 2006 raid that led to Johnston's death. Junnier was one of two officers who pleaded guilty last week to voluntary manslaughter and violating Johnston's civil rights.
"It's almost identical," says Jim Mercier, the principal investigator on the couple's case. "The details of how [the officers] went about getting the search warrant and entering the house don't differ much."
In 2005, Junnier obtained a no-knock warrant for Howard's and Carter's house from the same magistrate judge who would approve the warrant for Johnston's home in 2006. Both warrants say officers paid informants to purchase drugs from the home's residents. Junnier's affidavit states: "[We] directed a confidential and reliable informant to [Howard's and Carter's house] to purchase marijuana as a follow up on a tip that marijuana was being sold at that location. ... [The informant] notified me that he saw a pistol in the residence by the door as he made the marijuana purchase." The affidavit also says the informant purchased six grams of marijuana for $30 from a black male with a mustache and gold teeth named "Black."
The Johnston affidavit says the informant purchased two bags of crack for $50 from a black male named "Sam" with "a full beard trimmed neatly." After the shooting, a former informant disputed that affidavit and said police tried to coerce him after the raid to lie about the transaction.
Mercier disputes the 2005 affidavit and says Howard doesn't fit the description of "Black." What's more, he says, the city failed to show up with the informant for an arranged deposition in February. "He probably doesn't exist," Mercier says.
Deputy City Attorney Jerry DeLoach wouldn't comment on why the city didn't produce the informant.
According to the lawsuit, the officers barged into Howard's and Carter's home around 10:30 p.m. They forced Howard and Carter out of bed and handcuffed Howard while they searched the home for about three hours. (According to Junnier's and fellow officer Jason Smith's pleas, Johnston was handcuffed as she bled to death.)
No drugs were found in the couple's home, and no charges were filed. Their lawyers say the search amounted to an illegal trespass and violated their clients' constitutional rights.
Citing the claim of rights violations, the city asked that the case be moved to federal court. "We made a determination that [the plaintiffs] made allegations that gave the federal courts jurisdiction," DeLoach says.
Mercier says that's a delay tactic. "What they've done is try to postpone the come-to-Jesus meeting," he added. Federal District Court Judge William Duffey hasn't yet ruled on the city's request.
The lawsuit may be part of the first wave of legal fallout from the Johnston case. Mercier predicts the city will face an onslaught of challenges to charges made by tainted officers.
Howard and Carter decided to take their matter to court after a complaint they filed with the police department's Office of Professional Standards was ruled "unsubstantiated." The office's commander wrote in a July 2005 letter to Howard: "This investigation did not develop sufficient information to prove or disprove the allegations stated in your complaint."
Howard's complaint wasn't the first against Junnier. According to police files, a woman said Junnier entered a home in 2002 without a warrant. And more than a dozen complaints have been filed against Sgt. Wilbert Stallings, the supervisor of both raids, including alleged maltreatment, unnecessary force and entering a home without a warrant.
Of the 20 complaints between both officers, four resulted in disciplinary action for minor violations, such as damage to a police vehicle. The rest either were ruled unsubstantiated or the officers were exonerated.
"I don't think that the Alphonso Howard and Kathryn Johnston cases are isolated incidents," Mercier says. "Other people have been wronged."