Officer Pleads Guilty and Admits to “Conspiring to Violate Civil Rights”

Cases against officers are very difficult to prove and in some jurisdictions virtually impossible to prosecute as the community rapidly supports their police, but the case that stemmed from the shooting of Kathryn Johnston is one that attracted worldwide attention.  A brief synopsis of what happened is captured here:

The federal investigation into the fatal shooting of 92-year-old Kathryn Johnston ended Thursday with the guilty plea of former Atlanta police Officer Arthur Bruce Tesler.

Against the advice of his lawyer, Tesler pleaded guilty to conspiring to violate civil rights, resulting in the Nov. 21, 2006, death of Johnston at her Neal Street home.

As part of a plea agreement, federal prosecutors will recommend a sentence of 10 years and one month in prison. Tesler, 42, is to be sentenced in February.

Johnston’s killing shocked the nation. It also rocked the Atlanta police force with revelations that officers faked warrants to make drug cases.

The full account of this story is available as written by Bill Rankin.

What is most amazing about this story is that the officers did not accurately report the facts in the effort to get the search warrant:

The officers lied to a judge, smashed in Johnston’s door and unloaded 39 shots at the elderly woman as she fired a shot at the invaders with an old revolver. One officer then handcuffed Johnston as she lay dying. Drugs were then planted in her basement.

To Ms. Johnston’s credit, she fired shots at the invaders, which she was justified in doing.  At least in Texas, when someone tears into your residence, you may use deadly force.  But, to get at the real crux this story represents, I want to know why an officer would lie to get a search warrant?  It’s not like officers do not have enough work to do already with cases that are factually accurate.

Having been a cop for almost three years, I cannot even imagine lying in a report, exaggerating the facts, or putting information in a sworn document that was not true. 

Without being stuck in this portion of questioning motives, I believe this is a positive outcome for the case, yet the punishment is weak.  Imagine if some person, who was not a cop knocked down the door of a house and entered with guns blazing, he or she would be on death row….

The proposed change in the law to no-knock warrants:

State Sen. Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta), who attended the plea, said the two years since Johnston’s shooting have been "hellish" for the northwest Atlanta community. He called for a robustly funded citizen review board to investigate police misconduct and legislation outlawing no-knock warrants to protect both the public and the police.

Two points on this:

  1. Austin currently has a "citizen review board" and to date, I am unclear that it really has done very much.  I understand that the idea is a good one, but I am not yet convinced that the board actually gets much done.  So, I would worry that this may not lead to the change that is needed in law enforcement.
  2. No-knock warrants being outlawed could be beneficial, but that is not the solution to the problem because cops will just conduct the warrant service as set out below:
  • Knock-knock (as the ramming device rocks backward)
  • Police, open the door (ramming device strikes the door).

The result:  A door will be torn down and cops will be in the room where a similar tragedy could repeat itself.  The only real solution is to remove the bias, lying, and overzealousness of officers like those from Departments across the country… but the method of doing that remains a mystery to me.  I bet that if I knew how to provide this solution, I would be a very well-paid consultant….

Oh, and one last thought that is a bit out of place for the article:  What happens to all the people convicted of crimes where the officers were involved… I think mistrials are due!