Thursday, February 08, 2007

Update on the 88 yr Old Atlanta Lady killed in a Police "No Knock" Raid

Some of you may recall the case of Kathryn Johnston, an 88yr old lady who was killed in Atlanta during a SWAT raid. She was killed based on made up allegations of marijuana or cocaine (crack) distribution. She fired her gun at the masked men dressed in black who were invading her home - keep in mind that she did not know they were police, and that she had recently had her home broken into prior to this raid.

She fired her gun once. Three officers were hit and she was shot several times. The police proceeded to lie about the events of their raid and the elements of their case.

Now, an officer has been charged with felony murder. I guess that's a start, though I share Radley Balko's reservations on this issue:
My other reservation is that encouraging as it is to see a prosecutor eager to hold police to the same standards he holds everyone else, I can't get terribly excited about a felony murder charge. If the reports of making up the informant, then threatening a "stand-in" informant into lying are true, I think these officers need to go to jail for a very long time. But I'll never be comfortable with criminal charges that lack the component of intent, no matter who they're levied against.
I've discussed my discomfort with the notion of felony murder on this site before. I still don't like it very much either. I believe that there are better things to charge the police officers with. Moreover, I think the judge, who likely rubber-stamped the warrant is due for some criticism. Judges have a role in issuing warrants that requires some due dilligence. I know the officer lied to her, but she should have asked some serious questions.

I also agree with Balko that the larger issue is two-fold (and I don't mean to misstate his position by being overly brief, though that's a risk here):

1. Why are we using SWAT teams to serve warrants on non-violent offenders in the dark of night, when we could probably just arrest them when they came outside of their homes.

2. Where is the Judicial accountability when it comes to issuing warrants? This is especially true where the warrant is based on "confidential" informant testimony.

Anyway, hopefully Balko's crusade will continue to gain steam and we can get a real national discussion about reforming our system. Unfortunately, as long as law enforcement understands that they can profit from enforcing the laws - be it traffic cameras or property seizures, I don't expect much to change.

Kid H.


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