Officers routinely lied to obtain search warrants

 | A former Atlanta police officer testified Thursday that narcotics officers routinely lied under oath when seeking search warrants a practice that led to police killing a 92-year-old woman.

Former Detective Gregg Junnier told a Fulton County jury that detectives would tell judges that they had verified their informants had bought cocaine from dealers by searching them for drugs before the buy took place.

“I have never seen anyone searched before they go into the house I’ve never seen that done even though officers always swear to it,” Junnier said. “It’s done that way in 90 percent of the warrants that are written.”

But it wasn’t just lies to get the warrant to search Kathryn Johnston’s home that made Junnier uneasy, he said. He had an inkling something was wrong when he and Officer Jason R. Smith were leading the narcotics team to the front door. He said the northwest Atlanta house differed from the informant’s description.

“I said, ‘Man, this doesn’t look right,’ and he said, ‘I know,’ ” Junnier testified. ” ‘I said what do you want to do.’ He said, ‘Hit it.'”

A minute later, Johnston was lying on her floor, dying.

Junnier testified at the Superior Court trial of one of his former partners, Arthur Tesler, who was guarding the back of Johnston’s Neal Street home on that day, Nov. 21, 2006.

Junnier and Smith pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and face up to 10 and 12 years in prison, respectively, depending on their cooperation. Tesler faces 15 years on charges of lying in an official investigation, violating his oath as an officer and false imprisonment, a charge stemming from illegally surrounding Johnston’s house.

Junnier, whose confession unraveled the case, is to testify again today.

“I have already asked for forgiveness from God and everybody I can,” he said.

On the day of the raid, Junnier said he knew Smith had lied to a magistrate to get the no-knock warrant — which allows police to break in before identifying themselves — to seize the cocaine they had been told was in the house.

Junnier testified that Smith, who had sworn out the warrant, had lied about more than searching the informant for drugs. Smith swore that a reliable confidential informant had bought cocaine from the Johnston house, Junnier said. In actuality, he said, they relied on Fabian Sheats, a low-level dealer arrested earlier that day.

Junnier said they had confidence in Sheats’ descriptions, which detailed the drugs, location and a dealer named “Sam,” whom Sheats said worked from the house.

He said the chance to seize a kilo — 2.2 pounds — of cocaine also drove the officers, who normally made arrests for much smaller amounts.

In the raid, police fired 39 shots. Junnier was shot in the face, chest and leg. Two other officers were also wounded. Investigators determined Johnston had fired one round from a revolver; the officers were shot in their own crossfire.

Junnier described entering Johnston’s house: “She was still alive. She was gasping for air. I heard … the order to cuff her.”

Later that day, he said, the cover-up began.