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Letter to Anthony Gonzalez, US Attorney General - Corruption in the Atlanta Police Department


Location: Washington, DC

Dear Mr. Attorney General:

We applaud your recent investigation into the police misconduct of Atlanta narcotics officers involved in the Kathryn Johnston shooting in Atlanta, Georgia. While we understand the FBI has expanded its investigation to include an examination of the policies and procedures of the Atlanta Police Department, we are writing to obtain additional information about the scope of the Department of Justice investigation and to request a meeting to discuss our concens.

As you are aware, Ms. Johnston, a 92-year-old woman, was shot and killed in her Atlanta home during a drug raid by Atlanta undercover narcotics officers on November 21, 2006. Federal and state investigations later revealed that the Atlanta officers provided false information to obtain a "no-knock" warrant, which allowed officers to enter the home of Ms. Johnston unannounced. The informant whose statement was used to obtain a warrant for the Johnston house said the police pressured him to fabricate a story that would justify the warrant.

Three of the officers involved in the shooting were later indicted on charges of felony murder, violation of oath by public officer, false statements, criminal solicitation, burglary, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, false imprisonment, and perjury. According to FBI Special Agent Gregory Jones, other Atlanta Police officers may have engaged in similar misconduct. U.S. Attorney David Nahmias said he has evidence that corruption is widespread in the narcotics unit.

There are several key issues raised by the Johnston case: police misconduct (falsifying information and excessive use of force); misuse of confidential informants; potentially negative impact of arrest quotas and performance measures; and the integrity and credibility of law enforcement officials. We are particularly concerned about the misuse of confidential informants. The reliability of confidential informants used in narcotics cases is often compromised because they are cooperating with law enforcement in order to extricate themselves from criminal charges. The absence of corroboration requirements for information obtained through confidential informants leaves room for abuse. All these factors can have the effect of eroding public confidence in the criminal justice system.

We are concerned that the Atlanta incident may be indicative of a systemic problem within the Atlanta Police Department. Additionally, we are disturbed that the actions of the Atlanta Police Department may be a reflection of conduct used in other jurisdictions throughout this country. Significantly, the number of "no knock raids" has increased from three thousand in 1981 to more than fifty thousand in 2005.

As the Department of Justice proceeds with its investigation of the Atlanta Police Department in the Kathryn Johnston case, we are interested in the purview of this investigation. Given the information revealed thus far, we believe that a thorough and comprehensive examination by the Department is necessary. In an attempt to better assess the current nature of this investigation, we would like the Department to respond to the following questions:

1. Will the investigation include an examination of the policies and procedures of the Atlanta Police Department regarding confidential informants?

2. Are there adequate guidelines in place to prevent the misuse of confidential informants?

3. Will there be a review of prior cases to determine whether there have been other incidences involving the misuse of confidential informants and the information supplied by such informants?

4. Will there be an assessment of pattern and practice abuses resulting in civil rights violations by the department?

5. Will the investigation include an evaluation of whether the issues identified with the use of confidential informants in the Johnston case reflect a national trend among other law enforcement agencies?

6. What role do the federal guidelines on confidential informants play in shaping local policy?

We thank you for your cooperation in this matter.

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