Police to be sued in killing of woman, 92

Kathryn Johnston, the Atlanta woman mistakenly killed by police, is seen in an undated family photo.AP file
/ Source: The Associated Press

Attorneys for a niece of the 92-year-old woman who was killed by police during a botched drug raid have filed a wrongful death claim with the city as a precursor to a lawsuit.

Kathryn Johnston was shot on Nov. 21 when narcotics officers burst into her home with a no-knock warrant. The officers said an informant reported buying drugs there, but prosecutors say they were lying. Johnston fired one shot at the intruders, hitting no one, and the officers fired back, killing her.

Two officers involved in the raid pleaded guilty to manslaughter and other charges last week and are awaiting sentencing. A third officer still faces charges.

Attorneys representing Johnston's niece, Sarah Dozier, said in an April 26 letter to city and police officials that they are seeking compensation for Johnston's wrongful death. Such notices are often sent as a precursor to a lawsuit, and attorney Jane Sams said a lawsuit seeking a jury trial and unspecified damages would be filed in the next several weeks.

"We want to make sure that what we believe is a systemic practice in the Atlanta Police Department to falsify affidavits to obtain warrants ceases," Sams said.

A police spokesman, James Polite, said Wednesday he could not comment because he was not aware of the plans for the lawsuit.

Meanwhile, the Rev. Markel Hutchins, a civil rights activist who at times has acted as a spokesman for Johnston's family, said Wednesday he was on his way to Washington to meet with members of the House Judiciary Committee.

Hutchins said he wants to raise awareness of police misuse of confidential informants in hopes of achieving policy reform.

"We have a problem with drug policy in the United States," Hutchins said. "We are overzealous in trying to catch the little guy and not zealous enough trying to catch the big guy."

In court papers released last week when state and federal charges were filed against the three police officers, prosecutors asserted that Atlanta narcotics officers repeatedly lied to judges in order to obtain search warrants, falsely claimed that confidential informants purchased drugs and falsified warrants so they could meet goals set by police leaders.