The attorney for a former police officer charged in a botched drug raid in which an elderly woman was shot to death described a renegade Atlanta narcotics unit that routinely planted drugs and lied to obtain search warrants.
Former officer Arthur Tesler's unit often took illegal shortcuts, ignored department policy and carried bags of drugs in their squad cars, defense attorney William McKenney said Monday in opening statements for Tesler's trial on charges of lying to help cover up misconduct in the raid.
Kathryn Johnston, 92, was killed Nov. 26, 2006, shot 39 times as plainclothes narcotics officers busted into her home using a "no-knock" warrant. Johnston fired one shot from a pistol as police were breaking down her door, but she did not hit any of the officers.
Tesler's trial is likely the only one in the Johnston shooting because former officers Jason R. Smith and Gregg Junnier have already pleaded guilty to state manslaughter and federal civil rights charges. They are expected to testify against Tesler.
'Drugs, deceit, death and disgrace'
A prosecutor argued Tesler was also responsible for Johnston's death because he knew his colleagues lied to obtain the warrant. Tesler is charged with violation of oath by a public officer, making false statements and false imprisonment under color of legal process.
"This case is about drugs, deceit, death and disgrace," Fulton County prosecutor Kellie S. Hill told the jury.
Hill began her statement by showing a photograph of a smiling Johnston while the recorded sound of 39 gunshots was played for jurors. Tesler didn't show any emotion while it was played.
On the day Johnston was killed, prosecutors said that Smith, Junnier and Tesler were told by a man they arrested earlier in the day that drugs were being sold out of Johnston's house. But they violated department policy by not using a confidential informant to verify the information, Hill said.
Instead, Smith lied to a magistrate to get the warrant, swearing that he had gotten the information from a department-approved confidential informant. The trio is accused of telling the same lie to the rest of the narcotics unit, which helped them bust through Johnston's door.
The officer's lawyer argued that Tesler was in the backyard of the home when the shooting happened. Tesler, a rookie in the narcotics unit, was pressured by his superiors to cover up their misdeeds, McKenney said.
"Arthur Tesler was manipulated, controlled and exploited by two senior officers," McKenney said.
After the shooting, Smith planted three bags of marijuana in the basement. Prosecutors said the trio met secretly five times to coordinate their story for federal investigators looking at the shooting.
The fatal shooting prompted wide criticism of the police department, a shake-up of the narcotics unit and a review of how officers obtain and use no-knock warrants, which are intended to keep drug suspects from having time to destroy evidence.