Atlanta officer enters guilty plea in deadly raid

/ Source: The Associated Press

A former Atlanta police officer pleaded guilty Thursday to federal conspiracy charges for his role in a botched drug raid that ended in the shooting death of a 92-year-old woman.

Arthur Tesler faces more than 10 years in prison on a charge of conspiracy to violate civil rights resulting in death. He is to be sentenced in February.

Police originally said police had gone to Kathryn Johnston's northwest Atlanta home in 2006 after an informant bought drugs there. But after finding none, officers tried to cover up the mistake by planting baggies of marijuana, prosecutors said.

Tesler is the only officer tried in the raid that caused an outcry from civil rights activists and forced a shakeup of the Atlanta police department. Two other officers involved pleaded guilty to state and federal charges and never went to trial.

More charges after review
In May, the 42-year-old Tesler was sentenced to 4 1/2 years in prison for lying to investigators. But federal prosecutors decided to pursue more charges after reviewing the case.

"The reality is the only thing he was convicted of in state court is lying to the FBI," said U.S. Attorney David Nahmias. "We didn't think it was an appropriate measure of justice to Johnston's family."

Tesler's attorney said his client was an honorable officer who was thrown into a corrupt unit. He had urged him to contest the charges.

"We wanted him to fight," said William McKenney. "We wanted the jury to hear from him. But ultimately he didn't want to put his family through another trial."

Tesler was in Johnston's backyard when plainclothes officers burst in through the front door the night of Nov. 21, 2006, using a special "no-knock" warrant to search for drugs. Johnston fired a single shot from a rusty revolver at the intruders, but hit no one, and officers fired 39 bullets, hitting the woman five or six times, prosecutors said.

At his trial, Tesler testified that his former police partners, Jason R. Smith and Greg Junnier, planned the cover-up, and said he feared they would frame him if he didn't go along with their plan.

Investigation into no-knock warrants
Smith and Junnier have pleaded guilty to state manslaughter and federal civil rights charges. They have been helping investigators in other cases unrelated to Johnston's death and have not yet been sentenced.

The botched raid prompted an investigation of the Atlanta Police Department and closer scrutiny on no-knock warrants, which are usually used to search for drugs and weapons. The department tightened its warrant requirements and shook up its narcotics unit.

Nahmias said no further federal charges will be brought against Atlanta officers after an FBI investigation. The report will likely be delivered to Atlanta police this week, said FBI Special Agent Greg Jones.

"I think we both were pleased the corruption wasn't systemic and widespread," said Jones, who called the plea deal an end to a "dark chapter" in Atlanta law enforcement.

The shooting, which took place in a crime-ridden Atlanta neighborhood, enraged many residents and local officials who say it was an example of the police department's shoddy treatment of residents in the city's poor neighborhoods.