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May 19, 2008 -- Atlanta Journal-Constitution (GA)

Jury Deadlocked Over Cop's Role In Fatal Drug Raid

By Steve Visser

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

A Fulton County jury said Monday that it cannot reach a verdict in charges leveled against an Atlanta police detective for his role in the police killing of a 92-year-old woman, but it will continue with a fourth day of deliberations Tuesday.

Jurors asked for a transcript of the officer's testimony at the trial. Superior Court Judge Michael Johnson said he would provide the transcript Tuesday.

Arthur Bruce Tesler is the only Atlanta police officer to face a jury over the events that led to the killing of Kathryn Johnston in a botched and illegal narcotics raid on her house two days before Thanksgiving in 2006.

He is charged with violation of oath of office for being party to a lie to get the warrant; lying in an official investigation because of the cover-up afterwards; and false imprisonment for his participation in the raid in which he surrounded the Johnston house but did not fire his weapon.

The jury of 10 whites and two blacks started deliberating on Thursday afternoon.

The case, which prompted an outcry from across metro Atlanta, but particularly in the African-American community, has racial overtones because the three officers are white and Johnston was black.

It also revealed that the Atlanta Police Department routinely has broken the law to get search warrants, particularly in drug operations, a practice that ultimately led to Johnston's death.

Tesler's partners, Gregg Junnier and Jason R. Smith, have both pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter in the case. Tesler doesn't face any homicide charges.

On Friday, the jury asked a question that seemed to bode poorly for the prosecution in at least one count in the case. It wanted to know if it could convict Tesler of violation of oath of office -- which carries a 5-year prison sentence -- because of his illegal acts after the raid.

Johnson instructed the jury that it could only consider whether Tesler was guilty of lying to get the warrant for that count of the three-count indictment.

The district attorney's office could have indicted Tesler on multiple counts of violation of oath of office but it chose not to, said William McKenney, Tesler's lawyer.

McKenney portrayed the 42-year-old Tesler as a relatively new detective in the Atlanta narcotics division, who was a victim of its culture of deceit despite his admitted participation in the cover-up of police wrongdoing.

Johnston's killing shocked metro Atlanta and enraged many in the African-American community, who complained that shoddy or heavy-handed police work in the war on drugs was a source of abuses, including surprise raids on houses where police batter down doors rather than knock, planting evidence and questionable arrests.

In a case awash in political and racial overtones, State Sen. Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta), political organizer Michael Langford, and political activist Markel Hutchins monitored the trial. Hutchins, who is running against U.S. Rep. John Lewis, led the demand for police accountability in Johnston's death.

The case exposed rampant problems in the police department, including officers who broke the law and took shortcuts to meet monthly arrest quotas.

Both Tesler and other officers testified that each narcotics officer had to make nine arrests and carry out two search warrants each month to keep their jobs. The desire for a big score is what prompted Tesler's team to circumvent the law in getting a search warrant for 933 Neal St., Junnier testified at Tesler's trial.

A drug dealer they had arrested earlier that day told them there was a kilo of cocaine at that address. He said another drug dealer had the cocaine in a shoebox there.

Junnier testified that the third partner, Smith, lied to a judge to get the no-knock warrant by saying officers had verified the tip by having an informant buy drugs at the house for them.

Tesler testified he did not know Smith had perjured himself to get the no-knock warrant for the northwest Atlanta home, despite knowing his partners regularly broke the law to get warrants and make arrests.

Johnston died after she fired once at the officers when they broke down her door. She was killed when the officers filed 39 shots in return.

Tesler admitted his role in the cover-up of the illegal warrant but contended he feared for his safety and his career if didn't assist his partners.

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