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November 22, 2006
Another No-Knock Disaster?

Police in Atlanta shot and killed a 92-year-old woman in a raid yesterday, apparently looking for illegal drug activity. The details are murky, but police claim that the woman shot three plainclothes detectives approaching the house to serve a search warrant, probably after an informant fingered the location:

Three Atlanta police officers were shot and wounded and an elderly woman killed at a house in northwest Atlanta Tuesday night.

The woman, identified by relatives as 92-year old Kathryn Johnson, opened fire on the officers from the narcotics division at a house at 933 Neal Street, according to officials. Authorities say they received a tip of drug activity taking place at the home and officers were headed to the house with a search warrant. ...

"They kicked her door down talking about drugs, there's no drugs in that house. And they realize now, they've got the wrong house," Dozier said. "I'm mad as hell." Officials say they had the correct house and that the warrant they had was legal.

Assistant Chief Alan Dreher says the officers had a legal warrant and "knocked and announced" before they forced open the door. He said they were justified in returning fire when they were fired upon.

CNN, however, explicitly says the men were shot approaching the house, in contrast to Dreher's statement:

As the plainclothes Atlanta police officers approached the house about 7 p.m., a woman inside started shooting, striking each of them, said Officer Joe Cobb, a police spokesman.

One was hit in the arm, another in a thigh and the third in a shoulder. The officers were taken to a hospital for treatment, and all three were conscious and alert, police said.

This makes little sense. Had the men been shot approaching the house, the police officers would not have stood in front of the front door, knocking and announcing themselves while under fire from inside. They would have either stormed the house or called a SWAT team to deal with the situation. And how likely is it that a 92-year-old woman would get the drop on the three plainclothes detectives so completely that she could shoot and hit three of them before they ran for cover?

Radley Balko at Reason sees this as another Corey Maye situation (among others):

Details are sketchy, but unless a nonagenerian was pushing dope and using lethal force to protect her supply, the most likely explanation here is that someone sent the tactical team to kick down the wrong door after a bad tip from an informant. Again. Only this time, the spunky old broad inside met the intruders with gunfire ... This of course is why you don't kick down doors for nonviolent offenses in the first place, especially if all you've got is a CI's tip.

In order to untangle this situation, we need all of the relevant facts, and fast. We cannot believe that the men got shot and that they properly executed a warrant afterwards. If Mrs. Johnson started firing on the men before they even approached the house, then lethal force would have been justified -- but we should see blood-spatter evidence of that where they were hit. From Chief Dreher's description, it sounds much more like they briefly announced themselves before invading Mrs. Johnson's home, and that she fired in response, believing herself to be victimized by the drug dealers the police wanted to catch in the first place. That would explain the multiple hits coming from a panicked nonagenarian rather than the ridiculous sniper story we're being asked to believe.

There may be legitimate reasons for no-knock entries or for the split-second announce-and-crash entries that caused this situation, where a 92-year-old woman got shot to death and three detectives got wounded. However, considering all of the ways it could possibly go wrong, they should only be employed when police have established a high probability of risk to the lives of officers and bystanders and no other means exists of mitigating it. That means surveillance and independent investigation and not just relying on an informant's tip. It certainly seems that the police in this case got the wrong house and got an innocent woman killed.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at November 22, 2006 9:30 AM

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» The 92 Year Old Criminal from Flopping Aces
But I tell you what. If I have someone, ANYONE shooting at me, I WILL fire back at them. I will not take a bullet and be put six feet under just because the shooter is a 92 year old women. No effin way. And for you idiots on both sides of the aisle to ... [Read More]

Tracked on November 23, 2006 1:56 AM


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