Atlanta police shootout with elderly woman prompts FBI probe

Monday, November 27th 2006, 10:06 pm
By: News On 6

ATLANTA (AP) _ The FBI will lead the investigation into the shootout between plainclothes police officers and an 88-year-old woman who was killed in her home, which was suspected to contain drugs, the city police chief said Monday.

Three officers were wounded when they entered Kathryn Johnston's home looking for cocaine based on tips from an informant, according to the search warrant released Monday by the Fulton County State Court.

Police said the informant told officers he had purchased drugs in the home earlier, prompting investigators to get a warrant. But Atlanta Police Chief Richard Pennington said it was unclear whether there had been a drug deal or whether the suspected drug dealer actually exists.

``That's what we're going to have to investigate and determine,'' Pennington said. ``The officers are saying one thing, the confidential informant is saying something else.''

Monday evening, WAGA-TV aired an interview with a man who said that he was the informant, and that he had never purchased drugs at Kathryn Johnston's home. The man, whose identity was obscured by the TV station, also said that police had asked him to lie about providing the information, but that that was before he knew the elderly woman had been killed in a shootout there.

Seven narcotics investigators and a police sergeant were placed on paid leave until the inquiry is complete, Pennington said. Pennington said the informant is in protective custody and would be a key part of the investigation.

``There are many unanswered questions,'' Pennington said. ``I promise each and every citizen that the truth will eventually be known, but we must have patience.''

After the shooting, officers said they found marijuana inside the northwest Atlanta home, but ``not a large quantity,'' according to Pennington.

Police had a ``no-knock'' warrant, which are frequently used to get inside a home before suspects have a chance to get rid of drugs, said Pennington, adding that his department would review its policy on such warrants and its use of confidential informants.

The U.S. attorney's office, Georgia Bureau of Investigation and Fulton County district attorney's office also will take part in the review of the circumstances surrounding the shootout.

Sarah Dozier, Johnston's niece, has said her aunt lived alone.

Johnston was described by neighbors and family as a woman living in fear in Vine City _ a northwest Atlanta neighborhood in the shadow of the Georgia Dome. There were burglar bars on her one-story brick home, and she rarely let friends and neighbors inside.

The medical examiner's office also reported Sunday that records show Johnston was 88, despite her family saying she was 92.