Atlanta Coda

Tuesday, May 20th, 2008

Arthur Tesler was the only officer to take part in the Kathryn Johnston raid who didn’t take a plea bargain. Despite admitting that he lied, helped cover up Johnston’s murder, and stood watch outside while other officers handcuffed the bleeding 92-year-woman—allowing her to die while they planted marijuana in her basement—he was convicted today only on the charge of lying to investigators. He’ll face a maximum of five years in prison.

The one good thing to come out of the case is we got to see just how vast, deep, and pernicious the culture of corruption and disregard for civil rights ran in Atlanta’s police department. Tesler testified that narcotics officers were required to serve nine warrants and make two arrest per month, or they’d risk losing their jobs. This led to routine lying on warrants and bullying and intimidation of informants. What we don’t know is how many people were wrongly raided, arrested, and jailed because of all of this.

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21 Responses to “Atlanta Coda”

  1. #1 |  Dave Krueger | 

    Missing link?

    This link was posted by Michael Cheney in another thread, but he may have meant to post it here:

    http://www.wsbtv.com/news/16291354/detail.html

    They’re still referring to it as a botched drug raid. That makes as much sense as referring to bank robberies as botched withdrawals or rapes as botched romances.

  2. #2 |  James D | 

    Radley, did you get to watch 20/20 this past Friday? (Sorry, can’t seem to find any video online). Stossel did an entire bit about cops ‘getting away with murder’. His examples were things like beating people up, drunk driving, etc. but the point was the same: they protect their own even when they are clearly breaking the law. Hopefully it will get this stuff into the general population’s mind even more.

    Stossel is the only news anchor I can stand watching on regular TV. Wish he did more than just 20/20.

    He is one of the few fighting the Global Warming BS:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YEJ5pHVKjiI

  3. #3 |  MacK | 

    Here is the link to the 20/20 piece James D. referred to.

    http://abcnews.go.com/TheLaw/story?id=4862057&page=1

    I thought it was a very good segment myself.

  4. #4 |  Psion | 

    Gee … I hope this doesn’t upset “Roger” too much.

    There are two problems here: the way cops treat the law as though it doesn’t apply to them, and the way they (and prosecution!) support cops who’ve broken the law. These two characteristics seem to be pretty universal. Less common are the really bad cops who abuse their authority or even commit crimes and know they’ll get away with it because no other officer will bust them. What’s that called? An accomplice?

    Time to clean house.

  5. #5 |  supercat | 

    Is there any reason why a legitimate government should not have prosecuted for felony murder everyone who knew or should have known that the warrant was based on false pretenses and yet proceeded with the raid?

    A warrant which the bearer knows to be bogus cannot confer any authority. A person who breaks into someone’s house without any authority to do so is a burglar; such a person who intends to accost individuals inside is also a robber. Under a legitimate government, it wouldn’t matter that the person is a government employee.

    If someone commits a break-in robbery, and a foreseeable chain of events causes someone to get killed, is there any reason the robber shouldn’t be prosecuted for felony murder?

  6. #6 |  SJE | 

    The question in my mind is whether the prosecution pursued this case with as much vigor as it ordinarily would. The prosecutors are usually too close to the police to be sufficiently independent in this sort of case. THATS another area needing reform.

  7. #7 |  B | 

    This leaves me so conflicted. I hate the concept that violence among inmates is a de facto part of the punitive process of incarceration. Wishing beatings, rape, or worse on someone going to prison is repugnant.

    But for this guy…I have to admit there is a dark corner of my soul that relishes the idea of his buddies inside finding out who he is and why he’s there…

  8. #8 |  James D | 

    Thanks MacK, I found ABC’s site kinda hard to navigate and their search feature didn’t seem to work either.

  9. #9 |  UCrawford | 

    The weirdest thing about that ABC story was how the researchers noted how their investigation showed that only 5% of the cops are responsible for over 50% of complaints filed…and yet the police still won’t do anything about it.

    If you think about it, that’s about the same percentage of scumbags you’ll find in any job. In the military you’ve got a tight-knit community and you’re going to have people who make major mistakes, but my personal experience was that only about 5-10% of soldiers I was in charge of were irreparable screw-ups who couldn’t get their act together, and yet I was never pressured to cover for them despite the fact that it’s a close working environment. In fact, you’re held very much accountable when one of your people causes problems. When one of your guys screws up, you document the problems, you try to correct, and if it doesn’t work you kick the guy out or (at the very least) stick him in a job where he can’t do any damage. There are units that are exceptions to that of course (I was in one of those as well) but they are the exception and not the rule…whereas with the police it definitely seems to be the rule. And I just don’t get why these guys aren’t willing to hold the bad apples accountable when it makes up such a small percentage of their overall force…especially since dealing with problem employees is not a problem unique to law enforcement.

    Actually, if we really want to start looking for a solution, I suspect that the first two places we should look are a) the personnel systems that departments use to determine how police officers are rated for job performance, and b) police unions. Those are two things that seem likely have a lot of impact on officers’ behavior.

  10. #10 |  Jerry | 

    Gee … I hope this doesn’t upset “Roger” too much.

    I’m sure Roger will still feel like they are just doing their job, no matter the cost. What’s one less life in the War on Drugs and the Cops wonder why they are starting to feel like pariahs to the majority of the population.

    My dad was a Cop for 20 years and I used to have nothing but respect for the police. But I wouldn’t trust the police right now to save my cat from a tree.

  11. #11 |  Edmund Dantes | 

    Tesler testified that narcotics officers were required to serve nine warrants and make two arrest per month, or they’d risk losing their jobs.

    “Quotas are a myth.” — Police Spokesperson anytime a reporter asks about quotas.

    Kind of sad to think someone is dead because of quotas that don’t exist.

  12. #12 |  Nando | 

    I’m probably going to get thumbed down for this, but here goes…

    The reason why prosecutors and cops go easier on and protect other cops is because of their line of work. These cops put their life on the line EVERY time they go to work (unlike most of us). The get breaks because of the danger in their line of work, kind of the same way that most police officers will not ticket a fire fighter or military person if they get pulled over for a moving violation (it’s called professional courtesy and I was on the receiving end almost every time I got pulled over in my 10 years I served in the armed forces). I probably got pulled over 15 times in those 10 years (most of them in my first three years, when I was under 23 years of age), and only once did I receive a ticket (for 70 in a 65 when I was clocked at 111).

    I’m not condoning these actions, I’m merely trying to explain what the rationale is behind them. As I got older, I realized that everyone is equal under the law and that we should all have to face the consequences of our actions.

  13. #13 |  Highway | 

    Nando, I think everyone reading this site understands the idea of ‘professional courtesy’. But most also think, as you state you came to the realization, that rule of law is more important, and that exercising discretion in this manner is bad.

    I think a lot of people are fine with the police exercising discretion. The clamor over every stupid overreaction to a “Zero-Tolerance Policy” shows that. But when these things come to the light of day, we see that the discretion is being misapplied, in the opinion of the public. Grievous offenses by police and other officials are excused, while ticky-tack offenses bring down the full force of the law, with the pathetic excuse of ‘our hands were tied, the law states soandso’.

  14. #14 |  James D | 

    Nando, I can understand what you’re saying for BS laws like “jaywalking” or “driving without a seatbelt”, but we’re talking much more major offenses here. You can’t really say that.

    I agree with UCrawford’s assessment about how this differs from the military. There are definitely screw ups in the military (Abu Ghraib!) but in general, YOUR ass could be on the line if a fellow solder or subordinate does something wrong so it’s in your best interest to not ‘protect’ them. With police, the ‘protection’ seems to be the number 1 priority OVER the law.

  15. #15 |  UCrawford | 

    James D,

    There are definitely screw ups in the military (Abu Ghraib!) but in general

    Actually, Abu Ghraib was a perfect example of what happens when you don’t hold your people accountable for more reasons than is commonly known.

    The officer in charge of Abu Ghraib, Col. Thomas Pappas, was my battalion commander in Korea. During my tenure there his actions showed him to be something of a career sociopath…promotion at any cost, means to get there be damned. Shortly before his PCS out of Korea, his battalion was engaged in a field exercise up north, the final one for his officer efficiency report (OER). During the field exercise a large number of his soldiers (about half) started getting sick with what later turned out to be a serious outbreak of e-coli from a defective water pump…something that would have been quickly detected had it been reported promptly. The SOP for the 2nd Infantry Division at the time was that any disease affecting a quarter or more of troops was supposed to prompt a cancellation of the exercise, which would have meant that Pappas couldn’t claim that exercise for his OER (he had the promotion board for colonel upcoming and it was a very competitive field). So Pappas didn’t report the illness, the sick troops stayed in the field, and the medical authorities didn’t know anything about it until one of the medics, a PFC, contacted a colonel she just happened to know who worked for the medical battalion in Seoul, which brought the whole thing crashing down on his head when the colonel didn’t buy Pappas denial of widespread problems with disease. For many officers, endangering the lives of your own troops for personal gain would have been a career-ender, but for Pappas, who was considered something of a rising star in intel and who was seen as a “go-getter” by his superiors, it only resulted in an unofficial letter of reprimand (which didn’t go into his permanent file) and his removal from consideration for that year’s colonel board (which meant his promotion was only temporarily delayed).

    Four years later, he was one of the key leaders responsible for perhaps the most damaging and embarassing debacles in our occupation of Iraq…Abu Ghraib. Couldn’t say that it was surprising that he’d treat detainees that way in hopes of getting useful intel considering how he treated his own troops…even though most of his detainees were unlikely to possess anything useful at all (since most of them weren’t insurgents).

    My point is, once you start ignoring and excusing employees who step over the line because you don’t want to throw somebody under the bus, it’s only a matter of time before it blows up in your face…often with much uglier and damaging results than you’d expect. That’s also why I mentioned the ratings systems for personnel as an area where the problems might stem from. The OER system is the primary tool for rating officers, the only criteria it really judges is how happy you make your immediate supervisor, so it rewarded Pappas for being a sociopath. I wouldn’t be surprised if that were a similar issue in a lot of these police departments we hear about, promotion or continued employment being determined only by an officer’s superiors with little input from his peers (who will often have a better perspective on how good that officer is).

  16. #16 |  Linda Morgan | 

    Nando:

    “The reason why prosecutors and cops go easier on and protect other cops is because of their line of work. These cops put their life on the line EVERY time they go to work (unlike most of us).”

    How ’bout when they’re putting their lives on the line to fulfill arrest quotas or to spray bullets at a 92-year-old woman or to cover-up her murder?

    Behind the honor given to those who put their lives on the line is the assumption that their purpose in doing so is to protect and defend the innocent.

    Agreeing to arrest x-number of people a month, every month, agreeing to lie for the purpose of obtaining warrants, agreeing to invade without warning the homes of sleeping people who may or may not be guilty of anything but will certainly be terrified and confused, and agreeing to help cover-up outright crimes committed by one’s colleagues as a matter of “professional courtesy” in no way serve to protect or defend innocent citizens.

    No degree of danger to one’s life occasioned by the commission of such acts warrants special treatment or protection from prosecution.

    If law enforcement were my profession, I’d like to think I’d defend it against those who would turn it to predation on the citizenry I was sworn — and willing to put my life on the line — to serve. That’s what I expect self-respecting officers and defenders of the law to do.

  17. #17 |  Frank | 

    Lack of accountability and effective disciplinary procedures are the reason why http://www.ratemycop.com is going gangbusters.

    Which of course is why every one with a badge is gunning for the people who run it.

  18. #18 |  SusanK | 

    Nando:
    Cops don’t put their life on the line EVERY time they go to work. Plus, there are plenty of people who do put their lives at risk when they go to work (construction workers, convenience store clerks, hazardous waste clean up dudes) and I highly doubt any of them would get a pass because they do something dangerous.
    Officers may claim “putting their life on the line” as the reason they look the other way, but it’s really arrogance and abuse of power that makes them do it. Also, sucky cops are usually bullies who intimidate their fellow officers into keeping quiet, which is all the more reason to get rid of them.
    Anyone who thinks this country is as dangerous as police officers claim it is shouldn’t step one foot out their front door because they might get ran over/shot/killed and hope the cops don’t fake a warrant for a home visit.

  19. #19 |  Dave Krueger | 

    Wait a sec. Whose lives are cops putting on the line every time they go to work?

  20. #20 |  Robert | 

    The reason why prosecutors and cops go easier on and protect other cops is because of their line of work. These cops put their life on the line EVERY time they go to work (unlike most of us). The get breaks because of the danger in their line of work, kind of the same way that most police officers will not ticket a fire fighter or military person if they get pulled over for a moving violation (it’s called professional courtesy and I was on the receiving end almost every time I got pulled over in my 10 years I served in the armed forces). I probably got pulled over 15 times in those 10 years (most of them in my first three years, when I was under 23 years of age), and only once did I receive a ticket (for 70 in a 65 when I was clocked at 111).

    BULLLLLSSSSHIIIIT!!!!!

    Being a cop is hardly a dangerous line of work. Take 5 seconds on the internet to look up that it doesn’t even rank in the top 10 most dangerous jobs. Hell, farmers and construction workers get killed on the job more than cops do, why don’t they get special breaks from prosecutors? I don’t notice commercial fishermen running around murdering people and getting off scott free just because their job is dangerous and they deliver tasty crabs and lobsters to us.

    The reason why cops get away with murder (literally) is because other cops and government officials often cover for them.

    Yes, police provide a necessary service for our society, but so do garbage collectors. Due to the authority and trust given to police, they should be held MUCH MUCH MORE accountable when they break that trust. Unfortunately, they are held less accountable, if even at all, and that’s why people who aren’t in the “cop mafia” don’t like them.

  21. #21 |  supercat | 

    //Hell, farmers and construction workers get killed on the job more than cops do, why don’t they get special breaks from prosecutors?//

    How does the number of of cops killed each year by some instrumentality other than a car, compare with the number of innocents killed each year by cops (again, with some instrumentality other than a car)?

    Too many cops are far too willing to undertake courses of actions that greatly endanger innocents in exchange for what is, at best, a small increase in their own safety (actually, in many cases, alternate tactics would make EVERYONE safer).

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