Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Red Dogs, Death Warrants, and Murderous Marketing

A “warrant,” explains the insightful Lew Rockwell, is “a piece of paper the government issues itself before burglarizing your home.” Lew seems to be giving voice to the shade of Ambrose Bierce, author of The Devil's Dictionary – which is to say that he is using the scalpel of satire to pare away flabby sentimentality and expose the evil, pulsating heart of the matter.

Shortly after 88-year-old Kathyrn Johnston (who was initially identified in news reports as 92 years of age) was shot and killed during a police raid on her Atlanta home, I offered the following predictions:

"Color me cynical, but I'm guessing that we will eventually learn some or all of the following:

1)The warrant was defective;
2)The `evidence' behind it came from an unreliable source, such as a paid informant or a corrupt cop – or even the `John Doe' accused of making the buy, who cited a phony address as part of a deal;
3)As an alternative to the foregoing, `John Doe' doesn't exist, and the police will never find him, for the same reason O.J.'s diligent search has failed to find Nicole's “real killers,” and his fellow mass murderer George W. Bush has failed to find Saddam's “reconstituted” nuclear arsenal...."

Yesterday, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported:

“An informant who narcotics officers say led them to the house where an elderly woman was killed in a drug raid is accusing the officers of asking him to lie about his role, Atlanta police Chief Richard Pennington said Monday. The informant, who has not been identified, complained to department officials that the drug investigators involved in the bust had asked him to go along with a story they concocted after the shooting, said Pennington.”

The warrant (.pdf; thanks to Radley Balko) obtained by the counter-narcotics squad, which was signed one hour before the shooting, claimed that the informant had used $50 in city funds to purchase crack cocaine from a dealer known only as “Sam,” described as “a black male approximately 34 to 35 years of age,” who reportedly met the informant at the door, went into Johnston's home, and returned with two small bags of crack.

Why was it necessary to obtain a “no-knock” warrant and execute a paramilitary raid on the home? The warrant, issued on November 21, was good for ten days. However, the judge, County Magistrate Kimberly Warden, ticked the box authorizing a full-force raid on the grounds that it was reasonable “to believe that the giving of verbal notice would greatly increase the officer's peril and (or) lead to the immediate destruction” of the contraband.

The “peril” faced by the officers could have been avoided by simply staking out the premises, and waiting for “Sam” either to leave or to conduct another transaction. As it stands, three officers are recovering from bullet wounds and an innocent grandmother is dead.

Good job, Kimberly. Were you aware that you were signing Kathryn Johnston's death warrant? Do you even care?

Of course, we're assuming that any element of the story told by the police here is true and correct. The Informant appears to dispute every detail described in the warrant. In an interview with a local police station, the Informant – who is now in “protective custody” -- claimed that he never visited Johnston's home, and that he was contacted by the officers after the shooting.

“`This is what you need to do,'” the Informant quoted the police as saying. “You need to cover our ass..... It's all on you, man.... You need to tell them about this Sam dude.”

Does “Sam” even exist? So far, every detail described by the police officers who murdered Kathryn Johnston has been false.

“At first police said that the drug buy was made by undercover police, but later they said the purchase was made by an informant,” recounts the Journal-Constitution. “Early on, police said narcotics were found at the house after the shooting, but on Sunday investigators said they had found only a small about of marijuana, which police don't consider narcotics. Also, even though the affidavit said the house was outfitted with surveillance cameras, [Police Chief] Pennington said the informant had told internal affairs investigators that police officers had asked him to lie about the cameras.”

Chief Pennington couldn't confirm that Johnston's home had security cameras. Given that the frail woman's daughter had installed burglar bars and other safety precautions at the home, the use of security cameras as an additional precaution would make sense.

It's understandable that an elderly woman living alone in a neighborhood near a crime-ridden area would outfit her house to withstand a siege. Given that armed robbers conducting home invasion robberies have started to mimic the behavior of police when the latter conduct their own State-approved home invasions, it's entirely understandable that an old woman would open fire on armed, unidentified men breaking into her home.

What makes no sense at all – even assuming that there is some merit to the affidavit that led to the “no-knock” warrant – is the urgency to conduct a full-force raid on the site of an alleged purchase of $50 worth of crack cocaine.

Jason Smith, the investigator who filed the affidavit that prompted Magistrate Kimberly to issue the warrant, proudly describes himself as a veteran of “the City of Atlanta Police RED DOG section (Run Every Drug Dealer Out of Georgia)....”

“RED DOG” sounds more like the product of an advertising agency than a sober law enforcement initiative. It's impossible to run every drug dealer out of a maximum security prison; how could every drug dealer be run out of the entire state of Georgia?

But just as some people let the rhyme dictate the reason (to paraphrase a character from Voltaire's Candide), many politicians and bureaucrats seem to believe that the most important policy problem can be cured through the proper application of a catchy acronym. The “problem” in question, of course, is to justify the accumulation of power in the hands of those wielding the magic acronyms.

At the administrative level, RED DOG is intended to generate statistics that will enhance the job security of the managerial class. At the street level, the task of generating the proper statistics means that doors must be splintered, guns must be drawn, shots must be fired, and human flesh must be mortally rent.

In case of Kathryn Johnston, we're seeing a variation on the now-familiar theme of death by government. This could be considered an instance of death by government marketing.

In 2004, the City of Atlanta issued a document entitled “Fragile Momentum: Plan of Action for Rebuilding the Atlanta Police Department to Help Secure Atlanta's Position as Capital of the New South.” Issued jointly by Mayor Shirley Franklin and APD Chief Richard Pennington, the document was created with the help of the New York Consulting Firm Linder & Associates, which boasts that it has “helped clients successfully rename, brand and reposition dozens of products.”

The challenge in Atlanta was to “re-brand” a corrupt municipal government and inefficient police force. The “Fragile Momentum” (an inelegant and illiterate title, albeit a typical product of the sophomoric “insights” peddled by marketing gurus) is “structured in accordance with the Performance Engineering (tm) system for uprooting ingrained perceptions and securing committed behavioral change, among large groups of people, over a long period of time. This system has proven effective in both mass marketing and organizational-change applications.”

The marketing/advertising/PR industry began during World War I as an appendage of the Anglo-American war effort. Like the Lincoln Group and other propaganda firms that have hitched themselves to the Iraq War gravy train as “information contractors,” Linder & Associates has profited handsomely from the “War on Drugs.”

Recently, “[Linder & Associates founder John] Linder has provided the inspiration and direction for the Baltimore BELIEVE campaign to change the mindset of the city and rally citizens to take action against illegal drugs,” boasts the company's promotional material. “Baltimore, a Linder client, led the nation’s big cities in reducing violent crime during the three-year period 2000-2002.”

“John is simply the best at what he does,” gushes LAPD Chief Bill Bratton, the former New York City Police Commissioner.” Well, what does he do, exactly? “It’s awful to admit,” Bratton concedes, “that after working with John... I still can’t pronounce what he does."

Linder's friend, author David Quammen, provides a chilling description Linder's occupation: “The only way to describe John’s work is that he whispers into the ears of the powerful.”

It's not difficult to imagine the kind of affirmations Linder shares with the powerful: “You're wise; you're bold; you're visionary. You simply need to mobilize community support behind your principled leadership.”

The challenge facing Atlanta, the Linder-inspired “Fragile Momentum” report asserted, was that the public simply didn't take “ownership” of the city's crime problem. Indeed, city residents simply didn't understand that they had “more violent crime than any other city (over 100,000 people) in America....[T]hose interviewed certainly did not feel they were held hostage to crime violence....”

According to the report, this refusal of Atlanta residents to perceive the “crisis” is “high-risk civic behavior .... especially if that denial [were to result] in lack of proper support for the Atlanta Police Department in its crime reduction efforts.”
Not surprisingly, the “crime reduction” crusade was to include a radical escalation in counter-drug enforcement.

The section of “Fragile Momentum” dealing with narcotics enforcement offers a detailed indictment of the Atlanta PD for its insufficient zeal in enforcing drug prohibition. Arrests for drug-related offenses, undercover operations, and gun seizures were all down, which could actually mean that violent crime (as well as narcotics use, which – while unwise -- isn't violent and shouldn't be a crime) was actually in decline. The report also complains that “officers and investigators alike are frequently using the municipal `disorderly conduct' (DC-6) charge to arrest suspects found with small amounts of narcotics, rather than charging them with more serious criminal drug violations.”

Our Drug-Fiend ancestors: A magazine ad from 1885 extols the use of cocaine as a topical analgesic

Nor is it enough to ramp up criminal drug charges: “It is the dealer, not the user, driving drug activity and violence. Arrests for distribution, not possession, must be the measure of enforcement productivity.”

Those two brief sentences reflect the perverse incentive structure that inspired the needless fatal attack on Kathryn Johnston's home.

Atlanta's political class demands police “productivity” in the form of dealer arrests; under pressure to produce, a narcotics squad confects a story about a dealer and attacks a home. Now three police are recovering from gunshot wounds, and an innocent grandmother is dead.

The city's political class most likely looks on this episode as a troublesome public relations challenge, rather than a hideous crime. And chances are they'll retain the services of yet another propaganda shop to re-package this atrocity in a way that absolves those complicit in it of all responsibility.

How often does this kind of thing take place in our supposedly free country? Dozens, scores, hundreds of times a year?


Anonymous said...


You asked the question:
Why was it necessary to obtain a “no-knock” warrant and execute a paramilitary raid on the home?

Darn good question. The "no knock" should to be reserved for cases where it is quite probable danger will follow the police knocking and announcing their presence and authority to enter; a "We're coming in. Start shooting as soon as the door opens" type of scenario is what they're trying to avoid. Additionally, there are instances when one will be issued if it is established that evidence will be destroyed when the occupants know of the police presence.

The affidavit appears silent on the issue of destructable evidence and hazards to officers. This could be a Ga. issue, since some states have different requirements for what must be contained within the body of the warrant in order to qualify for a "no knock".

The War on Drugs has produced a mind numbing amount of case law addressing search and seizure issues. One angle that pops up every now and then is that of Drugs=Guns. In other words, drug dealers are known to be armed, therefore it is likely the fuzz will encounter armed occupants. So if it's a drug warrant, it must be dangerous-or so the the so-called courts have ruled.

The ease with which drugs can flushed is the usual reason for the immediate entry for evidentiary purposes. Put this together with the above and "Whamo".

Some states place a heavier burden on the police before they bust down the door of a man's castle, especially during nighttime. Some require the cops wait a reasonable amount of time for the occupants to- well, open the door! They can't forcibly enter until they believe and can articulate: knocking and announcing has proven futile, the occupants are destroying evidence while the police are outside, the occupants are arming themselves, or some other exigent circumstances that aren't "police created" exigencies.

You mentioned a "stake out". I'm wondering if the cops had an eye on the snitch during the transaction. Did they see him go to that house, and that house alone? Or was it the neighhbor's house? The home is described in the warrant as it should be, but I'm wondering if the snitch told them a house number and the cops drove by and jotted down the description. After all, surveillance in a high crime area is close to impossible. Everyone who lives there knows when someone doesn't belong in the hood.

There's the possibility that this house was a trading post of sorts for an oppotunistic relative or associate who wanted to take advantage of the high traffic it afforded. Crack needn't be stored in warehouse quantities in order to open up shop. The dealer can stop by and leave as he pleases, product and cell in pocket.

Of course the possibility exists that there are crews of thugs determined to arrest whomever for whatever to make their positions appear necessary. Heck, they might even go so far as to trust a snitch with covering up their crime.

Either and every way this is a tragedy. An avoidable one. The influence The War Drugs has had on case law, search and seizure, and tactics of the police should alarm everyone, especially those who went through the aggravation of installing their own front door! (I'll do 6 months at GITMO before I let my wife convince me to do that project again).

Just imagine what they'll do to you and your door if it's alleged you're an enemy combatant.

Captain Kirk said...


The "War on Drugs", the "War in Terror", the "War on Civil Rights Violations", the "War on Poverty", etc...pick one and I'll show you a bogey-man that every administration in my lifetime has used to scare the masses sufficiently into letting said administration whittle away at the Bill of Rights and the Constitution in general. Just when the people seemingly start to wise up, bam there is another "social war" declared on some other ill of society and bam a few more civil rights are further encroached upon, all in the name of public saftey. Was it Ben Franklin who said (or some words to the effect of), "Those who are willing to sacrifice a measure of Freedom for the sake of security deserve neither"?

KoWT said...

police fraud?

Here's how it'd work:

A scoundrel cop (or cops) make a large crack bust and withholds some of the crack.

The confidential informant is then used as a front to sell the stuff to the county at 50 bucks a throw. The bad guys don't even need to really involve the informant, just put his name on the paperwork and pocket the 50 dollar buy money.

50 dollars here, 50 dollars there, and, given time, a scoundrel of a cop (or a conspiracy of scoundrel cops) could nicely augment their meager pay.

Until something went wrong and spun events outta the conspirator's control.

People'll do some awful things for money.

Chris said...

Another midnight no-knock raid on innocent Atlantans brings a lawsuit to the city.