As a northwest Atlanta neighborhood roiled over news that police had stormed a house and shot a 92-year-old woman, Atlanta police officials said Wednesday that cops had made a drug buy at the home and were returning to search the residence.
Three narcotics investigators were wounded in the Tuesday night shooting when the home's occupant emptied a six-shot revolver at them. Police identified the dead woman as Kathryn Johnston. The investigators were released from the hospital Wednesday morning.
Assistant Police Chief Alan Dreher said a suspect was not arrested after the buy. He said the suspect's identity is not known, nor is it known what relationship, if any, the suspect had to the dead woman.
Dreher, in a news conference on Wednesday, said the officers broke through a burglar bar entry door and then a wooden door. The police, whom Dreher called "experienced officers," were not wearing uniforms but had on vests with "police" on the front. He said they were inside the house when they were shot.
Investigator Gregg Junnier, 40, was shot three times, police said, in the side of the face, in the leg and in the center of his protective vest. Investigator Gary Smith, 38, was shot in the left leg, and Investigator Cary Bond, 38, was shot in the left arm.
"There is going to be a complete investigation," Dreher said. "There have been no predeterminations made in this case."
He said that "suspected narcotics" were found at the home at 933 Neal Street, an area west and north of the Georgia Dome known for drug activity.
Dreher handled details of the incident because Chief Richard J.
Pennington was out of town for the Thanksgiving holiday.
Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard said the officers in such situations "use what they believe is their best intelligence" when entering a home to make an arrest. "They thought they could enter the home safely."
"This seems like another tragedy involving drugs," Howard said.
It was not immediately clear how long Johnston had lived at the Neal Street home. Neighbors said she lived alone. On Wednesday morning, they described her as a "good neighbor" and said she was "law abiding."
State Rep. "Able" Mable Thomas (D-Atlanta) called Johnston's death "unfortunate" and said a number of upset neighbors and other residents called to say neither Johnston nor her Neal Street home were in any way connected to illegal drug activity, as police suggested.
"The community does not want to digest that there was a 92-year-old woman in that house and all of a sudden there's a confrontation with police and now she's dead," said Thomas, whose district includes the neighborhood where the shooting occurred. "A confrontation with police and a 92-year-old woman don't go together."
Police say they followed proper procedures. Thomas hopes they did, but added: "When you see a 92-year-old being the victim of circumstances like this, we know something is going wrong."
The Rev. Howard Beckham, head of the English Avenue Neighborhood Association, said he was shocked at the news of the shooting. The community where Johnston lived borders the English Avenue neighborhood. Beckham spent a lot of time in the area as pastor of New Jerusalem Baptist Church, a few blocks from Neal Street. Johnston's street, he said, hasn't been considered a trouble spot in terms of drug activity.
"I'm just concerned as to why they would be knocking on a 92-year-old lady's door about drugs when there are so many other doors of houses they could have been knocking on that they are well aware of," Beckham said.
Atlanta assistant police Chief Alan Dreher, in a news conference Tuesday night, said the warrant was served at the correct address. Police still have not released the woman's name.
Sarah C. Dozier said Johnston was her aunt.
Dozier said her aunt worried about crime in the neighborhood where she had lived for about 17 years, and might have thought the police were intruders.
"Every window in her home and every door on her home has burglar bars," said Dozier. "I talked to her the other day about a 72-year-old who was raped. I know she was just scared."
Dozier said her aunt was healthy and vigorous and lived alone. She said she talked to her aunt every day and was looking forward to her annual Thanksgiving dinner at her aunt's home.
Dreher, the assistant police chief, said that as far as he knew the narcotics officers did "everything by the book. They had a search warrant, they announced themselves and knocked first." He said he did not know what name was on the warrant. The woman was the only person in the home at the time, he said.
Dreher said the incident is still under investigation and "will be for days."
He declined to say how many shots were fired and what kind of gun the woman had. Dozier said her aunt owned a pistol and she had a permit. "I don't know what kind and it was rusty, but apparently it was working well," she said.
A neighbor, Yolanda Jackson, 42, said she was sitting on the front porch of her home on Joseph E. Lowery Boulevard a block away when undercover narcotics officers, who were not in street uniforms, showed up around 7 p.m. to serve the warrant at Johnston's home, at 933 Neal St.
"I heard 'pow, pow, pow, pow,' " said Jackson. "A whole lot of gunfire, really fast." She estimated the number of shots at between 16 and 24. She said within five minutes, "about 20" police cars swarmed into the area.
A few minutes later, ambulances showed up and a helicopter was hovering over the neighborhood, which is an intown mix of dilapidated and well-kept homes, houses being refurbished and a few new infill houses. By 8:15 p.m. police had Neal Street blocked off from the corner of Joseph Lowery as investigators went in and out of the home bringing out bags of evidence, according to neighbors, and TV news crews set up street shots.
The shooting came on the same day that the district attorney in neighboring DeKalb County announced she would ask for a grand jury to review police department investigations of 12 deadly police shootings there this year. Some of Johnston's neighbors made the connection.
"The same thing is happening here as is going on in DeKalb County," said neighbor Tony Torrance. "Police are shooting people. They aren't following procedure."
Atlanta police declined to say what they were searching for when they went to Johnston's home. Dozier said she plans to hire a lawyer to find out what really happened.
"As far as I'm concerned, they shot her down like a dog."
Local activist Markell Hutchins asked area churches that have services Wednesday night to send their congregations to Johnston's house at 8:30 p.m. for a prayer vigil.
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