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July 19, 2007 ACLU Washington DC

Civil Rights Advocates, Members of Congress to Speak Out Against the Dangers of the Informant System

Following the Atlanta Police Shooting of a 92-Year-Old Kathryn Johnston

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE July 19, 2007

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

CONTACT: Rachel Perrone, ACLU Washington Legislative Office, (202) 675-2312, media@dcaclu.org

WASHINGTON - Civil rights leader Reverend Markel Hutchins, the American Civil Liberties Union, Professor Alexandra Natapoff of Loyola Law School, and members of Congress will hold a press briefing immediately following today's House Judiciary Committee hearings on the dangers of the informant system as used in drug law enforcement.

Today's hearing was prompted by the tragic death of a 92-year-old Atlanta woman, Kathryn Johnston, who was shot during a botched SWAT raid of her home. The raid was based on information fabricated by police, who falsely attributed it to a confidential informant. Civil rights advocates and members of Congress will call for an overhaul of the informant system and the institution of oversight mechanisms and safeguards to prevent future injustices.

What: Press briefing on the misuse of informants

When: 12:30 pm, immediately following House Judiciary joint oversight hearing

Where: The Horseshoe Lobby of the Rayburn House Office Building

"The informant system is a ticking time bomb in need of immediate reform. Ms. Johnston's death has sounded the alarm: we've handed over too much police work to informants," said Jesselyn McCurdy, legislative counsel at the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. "Informants can be useful tools for law enforcement, but there must be oversight of their use if our system of justice is to live up to its name."

In November 2006, Atlanta police conducted a paramilitary-style raid of Ms. Johnston's home based on information of suspected drug activity at her address. Fabricating information they claimed came from an informant, police improperly obtained a warrant for a "no-knock" raid that allowed them to burst into Ms. Johnston's home without warning. In the course of an internal investigation conducted after the raid, two police officers admitted to fabricating evidence in order to secure the warrant and pressuring an informant to cover for their misconduct.

"Our system must operate on evidence and probable cause, not trust alone. Here, we trusted police officers without requiring corroboration of their claim that an informant provided information. An elderly woman lost her life as a result," said Rev. Hutchins, who represents the family of Kathryn Johnson.

"Unless Congress acts to reform the informant institution, more innocent people will be caught in the crossfire. It is simply unacceptable that an elderly woman was shot to death in her own home by police officers entrusted with preserving the public's safety. "We must resolve the systemic failings responsible for this tragedy."

For additional information, including the ACLU's policy paper outlining specific reform proposals, written testimony from hearing participants, and detailed background on the informant issue go to: www.aclu.org/drugpolicy

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