Judge refuses to block release of Kathryn Johnston file
A Fulton County judge this morning refused to block an oversight board’s access to investigative files in the fatal 2006 police shooting of Kathryn Johnston.
Atlanta police, in response to a subpoena, turned over files in the Johnston shooting to the city’s Citizen Review Board on Tuesday. A day earlier, on the July 6 subpoena deadline, lawyers for the International Brotherhood of Police Officers went to court trying to stop transfer of the files.
But Superior Court Judge Wendy Shoob told the IBPO’s lawyer today that his timing was off.
“I think you’re too late on the production of documents and the issue is moot,” Shoob said. “And then I think you’re too early to object to the release of any findings of the [review board’s] investigation.”
The review board, created in the aftermath of Johnston’s death in a bungled drug raid, had been pushing for months to see files in the Johnston case and the 2008 shooting of Pierre George, an apparently unarmed robbery suspect. Until the subpoena was issued, police had resisted giving up the files until their own internal inquiries had been completed.
The police union, in court papers filed Monday, argued the review board was not entitled to files of open investigations into officer-involved shootings. The union said handing over the files could endanger those officers’ rights to due process.
“The premature release of departmental information and records would jeopardize the integrity of the investigation and the involved officers’ rights,” IBPO attorney David A. Beall wrote in his request for an injunction.
The review board’s attorney, Lem Ward, argued today the union was too late and had no standing to challenge release of the documents. The board, he said, has a right to the files because its work is part of the city’s investigative process.
The files will remain confidential while the Review Board’s internal investigation is open, Ward said. Once it is completed, he said, the union will have adequate time to go to court to prevent the board’s findings from being released to the public.
Johnston (right) was shot and killed in her Neal Street home in November 2006 by members of a narcotics unit serving a no-knock search warrant obtained with falsified information. After the shooting, officers planted marijuana at the scene to make it appear the raid was legitimate.
Three Atlanta officers are serving federal prison sentences for their roles in the shooting. Two others have admitted related crimes, including involvement in a ring that collected payments from businesses in high-crime areas in exchange for a police presence.
Federal prosecutors have said their findings — contained in a report delivered to Atlanta police late last year — might lead to prosecutions or disciplinary action against other officers. The department’s Office of Professional Standards has been investigating the Johnston shooting and related matters since then.
Three officers remain on paid leave while that investigation continues.