NY Times Profiles Confidential Informant

NY Times Profiles Confidential Informant July 4, 2012

The New York Times has a remarkable article about Alex White, the confidential informant who signed the affidavit saying he had bought drugs at the home of Kathryn Johnston, the elderly woman killed by the Atlanta PD in 2006 when they busted into her house for no reason at all. White blew the whistle on the whole thing, revealing the rampant corruption in that department that cost an innocent woman her life. It describes what happened that day:

Alex White was at his mother’s house several miles away that evening. She called him downstairs when she heard the news on TV, using a nickname from his childhood (it was the way he first pronounced his own name): “Alo, a bunch of police got shot. Come and see.”

White went in the living room and sat next to her. The reporter said the shootings had taken place on Neal Street. White knew it was in the Bluff, where he bought and sold drugs. Earlier that evening, in fact, the Atlanta narcotics police for whom he worked as a C.I., or confidential informant — a snitch — asked him to go to the Bluff and buy drugs. His car was in the shop, so he had to say no. His mother knew none of this.

Upstairs at his mother’s house, he had already received a call from J. R. Smith, one of the officers from the unit. Smith sounded tense. “Hey, you got to help us out with something,” White told me Smith said. (Smith did not respond to a request for an interview.) White said sure. He tried to be helpful to the police, do what they asked — willingness was one reason he was their most trusted informant for four years running. If White could help cover for them, Smith said, there would be good money in it for him.

“You made a buy today for us,” Smith explained. “Two $25 baggies of crack.”

“I did?” White asked. It took him a moment to register. “O.K. Who did I buy it from?”

“Dude named Sam.” Smith described the imaginary seller, told how Sam had taken his money then walked White to the back of the house and handed him the drugs as Smith and a fellow officer, Arthur Tesler, watched from a car across the street.

“O.K.,” White said. “Where?”

Smith said: “933 Neal Street. I’ll call you later.”

Now in the living room, the TV reporter was saying how a 92-year-old woman had died in the incident, and people were suggesting that the police had shot her. Two and two came together in White’s mind. They did it, he suddenly knew. They messed up. They killed that old lady. Now his heart pounded as the implications became clear. And they want me to cover for them.

This was corrupt at every level. They prepared a fraudulent affidavit with testimony from White to get a no-knock search warrant. After busting into the house and killing Johnston, they planted drugs in the house to justify their earlier lies. Then they pressured White to help them cover it up and lied on their reports. After White blew the whistle and two of the officers copped a plea, it was revealed that the Atlanta drug cops did this all the time and even carried drugs in their squad cars to plant when necessary.

According to White, some of the officers he worked with were particularly tough. Unlike the uniformed police of the Red Dog Unit (the name has come to stand for Run Every Drug Dealer Out of Georgia), White’s handlers were plainclothes and were free to roam the entire city in search of bigger fish. They ruled by intimidation and enjoyed manhandling those they ran up against on the street, White said. He saw them beat people and said that he was roughed up himself more than once when, in order to protect his identity (they said), the cops arrested him and slapped him around right along with all the real suspects.

The leader of the team of officers that he worked with most often, Gregg Junnier (pronounced “junior”), apparently set the tone. White said suspects would sometimes make the mistake of talking trash once handcuffed. Junnier would then slam them against a car or grab them on both sides of the mouth, supposedly to keep them from swallowing drugs. White remembers the time another officer he worked with had a suspect handcuffed and on his stomach; when the suspect began insulting him, White said, the policeman “kicked him in the mouth,” which made even his fellow officers flinch.

“One day Junnier come into my apartment,” White told me, “started throwing stuff around. He say, ‘Where’s the money?’ He knew I’d made some that week. He going through my dresser. He took $4,000. Junnier rough. He very, very rough.” White just accepted the situation. He was not a partner but merely a sub rosa subcontractor, a fact Junnier frequently reminded him of.

Junnier’s team drove around in a black Ford van with darkened windows that became notorious — Darth Vader’s own ride. “Everybody know that van,” White told me. Junnier also drove his own S.U.V., and one day he handed White, in the passenger seat, an envelope full of pictures.

“He show me this Jamaican guy,” White said. “Except only his head, on a fence. It had dreadlocks on top and veins below where it got ripped off. Junnier say he fell between buildings during a chase.” White said he felt he was shown the photo as a kind of warning. (Junnier, through his lawyer, denied all claims by White; the Atlanta Police Department would not comment.)

White knew the cops were dirty; he saw the corners they cut. He presigned cash disbursement forms so that the officers could fill them in as needed. The fact that White knew this perhaps gave him a bit of power, but in reality it frightened him: they were dangerous men to consider displeasing.

The whole thing is worth reading. It’s an incredible, but all too common, story.

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