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Police: Man sold drugs at home where elderly woman was killed
Elderly shooting
An Atlanta police cruiser remains parked in front of the home of 91-year-old Kathryn Johnston which is surrounded by police tape early Wednesday, Nov. 22, 2006 in Atlanta. According to police, narcotics officers were justified in returning fire on Johnston, who they shot to death, Tuesday, Nov. 21, 2006, after she shot and wounded three officers as they tried to serve a warrant at her house in Atlanta. Neighbors and relatives said it was a case of mistaken identity. She was the only resident in the house at the time and had lived in the home for about 17 years. - photo by Associated Press
ATLANTA — Many of the folks on the rundown northwest Atlanta street where Kathryn Johnston lived fortify their windows with metal bars and arm themselves with guns for protection.
    And although she was 92, Johnston was no exception.
    She was waiting with her gun at the ready Tuesday night when a group of police officers with a warrant to search her house for drugs knocked down her door, police said.
    In the ensuing shootout, three officers were wounded and Johnston was killed.
    The agents were granted the search warrant after buying drugs from a male suspect in Johnston’s home hours earlier, Assistant Atlanta Police Chief Alan Dreher said Wednesday.
    He called the incident ‘‘tragic and unfortunate,’’ but said the officers were justified in returning fire. ‘‘You don’t know who’s in the house until you open that door,’’ said Dreher. ‘‘And once they forced open the door, they were immediately fired upon.’’
    Johnston’s neighbors and relatives said it was a case of mistaken identity. At a news conference Wednesday in front of Johnston’s home, the Rev. Markel Hutchins, a civil rights activist and spokesman for the family, said he could understand why the elderly woman would arm herself.
    ‘‘She was afraid,’’ Hutchins said. ‘‘This is a horrifying situation in a neighborhood where crime happens often. This incident is a result of a mix-up.’’
    The shootout erupted around 7 p.m. Tuesday after police identified themselves and then forced open Johnston’s door, Dreher said. Johnston, who was in the house alone, opened fire, he said.
    Bullets struck Investigator Gary Smith, 38, in the left leg and Investigator Cary Bond, 38, in the left arm. Investigator Gregg Junnier, 40, was hit three times — in his leg, on the side of his face and in his bulletproof vest.
    They were rushed to Grady Memorial Hospital and are expected to recover, Dreher said.
    ‘‘The officers are going to be fine,’’ he said.
    The three were placed on administrative leave, a standard response when an officer is involved in a shooting, said Officer Joe Cobb, a police spokesman.
    Crime and drugs are a part of the landscape in the rough-and-tumble neighborhood where Johnston lived, and her neighbors say they have to do what it takes to protect themselves.
    ‘‘It’s the roughest neighborhood in Georgia,’’ said 56-year-old Allen Pernel, who lives a few blocks from Johnston’s home. ‘‘If she thought somebody was coming into her house, she did what any of us would have done.’’
    Al Harley, a 50-year-old homeless man who hangs out in front of a neighborhood convenience store said residents follow a sort of credo: ‘‘Don’t let anyone disrespect your door.’’
    ‘‘What you think someone is going to do if they knock your door down?’’ he asked after taking a swig of his wine cooler. ‘‘Any time someone hits your door, everyone is on alert.’’
    Atlanta Police are being tightlipped about the shooting because of the ongoing investigation. Police refused to release details about the search warrant or whether the officer involved in the undercover buy was also part of the team in the shootout. Dreher also would not discuss how the alleged drug dealer knew Johnston.
    Johnston never had children and her closest relative was a 75-year-old niece, neighbors said.
    Tameka Walker, 28, who lives behind Johnston’s house, said the woman kept to herself.
    ‘‘She hardly came outside her home,’’ said Walker, who said she visited Johnston weekly. ‘‘She’s not a 92-year-old grouchy old woman you think she was. She’s a very nice person.’’
    The neighborhood is showing a few signs of transition. A new two-story home sits on the street where Johnston was killed and workers are putting the finishing touches on another building project nearby.
    Don Franklin, a 46-year-old contractor who builds and renovates houses in the area, said most of the criminal activity seems to center on another strech of Neal Street a few blocks from where Johnston lived.
    ‘‘One side of Neal is all of the elderly folks,’’ he said, as his van idled at a neighborhood convenience store. ‘‘The other side, well, there’s a lot of mischievous activity.’’
    Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard said his office has launched its own independent investigation into the fatal shooting, but he said a preliminary review of the case shows the officers ‘‘had a legal right’’ to search the home.
    The shooting comes at a time when there is already concern over use of force by police in the metro Atlanta area. Earlier Tuesday, the district attorney in neighboring DeKalb County, where 12 people have been killed by police so far this year, said her office may present evidence to a grand jury that could bring criminal charges.
    Johnston was the second person this year killed by Atlanta police, Dreher said.
    Hutchins, the spokesman for Johnston’s family, hinted that Atlanta police may soon face a lawsuit. He demanded an apology from Atlanta officials and said he plans to meet with attorneys.
    ‘‘Of the police brutality cases we’ve had,’’ he said, ‘‘this is the most egregious because of the woman’s age.’’
    Associated Press Writer Jonathan Landrum Jr. contributed to this report from Atlanta.
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