10 Shocking Examples of Police Killing Innocent People in the "War on Drugs"
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In a democratic republic, the “innocent until proven guilty” concept is supposed to be sacrosanct. Jurors, police officers, judges and prosecuting attorneys—at least in theory—are required to err on the side of caution, and if a guilty person occasionally goes free, so be it. But with the war on drugs, the concept of innocent until proven guilty has fallen by the wayside on countless occasions. The war on drugs is not only fought aggressively, it is fought carelessly and haphazardly, and a long list of innocent victims have been killed or maimed in the process.
Attorney General Eric Holder recently addressed the war on drugs during a speech for the American Bar Association’s annual meeting, calling for the United States to seriously reevaluate its harsh policy of mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent, low-level drug offenses. Holder acknowledged that “too many Americans go to too many prisons for far too long and for no truly good law enforcement reason,” and he pointed out that according to one report, black males convicted in drug cases typically receive sentences that are 20% longer than the sentences imposed on white males for similar offenses. It was refreshing to hear an attorney general make those statements; also encouraging is a recent Rasmussen poll finding that 82% of Americans see the war on drugs as a failure.
Many people from across the political spectrum—from the American Civil Liberties Union, the NAACP, the National Urban League and the Rev. Jesse Jackson to right-wing libertarians like Ron Paul, Walter Williams and 2012 Libertarian Party presidential nominee Gary Johnson—have pointed out that the war on drugs has become much deadlier than the drugs themselves. Innocent civilians have more to fear from botched drug raids and careless police work than they do from drug dealers.
Below are 10 innocent victims who became collateral damage and lost their lives in the war on drugs (there are many, many more).
1. Kathryn Johnston; Atlanta, Georgia, 2006.
Narcotics officers who kill innocent people in the war on drugs often don’t even face suspensions, let alone criminal charges. But the conduct of three Atlanta police officers in the killing of 92-year-old Kathryn Johnston was so unscrupulous that all three faced criminal charges.
On November 21, 2006, plainclothes officers Jason R. Smith, Gregg Junnier and Arthur Tesler carried out a no-knock drug raid on Johnston’s Atlanta home based on bad information from an informant/marijuana dealer named Alex White. When they broke in, Johnston (who lived alone in a high-crime area of the city and kept a gun in her house for protection) assumed she was being the victim of a home invasion and fired a shot. But a lot more shooting was done by the officers: a total of 39 shots were fired, several of which hit her. And while Johnston was lying on the floor dying, Smith handcuffed her.
An investigation revealed that after Johnston’s death, a major coverup was attempted, including planting bags of marijuana in her house and trying to bully White into lying and saying that Johnston was selling crack cocaine. Smith, Junnier and Tesler faced a variety of charges from both the federal government and the state of Georgia. Smith and Junnier both pled guilty to charges of voluntary manslaughter; Smith also pled guilty to perjury and admitted he planted the marijuana in Johnston’s house. And all three of them pled guilty to federal charges of conspiracy to violate her civil rights. In a civil suit, Johnston’s family was awarded a $490,000 settlement.
2. Tarika Wilson; Lima, Ohio, 2008.
On January 4, 2008, narcotics officer Joseph Chavalia shot and killed 26-year-old Tarika Wilson in Lima, Ohio. Wilson, a single mother, had been romantically involved with a suspected drug dealer named Anthony Terry (who later pled guilty to selling drugs). When Chavalia and other narcotics officers raided the house where Wilson was living, Terry was nowhere to be found. Wilson, however, was in one of the bedrooms; when Chavalia fired shots into that bedroom, she was killed. Wilson’s one-year-old child was also shot but survived, although one of his fingers needed to be amputated.