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Police shooting of elderly woman leads to federal probe

Story Highlights

• NEW: Police Chief: Federal authorities will investigate police involved shooting
• NEW: Narcotics team involved will be put on paid leave
• NEW: Informant denies buying drugs at slain woman's home on day of raid
• NEW: Chief promises to make "every document, every witness" available
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ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- Federal authorities will investigate last week's police involved shooting death of an elderly woman in Atlanta, the city's police chief announced Monday.

Richard Pennington also said the eight-member narcotics team tied to the incident will be placed on paid leave.

The move came after an informant -- named in a search warrant of the woman's home -- denied buying drugs at the residence, Pennington said.

But police spokesmen had initially said narcotics officers carried out a drug buy Tuesday from a man identified only as "Sam" at Kathryn Johnston's home west of downtown Atlanta.

Pennington said investigators found a small amount of marijuana there after the raid.

"The officers are saying one thing. The confidential informant is saying something else," the chief said.

The decision to turn the case over to the FBI, federal prosecutors, the Fulton County district attorney's office and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, came in the middle of "intense speculation and suspicion" surrounding the shooting, said Pennington.

He promised to make "every document, every witness and piece of evidence" available.

Police said Johnston opened fire on police who tried to enter her home last Tuesday. Three officers were wounded, and Johnston was killed when police returned fire.

Neighbors and relatives said the raid had to have been a mistake. Johnston lived alone and was so afraid of crime in the neighborhood that she wouldn't let neighbors who delivered groceries for her come into her home, they said.

Relatives gave her age as 92, but Fulton County medical examiners put her age at 88.

Reviewing "no-knock" policy

The chief said his department was reviewing its use of "no-knock" raids after the shootout. The warrants are common in narcotics cases when officers fear suspects may try to dispose of drugs or evidence in the time it takes authorities to gain access to the home.

"There are many unanswered questions. I promise each and every citizen that the complete truth will be eventually known, whatever that might be," he said. "But we must all exercise patience while we examine and re-examine every single aspect of these tragic events."

A spokesman for Johnston's family, the Rev. Markel Hutchins, went to Washington to request a federal investigation Monday.

Hutchins said he had received assurance agencies involved would conduct a "swift and thorough" investigation into Johnston's death.

Hutchins said the three mid-level officials with whom he met also promised "all resources at our disposal" to help counter the fallout in the African American community from the fatal shooting.

And a Justice Department official in Washington confirmed the Civil Rights Division's interest in the case.

"We have begun a review of the matter, and are collecting information," spokesperson Cynthia Magnuson said. "The FBI has already begun its investigation and we are coordinating with other agencies."

Hutchins said he urged Justice Department officials to pressure local police departments to stop using "no knock" search warrants.


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