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Informant denies buying drugs at elderly Atlantan's home

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Police chief says federal authorities will probe raid that led to woman's death
Informant denies buying drugs at slain woman's home on the day of police raid
The narcotics team involved has been placed on paid leave
The chief promises to make "every document, every witness" available
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ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- An informant cited in a search warrant as having purchased narcotics at an elderly Atlanta woman's house denies buying drugs there, authorities say.

Undercover officers raiding the 88-year-old woman's house shot her to death last week after she fired on them while they broke down her door in a high-crime neighborhood.

Federal prosecutors will investigate the case, Atlanta police Chief Richard Pennington announced Monday. (Watch when the snitch says he got the call to concoct a drug-buy story Video)

Pennington said the eight-member narcotics squad that took part in the raid has been placed on paid leave while investigators look into the informant's story and the circumstances surrounding the November 21 death of Kathryn Johnston.

The informant also told investigators from the Atlanta police internal affairs bureau that he was told to lie about the matter, the chief said.

"The FBI will investigate his statements, along with the police officers' statements as well," Pennington said.

Authorities said Johnston opened fire on police who tried to enter her home, prying off burglar bars and forcing open her door, during a "no-knock" drug raid. Officers returned fire, killing her.

Relatives put Johnston's age at 92, but Fulton County medical examiners said she was 88.

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

Atlanta police reviews 'no-knock' policy

In an affidavit used to obtain the search warrant, narcotics officers said an informant had purchased two bags of crack cocaine from a man identified only as "Sam" in the home earlier that day.

Pennington said he called in federal prosecutors and the FBI after internal affairs investigators questioned the informant during the weekend.

"After we brought the informant in and interviewed that informant, he told us that he had no knowledge of going into that house to purchase drugs," he said. "That's what he told us. I don't know if he went in or not. We don't know if he's telling the truth."

In an interview with Atlanta's WAGA-TV, the informant said he had never been to Johnston's house.

"I'm telling them, I never went to the house," the informant told the station. "The police can't say I ever went to the house."

The informant then said police called him and told him "you need to cover our ass."

"It's all on you -- have to tell them about this Sam dude," the informant said police told him.

Pennington said the man was being "put away in a secure place" until the FBI could question him. The chief also promised to make "every document, every witness and piece of evidence" available to investigators.

Meanwhile, the seven narcotics officers and a sergeant were put on administrative leave with pay, and the department is reviewing its use of "no-knock" raids after the shootout, he said. 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.

In addition to the FBI and Justice Department, the Fulton County district attorney's office and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation are taking part in the probe.

Pennington made his reputation cleaning up a corrupt New Orleans, Louisiana, Police Department in the 1990s. He said the "intense speculation and suspicion" surrounding Johnston's death spurred him to call in outside agencies.

"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 assurances that agents would conduct a "swift and thorough" investigation into the woman's death.

Hutchins said the three midlevel officials with whom he met also promised "all resources at our disposal" to help counter the fallout in the African-American community from the shooting. He said he urged Justice Department officials to press for strong federal guidance to local police departments against the use of no-knock warrants.

CNN's Terry Frieden contributed to this report.


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