Wednesday, May 14, 2008

FBI Agent Says Police Officer Feared Being Labeled a 'RAT'

Arthur Bruce Tesler said he didn't object to lies to get a search warrant and helped cover up the crime after an innocent woman was killed, because he feared retribution from Atlanta police if he became a "rat," an FBI agent said Tuesday.

"He said in 2003 he had tried to report an officer who was involved in excessive force," FBI Agent Joe Robuck told the Fulton County jury Tuesday. "All that resulted in his co-workers thinking of him as a rat and Mr. Tesler being transferred to a less desirable position in the Atlanta Police Department."

The prosecution rested at noon in Tesler's trial in Superior Court. where he faces charges including lying in an official investigation and violating his oath of office for his role in the narcotics raid that resulted in the death of 92-year-old Kathryn Johnston on Nov. 21, 2006.

Tesler's two co-defendants, Gregg Junnier and Jason R. Smith, have already pleaded guilty.

They faced more serious charges, including murder, and agreed to plead guilty to voluntary manslaughter.

They have not yet been sentenced. Junnier testified last week and his sentence of up to 10 years is dependant on his cooperation.

He testified that Tesler, 42, participated in the coverup but he wasn't the main instigator of the illegal warrant or the coverup scheme, which Junnier blamed on Smith. In a surprise, the prosecution did not call Smith to testify.

FBI agent Robuck was the main witness Tuesday morning and he described a coverup that reached above Tesler and his two co-defendants. The three detectives briefed their sergeant, Wilbert Stallings, that they were changing their story about which officers witnessed an informant buying crack cocaine at Johnston's house at 933 Neal Street after Johnston was shot to death by narcotics unit officers.

"Sgt. Stallings was told there had been a change in the story and his comment, according to the investigation was, was 'Just pick one and stick to it," Robuck said.

The FBI agent described a police narcotics division that repeatedly lied to get warrants and planted evidence in investigations. Stallings, 44, was later convicted and is in prison on charges from another drug investigation that was turned up during the FBI investigation of the Neal Street case.

Robuck interviewed Tesler twice in the FBI investigation of police actions in getting a no-knock warrant to search for a reputed large stash of cocaine owned by a drug dealer, named "Sam," whom police believe operated from 933 Neal Street.

They had arrested a low-level dealer earlier that day who they said claimed to have seen a kilo of cocaine – 2.2 pounds — in the house that day, Nov. 21, 2006.

Instead, Johnston was waiting with a gun when officers broke down her door without announcing they were police. She fired one shot and was killed in a massive return fire.

Tesler, who was covering the back of the house and did not fire his pistol, was so shaken by the killing that he couldn't write his report, Robuck said.

Tesler told such a detailed lie about how he and his partners met with informant Alex White in the afternoon of the raid that he came across as very credible, Robuck said.

"His demeanor was very convincing," the FBI agent said.

The story matched the one that had been told by his partners. Smith, who lied to the magistrate to get the warrant, prepared a script for the detectives to go over to get their stories straight in the days following the shootings, Robuck said.

"Did you ever give [Tesler] a chance to come clean and tell the truth?" prosecutor Peter Odom asked Robuck of the first FBI interview with Tesler on Dec. 7, 2006.

"He said he didn't think there was anything he wanted to correct," Robuck said.

But White, the informant, had contacted the FBI to tell them he was being pressured to lie for the officers and Junnier, unknown to Tesler and Smith, soon confessed to the FBI.

On Dec. 21, 2006, Tesler told the FBI he would cooperate and gave them a lengthy interview after the holidays on Jan. 4, 2007.

Tesler said he went along with the cover-up story — that a reliable drug buy had been made at the house earlier this day — because "he was the low man on the totem pole," Robuck said.

"Did he ever express the concern that no one would believe him over a senior member of the team?" asked Tesler's lawyer, William McKenney, who was at the interview.

"He did say that," Robuck said.

Tesler said he knew Smith had lied to get the warrant when it was read to the eight-member narcotics team shortly before it raided the Johnston house.

He blamed Smith for planting marijuana in Johnston's basement to help justify the raid and claimed he had shaken his head "No" and walked out of the basement when Smith showed him the dope.

But he acknowledged going along with Smith's claim that cocaine seized from the low-level dealer earlier that day had been the cocaine bought from the Johnston house.

Tesler also was with Smith when they destroyed the rest of the marijuana seized earlier in the day at a different location because part of it was planted at Johnston's house and the samples could be linked through testing, Robuck said.

"They destroyed evidence," Odom said.

"Correct," Robuck said.

Mexico Officer Kills Federal Officer

A police officer and four other people with suspected ties to a powerful drug cartel have been arrested in the assassination of Mexico's acting federal police chief, authorities said Monday.

The three men and two women belonged to a criminal cell believed to be acting on the orders of the Sinaloa drug cartel, said Gerardo Garay, the anti-drug coordinator for the federal police. The drug trafficking organization had been a key target of operations led by Edgar Millan Gomez, who was gunned down inside his Mexico City home last week.

The alleged leader of the cell, Jose Antonio Montes Garfias, had been assigned to a federal police unit in the northern state of Sinaloa since February but never reported to work during that period because he was on medical leave, Garay said. He is suspected in the killing of another federal officer days before Millan's death.

Officials at the attorney general's office could not say if lawyers had been assigned to the five suspects.

Garay refused to say if other federal officers were suspected of involvement, saying only that investigators were not ruling out any possibilities.

Millan was the highest-ranking of four senior officers killed since May 1 in attacks the government has blamed on gangs resisting its crackdown against drug trafficking. The assassinations have prompted stepped up calls from the Bush administration for Congress to approve a US$1.4 billion (euro910 million) proposal to help fight drug crime in Mexico and Central America.

Garay said a lone hit man waited inside Millan's Mexico City home and sprayed him with bullets shortly after the officer opened the door and turned on the lights. Millan's bodyguards immediately captured the alleged hit man, Alejandro Ramirez, who was found with keys to Millan's apartment. The other four suspects were tracked down hours later, Garay said.

Millan was responsible for coordinating drug trafficking operations between federal police and soldiers. He had recently announced the arrest of 12 suspected hit men tied to the Sinaloa cartel. He was named acting chief March 1 after his superior was promoted to a deputy Cabinet position.

Garay said Montes had suspected ties to top Sinaloa cartel leaders known as the Beltran Leyva brothers, although he refused to give any evidence, citing security reasons. One of the brothers, Alfredo Beltran Leyva, was arrested in Sinaloa state in January.

Montes was found with a list of license plates of five vehicles belonging to federal police commanders, including Roberto Bravo Velasco, an inspector gunned down in front of his home days before Millan was killed.

Before being assigned to Sinaloa, Montes had worked as an anti-drug officer in Mexico City's International Airport, Garay said. He had a notebook with detailed information on drug trafficking at the airport, and Garay said federal investigations into those operations may have been a key motive for Millan's killing.

The other three suspects were accused of providing logistical help for the plot, including vehicles and radios.

Since taking office in 2006, President Felipe Calderon has sent more than 25,000 troops to drug hotspots. Cartels have responded with unprecedented violence, beheading police and killing soldiers. Drug-related violence killed more than 2,500 people last year alone in Mexico.

The Bush administration reiterated its appeal Monday for Congress to approve the law enforcement aid package known as the Merida Initiative.

"We are shocked by the escalating violence against Mexican law enforcement officials," said U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack, calling recent attacks "a brutal reaction to President Calderon's determination to fight organized crime."