Dion Johnson’s family demand answers about his death; audio from incident released

The family of Dion Johnson, the 28-year-old who was shot following a struggle with an Arizona Department of Public Safety trooper, presented audio of a dispatch call of the incident, saying authorities let Johnson lie on the ground for six minutes before he got medical help.

An attorney for Johnson’s family, Jocquese Blackwell, played the audio, which was also later posted on the Facebook page of an activist organization, Phoenix Local Organizing Committee for Justice or Else. The audio was initially posted within an unlisted YouTube video. Blackwell said the family received the link to the YouTube video but did not know the origins. 

“The question that the family has is, why do we have to, time and time again, find ourselves in a situation when another unarmed black man or black woman has been killed by an individual who has volunteered to protect and serve?” Blackwell said.

After the audio was played for media, Phoenix police released their first statement late Wednesday about the case.

More details on the incident released by police

The audio, which runs a little longer than three minutes, begins with a trooper finding Johnson asleep in a vehicle on the Loop 101 at Tatum Boulevard on May 25. The odor of alcohol is noted in the conversation, and open containers are mentioned. There are 56 seconds of silence not included in the audio, and then mention of shots fired.

After the news conference, the Phoenix Police Department released a statement with more details on the shooting.

The vehicle was parked on the eastbound “gore point” of Loop 101 at Tatum Boulevard and partially blocking traffic, police spokeswoman Sgt. Maggie Cox said. After some type of struggle, the trooper shot Johnson, police said. A second trooper responded to the scene and helped remove Johnson from the car, police said. Phoenix Fire Department personnel took Johnson to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead. 

A handgun was recovered at the scene, Cox said, but the audio makes no mention of it.

The Phoenix Police Department is conducting a trooper investigation, while DPS is conducting the administrative investigation of the shooting. Once complete, the case will be sent to the Critical Incident Review Board of the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, police said in a statement on Thursday. 

The incident occurred around 5:30 a.m., the department said in its Thursday statement. Johnson was found by the DPS trooper “passed out in the driver’s seat,” the statement said. 

The statement said the trooper “smelled an odor of alcohol, saw beer cans and a gun in the vehicle.” The trooper removed the gun from Johnson’s vehicle and secured it on his motorcycle.

After calling for backup, the trooper noticed Johnson moving, so he went back to the car and tried to arrest Johnson. Johnson, now awake, “grabbed onto” the trooper through the driver’s side door, which began the struggle. The trooper later told investigators he was worried he would be pushed into oncoming traffic so he drew his gun, Cox said. 

“Mr. Johnson began to comply but as the trooper was holstering his gun, Mr. Johnson reached for the gun and a second altercation ensued,” Cox said. “The trooper, fearing for his life, then fired his service weapon striking Mr. Johnson. A second trooper arrived after the shooting and assisted in removing Mr. Johnson from the vehicle.”

Video of incident viewed by Johnson’s family

The Johnson family said they had viewed a capture of an Arizona Department of Transportation video of the incident. Blackwell said it had been captured by a local TV station from live feeds that ADOT runs 24/7. Phoenix police noted these feeds are typically not recorded.

A video was later posted by AZFamily. The Arizona Republic obtained the video on Sept. 23 through a records request to the Phoenix Police Department submitted May 29.

There is no audio, and the video does not capture the shots fired, but does show Johnson on the ground as a trooper stands nearby. The camera operator later pans to show an ambulance on the shoulder of the highway, waiting, and then approaching the scene toward the end of the video. The video lasts just shy of six minutes.

In a statement Thursday evening, Phoenix police said ADOT gives news organizations across the state access to video feeds of their camera network. The agency does not automatically record the feeds, however, the news organizations could, according to police.

“This recording belongs to the individual station who began recording the feed after learning of the shooting,” police said on Thursday. The department later added it had not authenticated the video but was in the process of legally obtaining a copy.

Police learned of the video’s existence late last week but did not have access to it, the department said. Police watched it for the first time on Wednesday when it was publicly released by the TV station, the department said.

Johnson’s mother, Erma Johnson, said what she saw in the video shocked her.

“I can’t believe that someone that’s supposed to protect and serve would treat a human being the way they treated my son when he was shot, handcuffed, thrown to the ground, obviously, because he was in the car before they shot,” she said.

Erma Johnson said the video shows paramedics and a fire truck responding to the incident, presumably after shots were fired. She said it took six minutes for them to attend to her son after he was pulled from the car.

“Six minutes went by. They sat there instead of going to the aid of my son,” she said. “He could have been alive to this day, but they held everybody up so he can obviously lay on the ground and die.”

The ADOT video could be the only video of the incident, since the DPS troopers were not wearing body-worn cameras, and there were no dash cameras because the troopers were on motorcycles.

Erma Johnson said she wants actions taken against the troopers, who have yet to be identified.

“I just want those officers to be charged, arrested and fired for cruelty to human life, human beings.”

Dion Johnson remembered as giving, non-confrontational

Erma Johnson said her son had run-ins with the police before, but he was not a confrontational person.

Other loved ones said Dion would often give his last dollar to those in need, and he would always be there for family.

Dustin Johnson, Dion’s older brother, has marched in the name of other black men killed by police, but he never thought it would happen to his family.

“It broke my heart, my soul, everything,” he said. “I’ve been out here marching since Trayvon Martin got killed. And I never thought in my wildest dreams or anything that it would happen to my family.”

Blackwell said there are additional details and information that the family will release in time. They are asking anyone with information to come forward.

Arizona Republic reporter Chelsea Curtis contributed to this report.



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