Downtown Phoenix court buildings close early on Monday in case of protests for Dion Johnson

Chelsea Curtis and Salma Reyes Arizona RepublicPublished 1:03 AM EDT Sep 22, 2020Court buildings in downtown P

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Court buildings in downtown Phoenix were closed early on Monday in case of protests in the wake of Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel's decision to not criminally charge an Arizona Department of Public Safety trooper in the killing of Dion Johnson on Memorial Day.

After a new conference with Johnson's mother drew a small crowd in the afternoon, downtown Phoenix was quiet the rest of Monday except for a group of about a dozen protesters. 

Johnson, 28, died on May 25 after trooper George Cervantes shot him on Loop 101 near Tatum Boulevard. His and George Floyd's death at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer that same day led to weeks of protest in Phoenix. 

Supporters of the family had since called for Cervantes and another officer who arrived later at the scene to be fired. 

About 30 people gathered with Johnson's family, their attorney Jocquese Blackwell and several activists who spoke during a news conference outside the Maricopa County Superior Court building on Monday afternoon shortly after Adel's announcement. 

"There has to be a change, this has to stop," Johnson's mother Erma Johnson said during the news conference. "I used to watch these cop shows ... I'm with them, if you're wrong, you're wrong. But, I didn't think I would be the mother to be standing here right now today fighting for justice for my son because a cop killed my son; I never in a million years would think this would happen to me ever and it hurts."

"The system fails me, it failed my son, it fails us Black people, it fails to protect and serve," she continued. "How can you have confidence and trust in officers that will shoot and kill someone?"

She went on to accuse Cervantes of not following protocol on May 25. Johnson that day was unconscious in his car along Loop 101 near Tatum Boulevard when Cervantes found him, according to a police report. A struggled ensued between the two before Cervantes fired two shots, hitting Johnson once. 

Ahead of the conference, Sarah Tyree — who is running for Arizona state Senate and spoke during at least one protest over the summer — called on several protest groups to attend. 

"The family has told me they want to make sure anybody protesting is safe, is calm, cool and collected," Blackwell said. "We don't want any looters coming out here trying to mar Dion Johnson's name, Dion Johnson's family; it's supposed to be a peaceful protest if there's going to be one."

The Maricopa County Superior Court in a tweet announced it was closing early at 4 p.m. on Monday "due to increased potential for demonstrations" in the area. 

By 4:30 p.m., the area was completely empty and buildings were locked. 

An unrelated vigil for the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had previously been planned for 6:30 p.m. Monday at the Arizona state Capitol.

The vigil, hosted by Planned Parenthood Arizona, brought together at least 100 community members and state officials to honor the legacy of the late justice.

State Reps. Raquel Teran and Athena Salman, as well as candidate for Maricopa County Attorney Julie Gunnigle, paid their respects at the event.

Protest leader Fe'La Iniko led a group of about a dozen people from the Phoenix Police Department Headquarters to the Capitol, where he yelled chants about Johnson into a megaphone after the vigil ended. 

Republic reporter Emily Wilder contributed to this story. 

Reach the reporter at or follow her on Twitter @curtis_chels. 

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