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DPS dispatch audio sheds new light on Dion Johnson's death, raises more questions

Posted at 10:49 PM, Jun 03, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-04 02:19:29-04

PHOENIX  — The family of Dion Johnson is demanding more transparency as they prepare to bury the 28-year-old father. Johnson was shot and killed by a Department of Public Safety trooper on Memorial Day.

His relatives are calling for the immediate release of the police report, DPS trooper's name, and autopsy.

THE SHOOTING

Newly released dispatch audio, shared by the family’s attorney sheds some light into Johnson’s final moments.

Around 5:30 a.m. on Memorial Day, the DPS trooper, who was on a motorcycle, tells dispatchers that a vehicle is blocking part of the on-ramp on the Loop 101 near Tatum Boulevard. The trooper says Mr. Johnson is passed out, the keys are still in the ignition, “there’s a heavy odor of alcoholic beverage, he’s urinated on himself,” and there are open containers in the car.

Someone watching Arizona Department of Transportation freeway cameras notes, “that motor unit is fighting with the guy at Tatum.”

The trooper says “shots fired” a short time later.

QUESTIONS REMAIN

There are still many unknowns about what happened. Since the trooper was on a motorcycle, he did not have any dash camera. He also was not equipped with a body camera.

An autopsy has not been completed, but the family of Mr. Johnson tells ABC15 they believe he was shot one time.

DPS has not released the trooper’s name who fired the shots, but the department says he is on administrative leave, which is standard protocol.

Phoenix police are handling the investigation to avoid an internal conflict of interest. The department released a statement Wednesday night and is not responding to any specific questions.

They did say Mr. Johnson got in a “struggle” with the trooper and said a gun was found in his car.

COULD HE HAVE SURVIVED?

According to the family's attorney, another local media outlet recorded an ADOT traffic camera minutes after the shooting.

The family’s attorney says the family recently watched the video, and he says it shows paramedics on scene minutes after Dion was shot, but waiting for six minutes before rendering aid to the injured man.

"For six minutes, Dion lays on the ground. Handcuffed. In pain, agonizing pain. Most likely dying, because he did die. And the officers didn’t tell this EMT vehicle to come give him aid," said Jocquese Blackwell, who is representing Johnson's family.

Mr. Blackwell also says the video, recorded from a traffic camera on a pole, clearly shows a trooper kick a handcuffed Dion.

“And while he’s wincing in pain, one of the officers, the one that’s standing, kicks him right in the back, which is horrible," said Blackwell.

"I could see the hatred in his eyes," said Erma Johnson, Dion's mother, who also said the video was nearly impossible to watch.

Johnson, a native of Phoenix, was one of five children. He has a teenage daughter. His siblings and mother describe him as outgoing, family oriented and kind.

PHOENIX POLICE RELEASE MORE DETAILS

Police departments in Arizona are notoriously tight lipped when it comes to releasing information during an ongoing investigation.

They will almost always say it is "active and ongoing" and the do not want the public information being released because the claim it could "jeopardize the case."

But within two hours of the Johnson family holding an impromptu news conference with their attorney, Phoenix police put out the following, new statement:

"Here is the information we have. The Trooper was patrolling in the area of the State Route 101 and Tatum Boulevard when he observed a vehicle parked in the gore point and creating a traffic hazard. During the Trooper’s initial contact with Mr. Johnson, he found him passed out in the drivers’ seat. The Trooper smelled an odor of alcohol, saw beer cans and a gun in the vehicle. The Trooper removed the gun from the vehicle, returned back to his motorcycle. secured the gun, and then requested a backup. At this point, he noticed Mr. Johnson moving around so he returned to the vehicle and attempted to arrest Mr. Johnson for suspicion of driving impaired. During the attempted arrest, Mr. Johnson grabbed onto the Trooper through the open driver’s side door and an altercation occurred. The Trooper was pulled toward the vehicle, while standing adjacent to the eastbound travel lanes of the freeway. During this struggle, the Trooper told investigators he feared he would be pushed into oncoming traffic, so he drew his weapon and issued commands. Mr. Johnson began to comply but as the Trooper was holstering his gun, Mr. Johnson reached for the gun and a second altercation ensued. 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."

ABC15 will continue to follow this story.

You can follow Zach Crenshaw at @ZachCrenshaw on Twitter and @ZachCrenshawtv on Instagram.