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Phoenix Police release report on shooting death of Dion Johnson

Posted at 8:02 PM, Jul 15, 2020

PHOENIX — Phoenix police have released the 160-page report into the shooting death of Dion Johnson.

Phoenix investigated the fatal shooting involving a DPS trooper, so that the state police department could avoid a conflict of interest.

The report involves interviews with multiple witnesses, troopers, paramedics, and even a Scottsdale officer who showed up to help render aid.

The investigation also reveals Trooper George Cervantes fired two shots and hit Dion once in the abdomen, which ultimately led to his death.

Trooper Cervantes, who was not equipped with a body camera or dash camera, declined to be interviewed hours after the incident. He was not interviewed until June 1, six days after the shooting, and he had his lawyer present when questioned.

The facts of the case did not change with the release of the report.

Dion Johnson was passed out in his car, at the top of an on-ramp. He had a gun in his passenger seat, despite being a convicted felon, and multiple empty alcohol containers in his car.

He was still asleep with Cervantes arrived on scene and removed the pistol from his passenger seat and "quietly shut the door."

The trooper, who has been with DPS 15 years, then took the gun back to his motorcycle and secured it in his saddlebag.

There is a lack-of-clarity as to what happens next.

A trooper working at ADOT told investigators he "observed Trooper Cervantes at the passenger door with the door open."

The trooper went on to say, "it was at this point Trooper Cervantes reported he smelled alcohol. Next, trooper Cervantes walked behind the vehicle to the driver's position and open the door."

According to the trooper, "Cervantes leaned into the vehicle possibly to remove the keys from the ignition...then jumped back, as if he was avoiding an assault or was pushed out. Next, Trooper Cervantes reengaged the suspect and leaned back into the vehicle. Trooper Whittney broadcasted trooper Cervantes was in a struggle and for additional units to provide assistance immediately."

The time from the alcohol observation until the time shots were fired was less than 40 seconds.

Cervantes though, maintains that he initially returned to his motorcycle to wait for back-up.

This is what Cervantes told detectives during his interview, nearly a week after the shooting:

"As Trooper Cervantes waited for a back-up officer to arrive he decided to remove the key from the ignition to prevent the intoxicated driver from leaving if he awakened. He re-opened the passenger side door and attempted to remove the key fob from the ignition, however, could not quietly and safely remove the fob from the non-traditional ignition mechanism.

Trooper Cervantes walked back to his motorcycle. While he waited he observed the male in the driver seat was starting to move about. Fearing the intoxicated subject would drive away, trooper Cervantes decided he needed to immediately effect the arrest to prevent a more hazardous situation."

Trooper Cervantes then went back to the car, opened the door and immediately handcuffed Dion's left wrist.

That's when the struggle ensued.

Cervantes recounted his recollection of the events, which will be a major factor in the charging decision since there is no body or dash camera.

"[Dion] leaned back against the center console, flexed his hips, knees, and ankles (brought his knees and feet toward his chest) to orient his body and the bottom of his feet with the ability to thrust trooper Cervantes backward into the traffic lane(s) if he forcefully extended his legs.

[Cervantes] described the suspect's position as "Coiled" and "Preloaded".

He removed his handgun from his holster and twice stated "Stop resisting or I'm going to shoot you!".

The male stated, "You ain't gotta do all that! You ain't gotta do all that!" several times, then relaxed his body and placed his feet on the sill of the driver door.

Feeling the imminent threat had diminished, Trooper Cervantes retracted his handgun and planned to place it back in his holster. As he briefly looked down to re-holster, the suspect used his left hand and grabbed a hold of the front left shoulder opening of Trooper Cervantes' outer vest carrier, then reached across with his right hand and grabbed Trooper Cervantes' right wrist that was still holding his handgun.

The suspect leaned backward, pulled on Trooper Cervantes' outer vest carrier, and used his feet that were on the sill as leverage to pull Trooper Cervantes toward him and into the vehicle. "

Cervantes said during the struggle he put his finger on the trigger and fired a shot while Dion was just six inches away.

A Phoenix PD detective wrote in the report, "[Dion] recoiled and Trooper Cervantes' perception of time seemed to be in slow motion as he fired a second time. He was initially uncertain if the first gunshot had struck the suspect, but after time to reflect, he believed the first gunshot had likely struck the suspect's abdomen and the second gunshot likely missed him."

The family's attorney though, questions if the interaction should have ever happened.

Jocquese Blackwell notes that a back-up trooper was just one minute away when Cervantes tried to remove the keys from the ignition.

He also questions how Cervantes handled the likely drunk and half-asleep father.

He argues the trooper likely startled Dion by rushing up and putting a handcuff on him, as opposed to identifying himself as a law-enforcement officer and asking Dion to step out of the car.

"The question the family has it’s why didn’t he wait for back-up to come? He’s on a motorcycle, he can’t put him on the back of his motorcycle," said Blackwell.

Some of Dion's final words were "Leave me alone... you just shot me."

Back-up arrived one minute later, and the troopers tried to stop the bleeding some, before a Scottsdale officer with more medical training pulled up and tried to help too.

Phoenix Fire was staging nearby, because they were not cleared to arrive at the scene due to safety. It is unclear if the safety was traffic related, because Dion was handcuffed on the ground. It took six minutes for Dion to be loaded into an ambulance.

He was rushed to a hospital, but died hours later.

Around that time, Cervantes declined to be interviewed by investigators.

When a friend texted him asking if it was a good shoot, Cervantes replied:

"My lawyer told me to invoke. He thinks my level of lethal use does the meet the threshold for deadly use [sic]."

The Maricopa County Attorney's Office now has the extensive report and told ABC15 they are prioritizing a decision.

"The family wants Alister Adel to charge George Cervantes, based on their understanding of the report," said Blackwell.

"I do know that there is a 15-person team looking at this case. Each one will read the report that we received. They will meet like a round-robin fashion to determine what should be done to Officer George Cervantes."

It is still unclear if Cervantes violated DPS policy.

After saying their internal investigation was complete, the department is now telling ABC15 it is ongoing.

Phoenix police noted that Dion would have been arrested for aggravated assault on an officer had he survived. An autopsy also revealed he had meth, fentanyl and marijuana in his system when he died.