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State representatives ask for DOJ to investigate shooting death of Dion Johnson

Posted at 4:07 PM, Jun 05, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-06 01:36:10-04

PHOENIX — State Representative Reginald Bolding, Jr. announced during a news conference Friday afternoon that he and other local leaders have sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice asking for the DOJ to review the shooting death of Dion Johnson.

Dion Johnson was shot and killed by a DPS trooper on Memorial Day of 2020, after what was described as a “struggle” between Johnson and the trooper. The trooper said he found Johnson asleep in a vehicle along the Loop 101 before making contact with him. The trooper involved told dispatch that Johnson was passed out drunk in the car, with open containers and a handgun visible.

You can watch Friday’s press conference in the player below.

The gun was removed before police say the trooper returned to the car to possibly arrest Johnson. It was when he returned that the trooper said Dion began to fight him, and he feared he would be pushed into traffic.

Phoenix police, which is doing the investigation into the shooting, say that was not the 'altercation' that led to the shooting. They wrote in a statement:

"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."

The family and their attorney, Jocquese Blackwell, still have a lot of questions.

"We know Dion was shot at least once, but how many times did the officer shoot?" said Blackwell. "We will never be able to say what Dion experienced when he was shot, and why was he shot? It's not fair that the police department gets to say, this is what happened."

Blackwell, the family, and the community at large have openly lamented and expressed their frustration that there is neither dashcam or body camera footage.

"There will never be in an objective way of determining what the true facts are. We have what they said, but we all know if they had a body-worn camera, it would be a more objective way of determining what actually happened on that day," said Blackwell.

Rep. Bolding Jr. agrees.

"There's only one account of what happened on that Monday morning, and what we know is that there is additional information that has to come, and it is our hope in this letter, that we can get additional information through a Justice Department investigation," said Bolding.

Bolding Jr said in a letter to the DOJ that he, along with State Representative Dr. Geraldine Peten, Commissioner Sandra Kennedy and the family of Johnson, feel that the Phoenix Police Department's number of officer-involved-shootings in recent years makes it inappropriate for the department to investigate another local agency's shooting.

The letter reads in part:

"It's impossible to see how handing over the investigation of Dion Johnson's death to one of the deadliest police departments in the country will result in the objectivity and transparency his family, our communities and our constituents are demanding. Phoenix Police had the highest number of officer-involved shootings of any department in the country last year with 44.

Because of the current distrust between communities of color and local law enforcement in Arizona over issues of police brutality and racial profiling, and because of the potential civil rights implications of this incident, we respectfully request that the Department of Justice step in to oversee this investigation. We make this request in consultation with Mr. Johnson's family, and in our capacities as elected officials – Arizona's only African American statewide elected official, and two of Arizona's three African American state legislators."

Bolding Jr went on to say at the press conference that Arizona Department of Transportation video of the scene showed Johnson handcuffed, on the ground, for several minutes as an ambulance sat nearby, not rendering any aid to Johnson as he died.

"Two troopers stood over him while the scene was secure," said Bolding Jr. "And within rock-throwing distance, we saw an ambulance sit for over six minutes that could've potentially saved Mr. Johnson's life."

The family is demanding Phoenix police release the trooper's name and the police report.

Arizona law enforcement routinely says they will not "prematurely" release information and want to wait for a full investigation to be completed. They almost always refuse to release officers or troopers names involved in critical incidents.

"All the people involved in the investigation are due to due process. And because of that, we owe people the best investigation, we owe the community that investigation," said Col. Heston Silbert, the Director of DPS.

"I understand the officer may have his own family but Mr. Dion Johnson's family deserves answers. Dion Johnson is dead. His mother lost her son and she deserves to know who killed her son and what type of background did this officer have," said Mr. Blackwell. "It's just not right that they can go and ridicule Dion Johnson's name. But we don't know anything about the officer."

DPS has told ABC15 the trooper had 15 years on the force and is currently on administrative leave, which is standard protocol during the investigation.

"We are going to continue to demand justice. We're going to be protesting this Sunday, putting pressure again," said a 'Black Lives Matter Phoenix Metro' leader. "Because we do not have the officer's name, we do not have the police report, and the officer is still on the force."

"This hurts worse and worse every day. I can't sleep, I can barely eat, I have nightmares," said Erma Johnson, Dion's mother, who also called for the FBI to investigate. "It's something no mother wants to ever get, that call, that knock on the door."

The Johnson family's attorney also noted that Phoenix Police have not reached out to the family or his law office for any information - including an eyewitness statement.

Mr. Blackwell says he has talked to one woman who drove by and saw the trooper crouched with his gun drawn, but she continued speeding past and never saw the shots fired.

Phoenix police are asking anyone who saw what happened to contact their Violent Crimes Bureau at (602) 262-6141.

ABC15 will continue to follow this story.

To read the full letter sent to the Department of Justice, CLICK HERE.

You can follow Zach Crenshaw at @ZachCrenshaw on Twitter, @ZachCrenshawtv on Instagram, and email any information to zach.crenshaw@abc15.com.