It’s been more than a week after the shooting death of 28-year-old Dion Johnson by an Arizona Department of Public Safety Trooper on a highway in Phoenix and the community is left with more questions than answers.
Just to recap (based on law enforcement statements) what happened to Johnson:
On May 25, at about 5:36 a.m., a Department of Public Safety Trooper was patrolling the area of the State Route 101 and Tatum Boulevard in Phoenix when he observed a vehicle parked on the eastbound gore point, partially blocking traffic. The trooper observed Johnson passed out in the driver’s seat. According to the initial law enforcement report, during the trooper’s contact with Johnson there was a struggle and the trooper fired his service weapon striking the suspect.
A second DPS trooper arrived on scene and assisted removing Johnson from his vehicle. Phoenix Fire personnel responded and transported Johnson to a nearby hospital where he was pronounced deceased. There were no reported injuries to the DPS troopers involved in this incident.
The criminal investigation portion of this case is being handled by the Phoenix Police Department and is ongoing.
When PhxSoul.com published our initial story on May 31, it appeared that this case would rely heavily on the DPS trooper’s story because he was the only person at the scene who walked away alive. According the initial Phoenix Police statements to media, neither of the involved DPS motor troopers were equipped with body worn or dash cameras. Phoenix Police also says that Arizona Department of Transportation cameras are live feed cameras that do not record.
However, PhxSoul.com has learned today from attorney Jocquese Blackwell that there is a WITNESS to Johnson’s fatal encounter with the Arizona DPS trooper on May 25. Blackwell is representing Dion Johnson’s family and hosted a news conference on June 3 to discuss his findings and questions in the case. Family members and community representatives also spoke during the news conference.
Blackwell also played audio from the DPS scanner which was retrieved from YouTube and announced that Channel 3/Channel 5 owns a video recording of the ADOT live feed at the scene. The recording started after the shooting occurred while Johnson is lying alive but wounded on the ground. Blackwell has said that he will subpoena that recording.
Regarding the witness, Blackwell told PhxSoul.com that the witness saw the “driver-side car door fully open and the DPS trooper was standing outside pointing his gun inside the car.”
According to Blackwell, the witness could not see Johnson.
The Phoenix Police statement provided to PhxSoul.com on June 3 after the Dion Johnson news conference:
We want to share updated information regarding the Trooper-Involved Shooting which occurred May 25, 2020 at the Loop 101 and Tatum Blvd. Please keep in mind, because this is an ongoing investigation there is limited information we can provide.
Many of you have asked about releasing the video footage related to this incident. At this point in the investigation, there is no known video capturing the shooting. Neither of the troopers were equipped with body-worn cameras. There is no dash-camera video because both troopers were on motorcycles. The ADOT highway cameras are live feed cameras that do not record.
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. Once the investigation is complete, it will be submitted to the Critical Incident Review Board of the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office.Phoenix Police Department
It is interesting that the earlier police statements casually mention that “a handgun was recovered from the scene.” This sounds a lot of different from the more detailed version on June 3 when “the Trooper removed the gun from the vehicle, returned back to his motorcycle, secured the gun, and then requested a backup.”
We also want to note that the gun was not mentioned in the DPS scanner audio featured on this article. Blackwell stated that “56 seconds of the audio has been removed” from this clip so there’s a possibility that it was discussed by the trooper and we haven’t heard it yet.
Nevertheless, Blackwell has a host of questions about this incident and he plans to get the answers for the family:
“Did the DPS trooper also take the keys out of the ignition (reported in the DPS scanner audio) when he removed the gun from the vehicle, returned back to his motorcycle, secured the gun, and then requested a backup?”
“Why would there be a struggle without a passed-out man?”
“Was the officer going through Dion’s pockets while he was passed out and Dion startled him when he woke up?”
“Why didn’t the trooper just use his taser instead of his service weapon?”
Blackwell’s most prudent questions are:
“Why didn’t the trooper just wait for backup at his motorcycle after taking the gun (and possibly the keys) to try to arrest Dion on suspicion of DUI?”
“Moreover, why didn’t the trooper wait for backup with a body camera to get all of the facts captured on video?”
Blackwell said if the trooper had taken Johnson’s keys and gun, there was no way for Dion to escape and no weapon he could use.
We will continue to update this story as we learn more.