Officials in Fairfax County, Virginia, released body camera footage Thursday showing officers shooting an unarmed man near Tysons Corner Center last month.
One of the officers has been fired by the department, and the fatal shooting remains the subject of an ongoing criminal investigation, Chief of Police Kevin Davis told reporters at a news conference during which the body camera footage was played.
Editor’s note: Some viewers may find the following video disturbing:
Timothy McCree Johnson was suspected of stealing a pair of sunglasses from the mall on the evening of Feb. 22, when he was chased by two Fairfax County officers into a wooded area and shot.
A lawyer for Johnson’s family, who viewed the video footage on Wednesday, called the 37-year-old’s killing at the hands of officers “an execution.”
The police chief called Johnson’s death “tragic,” but said he could not characterize the officers’ actions in the video or give an opinion on what the video showed, citing the ongoing criminal investigation.
“More often than not, the police body camera footage speaks for itself,” he said. “This time, it does not.”
What the footage shows
The footage released Thursday comes from the body camera worn by Sgt. Wesley Shifflett, one of two officers who chased Johnson after he triggered an anti-theft alarm at the Nordstrom store in the mall shortly before 6:30 p.m. on Feb. 22. The other officer, James Sadler, was in plainclothes and did not have a body camera.
The footage released by the department begins with surveillance camera footage from inside the Nordstrom store, showing Johnson entering, checking out a sunglasses display and then leaving the store apparently triggering the alarm. The video shows the two officers following Johnson into a parking garage, down a stairwell, and then chase him across Fashion Boulevard into a wooded area.
The body camera video does not clearly show what officers saw before the shooting.
During the chase, one of the officers can be heard shouting, “Get on the ground! Get on the ground! Get on the ground!” before two loud pops consistent with gunfire are heard. A few seconds later, another loud pop is heard and an officer shouts, “Stop reaching! Stop reaching!”
Both officers, assigned to the Tysons Urban Team, fired their weapons — one officer fired twice and the other officer fired once, the police chief said. Johnson was struck once in the chest.
1 officer fired
Davis did not identify the officer who was fired by name, but the department later confirmed it was Shifflett, the uniformed officer, who fired the fatal round.
Davis said the decision to “administratively separate” the officer came as the result of an internal administrative investigation — carried out alongside the ongoing criminal investigation.
The paperwork was served on the officer Thursday, Davis said.
He told reporters it is the first time an officer involved in a fatal shooting has been removed by the department during his tenure.
“The officer’s actions do not meet the expectations of our police department … there was a failure to live up to the expectations of our agency,” Davis said, citing, in particular, the department’s use-of-force policies.
The other officer remains on what Davis called “modified restricted duty.”
Apology to the family
During the news conference Thursday, Davis offered an apology to Johnson’s family for remarks he made the night of the shooting, when he described Johnson as someone with “a significant violent criminal history” who was “absolutely very well-known to law enforcement in the national capital region.”
Johnson did not have a criminal record in Fairfax County, according to court records. He had assault and gun convictions against him in Maryland and D.C. dating back 20 years.
Asked by reporters about those comments on Thursday, Davis said: I should have answered that question differently … I should have answered it with much greater sensitivity than I did on that particular night.”
He added, “I could have been more careful with my words and to the extent that those words caused any harm to the Johnson family, I apologize.”
Going forward, Davis suggested he wouldn’t answer questions from the media about someone’s criminal history.
“Maybe it’s a thoughtful endeavor for all of us to think about the necessity of that question, particularly in the heat of the moment,” Davis said. “I know I’m thinking about … how I answer it. And perhaps others may think about how they ask it.”
Ongoing criminal investigation
The criminal investigation is being carried out by the department in conjunction with the Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney office, which will ultimately determine whether the officers will face criminal charges.
Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano said in a statement Thursday that he will decide in the coming weeks whether the officers will face criminal charges.
“I have seen and am devastated by the body-worn camera footage showing yet another death of a Black man at the hands of police,” Descano said in the statement. “My heart grieves for the Johnsons, who lost a beloved family member over an incident involving a pair of sunglasses. Like many members of our community, I sincerely hope to see the day when police shootings are a thing of the past.”
The Johnson family viewed the body camera footage Wednesday, and a lawyer for the family called Johnson’s death “an execution by a Fairfax County police officer.”
Attorney Carl Crews said nothing in the video shows anything to explain why officers would have reasonably feared for their lives when they opened fire.
Johnson’s mother, Melissa Johnson, told WTOP last month that she wanted an independent investigation into her son’s killing.
In a statement, Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said, “I, like everyone else who has seen the video, am still processing the events we witnessed. Personally, I find the video disturbing to say the least. Under no circumstances should suspicion of shoplifting alone lead to the tragic loss of human life.”
WTOP’s Nick Iannelli and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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