Officer who killed Black man says he feared for his life

PHOENIX (AP) — An Arizona state trooper who killed a Black man nearly two months ago during a roadside struggle in Phoenix said he fired his gun because he feared for his life as the man refused to let go of the officer’s arm that was holding the firearm, according to police reports released earlier this week.

Trooper George Cervantes, whose fatal shooting of Dion Johnson inspired marches against police violence in Phoenix, told investigators that a partially handcuffed Johnson had already pulled part of the officer’s body into the car through an open door. He said he feared he would lose control of his gun if Johnson continued to overpower him, so he shot Johnson in the torso, leading to his death.

The reports provide new details on the officer’s account of the May 25 shooting along the Loop 101 freeway. Authorities also released records showing Cervantes received an 80-hour suspension in 2013 for a series of violations of policy.

The violations included shooting his girlfriend’s puppy with a stun gun in an attempt to discipline the pet and using a state vehicle to leave a note on the car of his former girlfriend, who had been at odds with him and found the anonymous note to be worrisome.

Efforts to contact Cervantes for comment through phone records and social media weren’t successful. A message left for Jocquese Blackwell, an attorney representing Johnson’s family, wasn’t immediately returned Friday.

Thousands of demonstrators took the street in downtown Phoenix last month to protest the deaths of Johnson and George Floyd, who died on the same day as Johnson as Minneapolis police tried to arrest him.

The reports say Johnson’s encounter with Cervantes started when the trooper saw Johnson passed out in a car that smelled of alcohol and had a handgun sitting on the seat. A toxicology report shows Johnson had methamphetamine, the synthetic opioid fentanyl and marijuana in his system.

The officer took the gun and secured it on his motorcycle and then returned to the car to arrest Johnson, who was by then seen moving around. Cervantes cuffed one of Johnson’s hands, marking the beginning of the struggle, according to the reports.

The officer said he feared that Johnson was going to push him into a lane of traffic with his legs, so he pulled out his gun and told him to stop resisting arrest or he would be shot.

Cervantes said he started to re-holster his gun when he felt the threat had lessened, but then Johnson grabbed his arm that was holding the officer’s gun.

The officer told investigators that Johnson leaned back, pulled on the trooper and used his legs as leverage to pull part of the officer’s body into the vehicle through an open door.

The trooper also said he feared Johnson would get hold of his gun if he were further drawn into the car, so he shot Johnson.

About seven years ago, Cervantes acknowledged to internal affairs investigators that he shot his then-girlfriend’s Boxer puppy with a department-issued stun gun because the pet was digging holes in her yard.

Authorities say Cervantes also drove his patrol vehicle to a parking lot where he left an anonymous note on his ex-girlfriend’s vehicle saying, “I see you. I know where you live.”

His former girlfriend was frightened because she thought she was being stalked, leading police to open an investigation. Investigators said Cervantes claimed the note was a joke.

Cervantes, a 15-year veteran of The Arizona Department of Public Safety, was put on paid leave after Johnson’s death.

Prosecutors are reviewing Johnson’s death to determine whether charges are warranted.

Copyright © 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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