TOWSON, Md. (WJZ) — The family of Robert Johnson, Jr., who was shot and killed by a Baltimore County police officer in Essex last month, is demanding a grand jury investigation into whether the shooting was justified.
The state’s attorney’s office said earlier this week it was justified and that no charges would be filed.READ MORE: Now That Students Have Returned To The Classroom, One Question Remains: Are Children Safe?
The family’s attorney, Warren Brown, said he disagrees with the state’s attorney that this shooting was justified.
Brown said he wants the case to be given to a grand jury to determine if the officer should be charged.
“Just running with a gun does not allow the police to use deadly force,” he said, saying that at no time in the video did Johnson point the gun at the officer. “So the officer knows his ‘get out of jail’ card is to say he was pointing a gun.”
Brown wants the state’s attorney’s office to give the grand jury the autopsy, the witness statements and the body camera footage for review.
He said in the body camera footage released earlier this week, you can see Johnson running from a responding police officer as the officer shot him on May 16 after police were called to Skipjack Court in Essex for a reported loud gathering.
“This is a police officer. They have a lot of power. They have the power of life and death,” Brown said.
— Baltimore County Police Department (@BaltCoPolice) June 24, 2020
Chief Melissa Hyatt said Wednesday the video showed the officer was “in the right place to keep the community safe.”
“Everything about this incident was difficult for everyone involved,” Hyatt said. “We are going to continue to work to be a transparent organization.”
The loss of a life is a devastating and tragic occurrence for everyone involved,” she added.
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“Pointing the gun back at the officer shows him to be a continuous threat to the officer. He is maintaining control of that weapon and he is making a decided decision to point it at the officer,” Baltimore County Deputy State’s Attorney Robin Coffin said Wednesday as the video was publicly released.
Johnson’s family disagreed with that interpretation.
“His back is clearly to the officer,” Brown said. “There is nothing in the video that shows Mr. Johnson—as he’s running—turn around. The most you get is when he is hit, his body contorts. The gun comes up, he’s spinning and he falls.“
Col. Robert McCullough, who is leading the investigation into the shooting, detailed what happened that night, saying the incident is still under investigation and new information could still come to light.READ MORE: No Injuries Reported Following Partial Collapse Of Fells Point Restaurant
Police Officer First Class Knight, a 24-year veteran of the force, responded to a parking lot on Skipjack Court for a nuisance call around 10:42 p.m. The 911 caller had told police there was a crowd outside and that the young men were drinking.
When Knight arrived, he saw a green Buick being driven erratically by a suspect, later identified as 29-year-old Robert Johnson Jr. The Buick had struck several parked cars in the area.
Knight called for backup as he tried to make contact with Johnson. As Johnson exited the vehicle, he dropped what appeared to be a handgun, but then immediately retrieved it.
McCullough said commands given by Officer Knight were ignored and the officer then fired at the suspect.
The suspect then began to flee from the officer toward other townhomes, police said.
Knight again fired at Johnson, this time striking him. He then immediately called for medics.
As Officer Knight goes to talk to Johnson, you can hear Knight say “Oh no” before you hear gunfire. He yells “shots fired, I need backup now!”
You then see the suspect flee, as Knight chases him toward the townhomes yelling “Stop!”
Then more gunfire and you see Johnson fall to the ground.
“Let me see your hands, your hands!” Knight commands. “Don’t move!”
Knight again calls for more backup.
Johnson, of the unit block of Championship Court in Owings Mills, was shot in the back and buttocks, police said.
During the encounter, police said Knight fired eight shots. Prosecutors said there is no evidence Johnson ever fired his weapon.
Brown said at least one of the officer’s bullets pierced the door of Johnson’s brother’s apartment. He was shot as well but survived.
“It was like a war zone. He grabs his children to cover them, and he ends up getting hit,” Brown said.
The deputy state’s attorney said Johnson likely ran when Officer Knight confronted him because he was prohibited from having a weapon. He had just been released from federal prison in April and was prohibited from owning or possessing a firearm. The handgun was reported stolen in Virginia.
“As long as he is in possession of that gun, he is a grave threat to the officer and the community,” Coffin said.
Brown described Johnson’s family as “emotionally fragile right now.” He acknowledged the request for a grand jury had long odds. “This is their loved one who was gunned down by the government.”MORE NEWS: 'I'm All About Ellicott City' Ellicott City Residents & Business Owners React To Number 10 Ranking On Money Magazine's 'Best Places To Live List'
Officer Knight is now back on the job in Essex.