Fairfax County Police Department on Thursday, March 23, released body-worn camera footage from the Feb. 22, 2023, fatal shooting of an unarmed shoplifting suspect, Timothy McCree Johnson, 37, of Washington, D.C.
“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, “ said Jeff McKay, chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. “Under no circumstances should suspicion of shoplifting alone lead to the tragic loss of human life.”
Sergeant Wesley Shifflett, a 7-year veteran of the department, and Police Officer First Class James Sadler, an 8-year veteran, discharged their firearms while chasing Johnson on foot into a wooded area outside Tysons Corner Center. The two officers, assigned to the Tysons Urban Team, a special unit of FCPD, fired their weapons during a night foot pursuit of Johnson, suspected of stealing designer sunglasses from Nordstrom at Tyson Corner Center.
“Johnson was stuck in the chest one time. Officers immediately rendered aid until fire and rescue personnel arrived,” says the narrator in the released body-worn camera footage. Johnson was taken to an area hospital, where he was pronounced deceased.
“The Fairfax County Police Department and I value life, particularly the lives of those who’ve come into contact with our police officers," Fairfax County Police Chief Kevin Davis said. He added that best practice transparency policies share body camera footage with the community, ro establish legitimacy and build trust. More often than not, the police body camera footage speaks for itself.
"This time, it does not," Davis said.
The department released an approximately 8-minute, three-segmented video during which a female narrator read the embedded text on given frames, interpreting the scenes. The first segment was about three minutes long. It showed surveillance footage of Johnson and officers. The second section, approximately two minutes, was the released footage from the uniformed officer's body-worn camera (BWC). It, too, depicts Johnson and other officers, but some of the images are grainy and dark. The video's final section is a slowed-down and digitally enhanced BWC footage of events immediately before, during, and after the shooting.
“Mr. Johnson’s family’s right to know exactly what occurred led FCPD to send the body-worn camera footage to the FBI for enhancement,” said McKay..
Davis said one of the two officers who discharged their guns remains on modified, restricted duty while the other officer had been served notice that day, “administratively separating” him from the Fairfax County Police Department.
"He will no longer be a Fairfax County police officer," Davis said. He clarified that “administrative separation” is the equivalent of firing.
McKay said, “I know Mr. Johnson’s family members are still grieving the death of their loved one, and I grieve for them. … Today, a notice of separation was served to one of the officers who discharged their firearm, and I support the Chief’s decision.”
Davis said there had been no rush to judgment during the 29 days after the shooting. “We conducted a thorough administrative or internal investigation."
The second officer is on "modified, restricted duty," because of "his actions that night."
Listen and watch for yourself as police respond, chase and shoot Timothy Johnson.
Before taking questions from the media on March 23, Davis made it clear he would not "characterize the evidence" nor offer an opinion on it. Doing so, Davis said, would compromise the integrity of the criminal investigation. The criminal and administrative investigations are ongoing.
The Fairfax County NAACP issued a statement the day after FCPD released the body-worn camera footage. The Fairfax County NAACP statement says in part: ”At no time does Mr. Johnson [a Black man] pose a threat to the police officers, much less an immediate threat to an officer or the general public … . Under FCPD’s Use of Force policy, police officers are not permitted to use deadly force on a fleeing offender unless the officer(s): (1) have “probable cause to believe the individual committed a felony involving violence,” (2) exhaust “all other means to effect an arrest,” and (3) the alleged offender’s escape “poses a significant threat of serious injury or death to the officer or others.” The NAACP also demanded that “the goals and policies of the Tysons Urban Team are reviewed, and a foot pursuit policy developed and enacted.”
Michelle Leete, president of the Fairfax County NAACP, said, ”Public release of the body-worn camera footage underscores the urgency in addressing excessive use of force and the systemic lack of accountability and transparency in policing.”
— Jeff McKay, Chairman, Board of Supervisors
On March 3, Davis said that the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) would examine “officer involved shooting” incidents in Fairfax County since the start of 2021. PERF will review incident details and “identify any performance patterns, deficiencies, or trends,” according to FCPD. PERF will also provide FCPD with guidance regarding a foot pursuit policy from national best practices. PERF has begun its review and will present findings and recommendations to FCPD. Davis said he will share the findings and recommendations with the Board of Supervisors and the community.
PERF’s review will not be focused, independent examination of the most recent shooting, the police shooting death of Timothy Johnson, but will instead be an examination of recent incidents to determine how FCPD can better prevent these “officer involved shootings” going forward.
Karen Keys-Gamara, an at-large member of the Fairfax County School Board and candidate for the delegate seat being vacated by Ken Plum, said, ”The misappropriation of police authority wounds our community, especially when it results in the loss of life. As the mother of three young men who are of African American and Hispanic descent, I understand the trauma caused by such violations. Thus, the response must recognize the history of such actions and seek healing-healing that can only occur with the acknowledgment of the concerns of those within our community.”
On Sunday, March 26, the Fairfax County Democratic Committee Black Caucus released a statement regarding the fatal shooting. “The avoidable death of Timothy Johnson shows that, when pressure-tested against the reality of how these situations occur in the field, the current policies are insufficient to maintain a sense of safety for people of color in our county.”
“In May 2021, the Black Caucus opposed the leadership of FCPD Chief Kevin Davis. … due to his history of use or justification of excessive force in policing. Sharing the results from the current Police Executive Research Forum investigation (PERF) is another important step that the Board of Supervisors must take in demonstrating a commitment to transparency and fairness in holding its community officials accountable for the failures of the organizations they lead.”
“The FCDC Black Caucus is compelled to advocate for policies that reflect the voice of the Black community in Fairfax County,” said Kelly Hebron, chair of the FCDC Black Caucus. ”We urge the Board of Supervisors to ensure Chief Davis responds with transparency and accountability on this matter and in the development of policies related to suspect pursuits, use of force, officer accountability, and timely dissemination of information to the community.”
Some questions reporters asked Davis and his answers at the March 23 press conference. Text is lightly edited for clarity and length.
Q: What was found at the scene?
Davis: Two pairs of sunglasses were recovered from the scene, but no firearm or other weapon.
Q: Is there a history of officer-involved shootings with either officer?
Davis: No, there is not.
Q: Why was the officer separated from the department, and what about his actions that night?
Davis: There was a failure to live up to the expectations of our agency, in particular, the use of force policies, protocols and procedures.
Q: What is PERF (Police Executive Research Forum) doing?
Davis: I want to be clear: PERF is not independently investigating either criminally or administratively. PERF is a think tank organization; they look at our policies and, if there are gaps in them, (and) our training. The Feb. 22 officer-involved shooting was the first of the year. For the last decade, FCPD averaged 1.5 shootings per year. During the first decade of the 21st century, the number of officer-involved shootings was significantly higher. Some of the years were six, seven, and even eight. So, as we look at 2022, we had six. In 2021, we had one. We've had one so far in 2023. The goal is zero
Q: After the incident, you noted Mr. Johnson’s history in a press conference; did the officers know that then, and do you have any regrets about mentioning that?
Davis: At the time of the officer-involved shooting, they didn’t even know who he was. I should have answered that question differently t... 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.
Summary of FCPD Release of Officer Body-Worn Camera Footage
Surveillance Cameras: (0:42-3:56)
Summary: according to text: A man, later identified as Timothy Johnson, enters Nordstrom around 6:13 p.m. The store’s Asset Protection associates see the man select designer sunglasses and believe a larceny is about to occur. They call FCPD’s Tysons Urban Team, who respond. A plain-clothes officer observes Johnson is in the vicinity of an anti-theft alarm at the store’s exit when it is activated; next, a plain-clothed officer observes Johnson set off a second alarm as he goes through it and leaves the store near the parking garage. Plain-clothed officers follow Johnson into the garage and see him go down the stairwell.
Uniformed Officer BWC Footage: (0:3:57-7:54))
(3:57) )Text/Narrator: “A uniformed officer and plain-clothed officer chased Johnson as he exited the parking garage stairwell, ran through the parking garage, and toward Route. 7.”
(5:06-5:15) “Bloomingdale front lot. A Black male going toward 7, Fashion (Blvd.) He’s crossing over.”
(5:16)) Text/Narrator: “Officers continued to pursue as Johnson changed direction and ran across Fashion Blvd. toward a wooded area.”
(5:25- 5:27) “Crossing over, guys. Get on the ground. Get on the ground.”
(5:29)Text/Narrator “While following Johnson into the wood line, both officers discharged their firearms. Johnson was struck in the chest one time.”
(5:39- 5:44) “Going into the woods. Through the woods. Get on the ground; get on the ground.”
(5:44-5:46) Non-speech sounds heard (Later identified as consistent with a firearm.)
(5:47) “Stop reaching. Stop reaching.”
(5:52)) “Don’t move.”
(5:53)) “Shots fired.”
(6:05)) “God damn it. He was reaching. Oh, my God.”
(6:39)) Text/Narrator: “Officers render aid until fire and rescue personnel arrive.”
(7:15)Johnson says: “I’m not reaching for nothing. I have nothing. …I’m shot, man.Hurry….
“We got you. Roll over. Chest seal.
(7:37- 7:44): Sir, “What's your name? (Unintelligible)... Let’s get a chest seal on.”
Replayed Section-Footage Slowed Down and Digitally Enhanced (8:08-8:56)
(8:08-8:18) “Get on the ground. Get on the ground. Going into the woods. Through the woods.”
(8:23-8:26)- “Get on the ground; get on the ground.”
(8:27-8:29) Text/Narrator: “Two pops consistent with gunfire can be heard.”
(8:32) Text/Narrator: “Third pop heard consistent with gunfire. “Stop reaching; stop reaching.”
(8:46-8:49) “Shots fired. Shots fired”
(8:56) Text/Narrator: “Johnson was taken to a nearby hospital where he was pronounced deceased.”