Officials in Fairfax County released body camera footage Thursday showing officers shooting an unarmed man near Tysons Corner Center last month.
One of the officers has been removed from duty by the department, and the 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.
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.
Body cam video released in the death of Timothy Johnson, an unarmed man shot by Fairfax County police outside Tysons Corner Center last month. Does not clearly show what officers saw here before the shooting. @WTOP pic.twitter.com/T2WrJzlkz2— Nick Iannelli (@NickWTOP) March 23, 2023
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 Shifflet, one of two officers who chased Johnson after he triggered an anti-theft alarm at the Nordstrom store in the mall around 6:30 p.m. on Feb. 22. The other officer, James Sadler, was in plainclothes and did not have a body camera.
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.
The footage released by the department begins with surveillance cameras from inside the Nordstrom store, and shows the two officers following Johnson into a parking garage, down a stairwell, and then chasing him across Fashion Boulevard into a wooded area.
The 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!”
Officer removed from duty
Davis said the officer who fired the fatal round is the one who was removed from the department. He did not publicly identify the officer, saying only that as a result of an internal administrative investigation — carried out alongside the ongoing criminal investigation — the department decided to “administratively separate” the officer.
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.”
During the news conference Thursday, Davis offered an apology to Johnson’s family for remarks he made the night of the shooting, when he describing 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 Thursday, 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.
WTOP’s Nick Iannelli and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
"Going forward, Davis suggested he wouldn’t answer questions from the media about someone’s criminal history".
Why Not? I would expect complete transparency from law enforcement? If he was a known career criminal convicted of gun charges its important to put everything into context.
I can't make.out much in the video, besides timing of gunshots and verbal instructions. Criminals are emboldened by a lack of enforcement or consequences, and police frequently use excessive force out of fear or a lack of training. It's a bad situation that is getting worse. Someone getting killed over sunglasses is crazy, but they also put themselves into that situation (allegedly). If the police knew who he was, they could pick him up later, right? I don't think they knew him until after they shot him.
"Someone getting killed over sunglasses is crazy, but they also put themselves into that situation (allegedly). If the police knew who he was, they could pick him up later, right? I don't think they knew him until after they shot him."
Well said, except he put himself into the situation of committing a misdemeanor, with no weapon, and no interaction with any person. Granted, it would have been much better if he didn't go sprinting off. Once he's off into the woods into the darkness, the police need to use legitimate discretion at that point. They didn't. The police response with sirens was just lunacy. The officer with the body cam was obviously disappointed and let the other officers render first aid.
With a criminal history of assault and gun charges going back 20 years, Davis did not have to apologize for saying the victim had a known history of criminal activity. It was just an unnecessary comment.
Except that what you're saying isn't what he said, this is what he said:
“a significant violent criminal history” who was “absolutely very well-known to law enforcement in the national capital region.”
If there is a 20 year rap sheet, then yes his comments are correct. If is is one assault and one gun charge from 20 years ago, tha his comments are inaccurate.
Either way, he was shot in the back and killed while fleeing into the woods with a single pair of stolen sun glasses, with no weapons. That is why an officer has been fired.
All of that information was known after he was shot in the back.
That was a CYA moment in an attempt to deflect from the police shooting the suspect.
The population of the United States is about 335 million. If the Media search for irresponsible, negligent, and similar behaviors the Media will find them, somewhere in the USA.
This is a local news story. This involves the largest county police department in the state of Virginia. This is a publically funded local department. The actions of police officers affect the community at-large. Therefore, it is news worthy.
It involves the use of excessive force. The video is telling. The police officer who responded to a sunglasses bandit used excessive force and per the video knew he messed up immediately. He himself was in shock.
The plain clothed officers, not sure why there were two units inside, one most definitely should have been posted at an exit. That is typically how a shoplifter is apprehended, upon exit. I've seen it in real time.
But the excessive use of force is for the uniformed officer.
They had the guy on camera, if he was going to run off into the woods, so be it. He would have been charged and arrested. Now, not so much. This was an over zealous response as a whole for stealing a pair of shades. The plain clothes unit obviously has to make arrests, but there weren't able to that evening due to the actions of the uniformed officer.
I will add after reviewing the video for the second time, which can be found on FCPDs YouTube channel, where there is currently not a link to the video in this video, but a recording of the video on someone's Twitter account in this article, that it is Possible one or both of the plain clothes officers fired shots (I didn't hear any shots fired at any time in the video), I only hear the uniformed officer saying shots fired, and then obviously upset afterwards with the decision. The only detail we are aware of is an officer has been placed on leave.
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