Prosecutors Won’t Charge Officer Who Shot Ronald Johnson; Video Of Shooting Released

Updated 12/7/15 – 2:49 p.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) — Cook County prosecutors have declined to file criminal charges against a Chicago police officer who shot and killed 25-year-old Ronald Johnson, saying dashboard camera video of the shooting shows Johnson was carrying a gun when he was shot.

Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez said her office conducted a “very careful” review of the Independent Police Review Authority’s investigation of the shooting, and determined Johnson resisted arrest, and ignored several orders to drop a gun he was holding as he fled police on Oct. 12, 2014.

RELATED: Timeline Of The Shootings Of Ronald Johnson And Laquan McDonald

On the night he was shot, Johnson had been in a car with friends when a gunman shot out the rear window in the Washington Park neighborhood. Alvarez and Assistant State’s Attorney Lynn McCarthy said another person who was in the car with Johnson told investigators he heard Johnson cock a gun and tell the driver to head back to where the car had been shot.

Alvarez and McCarthy said Johnson fled the scene when police arrived, holding a gun in his hand, and resisted arrest when police responded to 911 calls of shots fired.

Prosecutors said officers who arrived on the scene saw Johnson holding a gun, and ordered him to drop the weapon, but he ignored their orders and fled the scene. Alvarez said Johnson struggled with two officers who responded to the scene, and knocked one of the officers to the ground, and ran away again.

Alvarez said Officer George Hernandez pulled up in an unmarked police cruiser, with two other officers, and saw Johnson run behind their vehicle, so he began chasing Johnson, ordering him to drop his weapon. Johnson continued to ignore the orders to drop his weapon, and Hernandez fired five shots, striking Johnson twice.

 

The Cook County State's Attorney says this enhanced image from a dash cam video shows Ronald Johnson carrying a gun. (Credit: Cook County State's Attorney)

The Cook County State’s Attorney says this enhanced image from a dash cam video shows Ronald Johnson carrying a gun. (Credit: Cook County State’s Attorney)

The Cook County State's Attorney says this enhanced image from a dash cam video shows Ronald Johnson carrying a gun. (Credit: Cook County State's Attorney)

The Cook County State’s Attorney says this enhanced image from a dash cam video shows Ronald Johnson carrying a gun. (Credit: Cook County State’s Attorney)

One bullet struck Johnson in the back of the knee, the other went through his shoulder, and exited his eye socket. Johnson was pronounced dead a short time later.

Asked why it took so long to complete her review of the Johnson case, Alvarez blamed the Independent Police Review Authority, saying she relied on their investigators to conduct interviews and gather evidence. She noted her office asked IPRA question two specific witnesses in the case in April, but did not hear back until recently.

Alvarez also showed dashboard camera video of the shooting. While the blurry video does show the flashes from Hernandez’s weapon as he fires at Johnson, it is difficult to see if he has a weapon in his hand.

The video was sent to the Regional Computer Forensics Laboratory established by the FBI to process the video to determine if there was proof of a gun in Johnson’s hand, and proseuctors said enhanced still frames from the video showed he was holding a gun.

Prosecutors also displayed a photo of the gun recovered at the scene, showing a clump of grass stuck to the back of the gun from when Johnson fell to the ground. Johnson’s DNA also was recovered from the weapon, prosecutors said.

This is a photo of the gun that state's attorney says was being carried by Ronald Johnson. (Credit: Cook County State's Attorney)

This is a photo of the gun that state’s attorney says was being carried by Ronald Johnson. (Credit: Cook County State’s Attorney)

Alvarez also said her office shared the dashcam video of the shooting with the FBI in November 2014, and the FBI declined to join the investigation.

CBS 2 Legal Analyst Irv Miller said the video shows Hernandez was justified in shooting Johnson

“This evidence clearly shows, in my mind, that this was a clean shooting, and the state’s attorney’s office absolutely made the right decision in not charging this officer,” Miller said. “He acted in the reasonable belief that he was acting in self-defense, and he did what he had to do.”

Miller said the combination of Johnson’s DNA on the gun, an independent witness saying he was armed, and video showing Johnson holding an object in his hand when he was shot showed Hernandez was justified in shooting Johnson.

He also noted, although Johnson was running away from officers at the time he was shot, it would be very difficult to show the officer acted unreasonably, given that Johnson already had allegedly fought two other officers.

Later Monday, Johnson’s mother, Dorothy Holmes, said she was angry Hernandez was not charged.

“I’m very upset that she didn’t convict this officer of murdering my son, and I’m not going to stop until I get what I want for him, and that’s justice, because if that had had been anybody in her family that got killed like that, that officer would have been charged with murder,” she said.

Holmes’ attorney, Michael Oppenheimer, called Alvarez’s announcement that no charges would be filed a “27-minute infomercial” and a “three-card monte presentation.”

Oppenheimer said it was “a joke” that Alvarez relied on IPRA to conduct an investigation of the Johnson shooting, noting the head of IPRA abruptly resigned Sunday.

“There was no investigation on this case,” Oppenheimer said.

He said none of the witnesses in the case were interviewed by Alvarez’s office, and neither prosecutors nor IPRA interviewed Hernandez.

“She has the nerve to say that she relied on the IPRA investigation. Officer Hernandez has not been asked by IPRA to give a statement. He has not been contacted by IPRA,” Oppenheimer said. “IPRA says they were waiting for the state to let them know what their investigation would have. The state says they’re waiting for IPRA. This is a joke. It’s the blind leading the blind.”

From the beginning, Oppenheimer has said Johnson did not have a gun when he was shot, and he disputed that the dashcam video showed anything in Johnson’s hand just before he was shot.

“It’s a shadow. You can see no gun,” he said. “There is no gun visible in Ronald Johnson’s hand, because there wasn’t one. He was unarmed.”

Oppenheimer has accused police of planting the gun on Johnson after he was shot, and he maintained that assertion Friday. He noted police did not photograph the gun until it had been placed in an officer’s trunk — and not while it was allegedly in Johnson’s hand — and questioned how a clump of grass ended up on the side of the gun, which prosecutors claimed showed the gun was in Johnson’s hand when he fell.

Prosecutors said police removed the gun from the scene because they were worried about a crowd that was gathering nearby.

“No police officer will ever tell you that it’s proper, or wise, or within the rules to reach down and to recover gun from a suspect’s hand as he’s lying on ground. They claimed that he was still breathing. He was dead. Do they really expect that he will come back to life and shoot him?” Oppenheimer said.

He also said he believed the grass was planted on the gun to make it look like Johnson had it when he died.

“How in the world did all that grass get in that gun? He was holding it, according to them. He was running full speed, then the gun ends up gently laying on the top of his right hand. I would think that if you would drag up grass, you would almost have to drag it through the grass to pick it up. I think the officers, or detectives, or whoever did this added that for effect to show that there’s some grass connected with the gun where the gun was found,” he said.

Alvarez said any claims police planted the gun on Johnson are not supported by the evidence in the case. She said the gun had Johnson’s DNA on it, and an independent witness told investigators he saw Johnson holding a gun while he was still in the car, and heard Johnson cock the gun after the rear windshield had been shot out, and told the driver to go back to the scene where the car was shot.

“Mr. Johnson did indeed have a gun,” she said.

The decision not to charge Johnson came just hours after the U.S. Justice Department announced it would conduct a civil rights investigation of the Chicago Police Department and its policies and practices regarding the use of force. It also comes nearly two weeks after Alvarez’s office charged another police officer, Jason Van Dyke, with murder for the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Laquan Mcdonald, who was shot eight days after Johnson.

Officer Jason Van Dyke has been charged with first-degree murder in McDonald’s death. Dashcam video shows Van Dyke shooting McDonald 16 times as the teen was walking away from officers near 41st and Pulaski. Van Dyke was not charged for 13 months after the shooting, and only after a Cook County judge ordered the city to release the video of the shooting.

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