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No Charges Against Arizona Trooper Who Disarmed Black Man He Found Sleeping In Car Before Fatally Shooting Him During An Alleged Struggle

The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office said on Monday that it will not bring charges against Arizona Department of Public Safety Trooper George Cervantes for killing Dion Johnson in May.

Johnson was killed in Phoenix on May 25, the same day George Floyd died, after an officer noticed him “passed out” in his car in the gore at about 5:30 a.m. just beyond an on-ramp on State Route 101 in Phoenix. Authorities say Johnson was shot and killed during a physical struggle as Cervantes attempted to arrest him under suspicion of driving impaired.

Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel announced on Monday, Sept. 21, that Cervantes will not face criminal charges.

“That is something that just can not be done under the facts of this case,” Adel said at a news conference on Monday afternoon. “Instead, the evidence, in this case, shows that the trooper was attempting to effect a lawful arrest of an impaired driver who was asleep behind the wheel of a car with the key in the ignition while stopped on a busy freeway.”

“While this is a tragic outcome, criminal charges against the trooper are not warranted,” Adel said.

There is no known footage of the shooting itself because the trooper involved was not wearing a body camera. However, alerted there had been a shooting on the freeway, local news outlet Arizona Family began recording the moments following the shooting from its video feed of Arizona Department of Transportation traffic cameras. Authorities claim the ADOT does not automatically record video from its live traffic cameras.

Prior to the start of the footage, Cervantes approached the 28-year-old Johnson’s car and noticed the odor of alcohol and saw beer cans and a gun. Cervantes removed the gun from Johnson’s car while he remained passed out, secured it, and returned to Johnson’s vehicle after calling for backup.

Dion Johnson. (Photo: ABC15 video screen grab)

Police say at this point Johnson had awakened and a struggle between him and Cervantes ensued when the trooper attempted an arrest, with Johnson grabbing Cervantes through the open driver’s side door. When Cervantes feared he would be pushed into traffic, he pulled out his gun, gave several commands, then fired two shots, striking Johnson once. Two people called 911 to report the struggle. Another trooper arrived on the scene to help remove Johnson from the vehicle.

In an audio clip between the trooper and a dispatcher, the trooper can be heard detailing what he sees in Johnson’s car then after a 56-second silence, the trooper reports, “Shot fired, shots fired!”.

During a news conference back in early June, the Johnson family’s attorney Jocquese Blackwell stated, “How do we go from silence and sleeping, to death? It doesn’t make any sense. There’s nothing on that radio call that makes anyone understand that Dion Johnson was doing anything to cause the officer to shoot him.”

Footage captured by ADOT cameras shows Johnson lying in the street behind his vehicle, beside two troopers.

Johnson’s mother Erma Johnson said she saw one trooper kick her son on camera while he was lying on the ground bleeding out and handcuffed after being shot.

“He’s moving and the officer takes his boot and kicks him back down. That’s devastating,” she said in June. Johnson died of his injuries at the hospital hours later. Policing expert Michael Scott admitted to Arizona’s Family news outlet that EMS could have been summoned faster. Medical services did not reach Johnson until six minutes had passed. Johnson’s family believes he would have survived if he had received medical attention sooner. Methamphetamine, marijuana, and fentanyl were found in his system, authorities say.

Dion Johnson. (Photo: Johnson family)

Johnson’s death sparked protests in the Phoenix area. Members of his family have called for Cervantes and the other trooper on the scene to be fired. As of last week Cervantes remains on administrative leave.

In June, federal authorities announced they were screening the case.

Blackwell criticized Adel for not bringing charges against Cervantes. He questioned why Cervantes’ past hadn’t been looked at during the investigation. The trooper had been reprimanded for leaving a threatening message on the car of a former romantic partner, and for using a stun gun to discipline a puppy.

Adel said Cervantes’ past was not taken into consideration.

Johnson is survived by his 14-year-old daughter. His family said the next step is to file a civil notice of claim.

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