The family of a Black man who was killed by a Kansas City, Missouri, police officer two years ago is asking the federal government to intervene after a special prosecutor announced on March 14 that no charges would be filed against the officer.
Malcolm Johnson was shot twice in the head on March 25, 2021.
Johnson was shot after a struggle with several Kansas City police officers inside a BP gas station at 63rd and Prospect. Video footage of the shooting showed Johnson as he stood at the counter talking to the cashier when two Kansas City police officers approached him with their guns drawn. The officers grabbed Johnson, and the three struggled as Johnson tried to run away and was tackled by the officers. Several other officers arrived on the scene and joined the other KCMPD officers as they piled atop Johnson.
One of the officers could be heard yelling, “Gun in his pocket” before three shots are heard being fired. One of the shots hit one of the officers in the leg and the other two struck 31-year-old Johnson in the head.
A special prosecutor in St. Louis County was given the case after the Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office said it had a conflict of interest in the case. The St. Louis County Prosecutor’s Office announced that the police officer who shot Johnson acted in self-defense and no charges would be filed.
“The physical evidence, the audio evidence and the statements of evidence do not support filing charges against the officers involved with the arrest or the fatal shooting of Malcolm Johnson,” said the special prosecutor’s report. “Given the review of all the evidence, there is insufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the officer who shot Malcolm Johnson was not acting in lawful self-defense or defense of others under Missouri law.”
The report also claimed that ballistics showed that shots were fired from inside Johnson’s coat pocket. The prosecutor’s report also said that Johnson was not tested for gunshot residue, and the firearm did not yield any suitable DNA profiles.
“An examination of Mr. Johnson’s coat revealed holes consistent with bullet damage. This damage is consistent with what appears to be a track of entrance and exit holes,” the report continued. “The track runs from the inside pocket area of Mr. Johnson’s coat through the pocket itself, through the lining and exits on the coat’s exterior side. The exit hole is located near the midsection, exterior pocket area of the coat.”
EMS personnel on the scene following the shooting said they found a .45 caliber Glock 37 underneath Johnson’s body on the floor. Two witnesses to the shooting said at the time that they thought one of the officers shot the other by mistake.
It’s Time 4 Justice activist Sheryl Ferguson said the special prosecutor declining to prosecute was devastating.
“To think you could be face down with 5 officers on top of you and be executed with two gunshot wounds to the head and not face charges is unimaginable. Only in KC,” said Ferguson. “This is the reason for our high unresolved murder rate. We can never trust the police or the prosecutor.”
A spokeswoman for the Johnson family, Khadijah Hardaway, told the Kansas City Star that the family does not believe the local law enforcement’s version of the shooting and called for a federal investigation.
“We’ve all been calling for the Justice Department to do a special investigation into the patterns and practices of the police department — not just their employment practices, but overall,” Hardaway said. “We’re standing out here on behalf of Malcolm Johnson’s family saying that we don’t believe the reports that have come forward. We want more answers.”
Senior pastor at St. James United Methodist Church Emanuel Cleaver III said he was satisfied with the results of the investigation. “I think this case shows that when the community comes together and makes demands change can take place,” said Cleaver. “My hope is that going forward community leaders and the Kansas City Police Department can work together to make a real difference in our city.”
However, the family and other civil rights leaders remain unconvinced. Executive director of the National Police Accountability Project, Lauren Bonds, questioned the results of the special prosecutor’s report.
“The prosecutor’s report is still somewhat inconclusive about whether Mr. Johnson had taken out his gun and to what degree he posed a risk to the officers,” she said. “That ambiguity can be helpful to officers in a criminal case. However, it is important to note that just because the officers aren’t criminally liable does not mean they acted in accordance with best practices or constitutional standards for the purposes of a civil rights case.”
The president of the Urban League of Greater Kansas City, Gwen Grant, also had questions and called for the release of all audio and video recordings of the shooting.
“It is imperative that all 12 video angles referenced in the report be shared with the public,” Grant said. “In the quest for equal justice and accountability in police-involved homicides, transparency is essential. Failure to shine a light on all facts related to this case will further erode the already fractured community trust.”