The Fairfax County Police Department has fired one of its own. The ex-cop is now the subject of a criminal investigation after he fatally shot a man believed to be a shoplifter last month.
Chief Kevin Davis said he terminated Sgt. Wesley Shifflett from the FCPD on Thursday, March 23, according to CNN.
A preliminary review of the police-involved killing of Timothy Johnson shows the ranking officer and Police Officer First Class James Sadler both “discharged their firearms,” a collective three times when seeking to detain the man suspected of stealing sunglasses on Feb. 22.
A press release posted after the shooting by the FCPD detailed what happened that day.
“An officer observed the man exiting the store near a parking garage. As he exited the store, an anti-theft alarm was activated as he fled,” it read.
Shifflett was in uniform, but Sadler was working undercover in plain clothes when they started chasing Johnson on foot into a nearby wooded area.
Officer bodycam footage shows a chase and one officer telling Johnson to “Get on the ground” and another saying, “stop reaching.”
The video shows the moments up until shots are fired, and Johnson is shot in the chest.
The chief said the fatal shot was fired by the seven-year department veteran, Shifflett, and that Johnson was indeed unarmed. He had no weapon; only two pairs of sunglasses were discovered at the scene of the crime.
After viewing the footage with the family, Carl Crews, the Johnson family’s attorney, says the way he was killed could be considered an execution.
“The best way to describe the video is to say first what was not on it. What it doesn’t show: danger. It doesn’t show the officers faced any danger — imminent or otherwise,” Crews said.
The department declared this is not the way it runs.
“The officer’s actions do not meet the expectations of our police department – in particular, use of force policies, protocols, and procedures. He will no longer be a Fairfax County police officer,” Davis said.
However, there is no FCPD policy for on-foot pursuit. This is not unusual. A study conducted by the University of South Carolina in 2012 reported more than 85 percent of police departments do not have a foot pursuit policy
Neither officer has a “significant disciplinary history” over their combined 15 years of service to the department, nor has been charged with a crime, according to the Washington Post.
Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano said the decision on if charges are appropriate will be made in a matter of weeks.
Since his termination, Shifflett has acquired legal representation. His lawyer, Caleb Kershner, says his client was acting in self-defense at the time of the shooting.
According to Shifflett, his lawyer claims, the suspect was not obeying any of the police commands directed at him. He and Sadler believed Johnson to have posed to them a serious threat, leaving their lives in jeopardy.
“A police officer should never be forced to be shot or seriously injured before he takes action to protect himself or others,” Kershner said.
In a statement, the lawyer said his client saw the deceased “digging into his waistband” and believed he was going to “kill” him.
“[My client] was only a few yards away from the suspect. He had no cover, and only his gun to protect himself from being shot at point-blank range. Shifflett fired his own weapon twice at the suspect, then tripped over some nearby brush and fell to the ground. The other pursuing officer also responded by firing his weapon,” Kershner explained.
The attorney says he finds the termination of his client “deeply disappointing.”
“Any reasonable officer faced with the same circumstances would have done the exact same thing as Sgt. Shifflett,” Kershner said regarding his client’s actions.
Kershner’s law firm also represents Sadler.
The victim’s mother Melissa Johnson also released a comment.
“Timothy was unarmed and shoplifting. What played out on the news was a judge, jury, and an execution-style murder,” the bereaved mother remarked.
Melissa Johnson wants justice for her son — believing the first step to this is to hold the officers responsible for his death accountable.
“My truth is that I am a Black mother and I have a Black son,” Johnson said. “And the truth of my people’s experience here is that freedom, liberty, and the basic human rights have cost the lives of not just many Black people, but of many white people, as well.”
Sadler has not been fired. According to the chief, while he is still employed with the force, he is on modified restricted duty.