The state will not file criminal charges against the Fayetteville police officers who killed Jada Johnson last summer, the N.C. Department of Justice announced Wednesday.
Johnson, 22, was shot 17 times and killed last July. In a statement Wednesday, N.C. Attorney General Josh Stein said the police shooting was justified. The case was referred to the Department of Justice by Cumberland County District Attorney Billy West last October.
“The evidence shows that the officers faced a deadly threat and acted reasonably in response. Therefore, no charges will be brought,” Stein said in the statement.
Officials have said Johnson was armed at the time of the shooting, but the police bodycam video of the shooting has not been released to the public. Stein said the video should be released “in the interest of transparency to the people.”
Because of a court order in Cumberland County, not even Johnson’s family has seen the video, including her grandparents, Maria and Rick Iwanski, who has been a vocal critic of the Fayetteville Police Department after his granddaughter’s death.
The Iwanskis attended a news conference Wednesday after they met with DOJ officials.
Xavier de Janon, a lawyer representing the Iwanskis, spoke at the news conference. He said DOJ officials cited state law that gives officers broad discretion to use deadly force.
“In their opinion, after looking at all the facts, the statute would protect the officers from prosecution,” de Janon said. “What’s mind-boggling, though, as we know in our complaint, we don’t believe this is true.”
According to the complaint, a Fayetteville officer had Johnson immobilized and pinned to the ground when another officer shot her. Still alive and lying in her own blood, according to the complaint, the officers subdued Johnson and shot her again, killing her.
“At the end of the day, the North Carolina Department of Justice is a political agency. It’s a political body of the government, and so no matter how much we can argue with them, their decision is made,” de Janon continued.
Civil lawsuit continues
The civil lawsuit against the city of Fayetteville and the Police Department, however, is ongoing, de Janon said. The Iwanskis did not speak at Wednesday’s news conference because of the ongoing litigation.
At a Fayetteville City Council meeting in April, however, Rick Iwanski called on city officials not to pay for the defense of the officers involved in the civil case, CityView reported.
“You will be asked to provide taxpayer funds for the defense of the man in this case. We implore you — we the taxpayers — we implore you to refuse these men any relief, comfort or support at taxpayer expense,” Iwanski said at April’s meeting.
At Wednesday’s news conference, de Janon called for systemic change in the way officers are prosecuted for the sake of families who have lost loved ones to police violence.
“You have no government body to turn to when you suffer that kind of injustice,” de Janon said.
“Today’s decision, which is another decision that is similar as before, shows how urgent it is for some kind of change, some kind of systemic change, change in how community crisis is answered, how mental health crises are responded to, who responds to them, who gets there first,” de Janon continued.
When officers shot and killed Johnson last summer, they were responding to a call about a mental health crisis that Johnson was experiencing. Stein, in his statement Wednesday, said a co-responder model might be appropriate in cases such as Johnson’s.
“Johnson’s untimely death is a tragedy. Even when criminal charges are not appropriate, we should always ask whether anything could have been done differently that may have resulted in a better outcome. I urge that a sentinel event review, which is designed to better understand and learn from officer-involved shootings, be conducted in this case,” Stein said. “It is possible that a co-responder model that pairs social workers and other mental health experts with police officers could have helped better address the reason for a call.”
In the wake of Johnson’s death and others who have died at the hands of Fayetteville police while experiencing a mental health crisis, community organizers have been pushing for an office of community safety, or OCS, CityView has previously reported.
An OCS is an entity found in other communities in North Carolina that works outside the police to respond to mental health calls.
Ben Sessoms covers Fayetteville and education for CityView. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.