The grandparents of the woman who was fatally shot by Fayetteville police on Friday night dispute the department’s account of the incident.
"This was bad. It was an egregious murder by the Fayetteville police," said Rick Iwanski, who is the grandfather of the woman killed, Jada Johnson. "Mental illness is not a crime."
Johnson's family said she was suffering a mental crisis when she was tackled by police trying to get a handgun away from the 22-year-old. Police said the struggle came after officers spent about an hour trying to deescalate the situation and working to persuade Johnson to put down the handgun.
Police said Johnson was threatening to hurt herself. Her grandmother, Maria Iwanski, and her daughter La’Naya also were in harm’s way, police have said.
The shooting happened at Rick Iwanski's home in the 2300 block of Colgate Drive.
The North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation is reviewing the shooting.
Two police officers have been placed on administrative duty pending the outcome of the investigation, which is standard procedure, said Officer Jeremy Strickland, a spokesman for the Police Department. He said the officers' names and the amount of time they have been with the Police Department are not being released at this time.
The department has said its Internal Affairs Unit will conduct an internal investigation to ensure departmental policies and procedures were followed during the incident.
Strickland said he could not comment further on the case.
"Pretty much everything else will come from the SBI because we turned everything over to them," Strickland said. "Any further questions should be directed to the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation because they have taken the case."
Officers were sent to Iwanski’s house just after 9:40 p.m. when an attempted break-in was reported, Assistant Police Chief James Nolette said during a news conference early Saturday.
Officers were told that four men tried to break into the residence. Officers contacted the occupants, Nolette said. No evidence of a break-in could be determined, he said.
The Iwanskis, who are married but estranged, were inside the residence along with Johnson and Johnson’s 2 1/2-year-old daughter.
Nolette said there were inconsistencies with Johnson’s story. She also appeared “as if she were in crisis,’’ he said.
“And then suddenly, she produced a firearm,’’ Nolette said, adding that she began to threaten to harm herself.
Nolette said two officers spent about an hour talking with Johnson, trying to get her to put down the gun and discussing getting her help. After about an hour of trying to deescalate the situation, Nolette said, officers tried to secure the weapon and the struggle went to the ground.
Maria Iwanski described her granddaughter as being tackled, like a football player, by one of the officers who edged closer to her while another one spoke from farther away, apparently in an attempt to distract Johnson.
“I had the baby with me. I was close to her,” Maria Iwanksi said.
Maria Iwanski said Johnson felt threatened by police. At one point, Johnson told the officer who continued to draw closer to her to back off, according to her grandmother.
“'See, Mom, they’re trying to do something,’’’ Iwanski said Johnson told her.
“She said as long as the baby was with me, they would not shoot her,” Maria Iwanski said.
After her granddaughter was restrained, the 64-year-old Iwanski said, “she hit the edge of the table and fell flat on the floor. Her eyes were wide open, but nothing in her eyes.”
Iwanski said she heard two shots and the baby screaming.
She said Johnson was shot multiple times in the back "when she was largely unconscious already.”
Strickland referred questions about the shooting, including how many times Johnson was shot, to the SBI.
“They shot her like a freaking horse, like an animal,’’ Maria Iwanski said in an emotional outburst Tuesday.
Maria Iwanski said Johnson had placed the handgun on the floor for a couple of minutes before being shot. At the time, they were both in the living room with La'Naya and Rick Iwanski.
"Police never made an attempt to get it," she said.
Earlier mental health treatment
Maria Iwanski said her granddaughter was released earlier in the day from Cape Fear Valley Medical Center. She said Johnson had been admitted two days before after experiencing mental problems, including ramped-up anxiety.
She said doctors told her at the time of Johnson’s release that her granddaughter had "mental problems." She was given pills, Iwanski said, and released.
Maria Iwanski said her granddaughter was anxious about a toxic situation with her former boyfriend, from whom she had recently split. Johnson got the gun for protection, her grandmother said. She told Iwanski that the only thing her ex-boyfriend respects is a gun.
Iwanski said she and her husband raised Johnson like a daughter.
During the Saturday morning news conference, Nolette said two officers spent about an hour talking with Johnson trying to get her to put down the handgun. They also discussed getting her help, he said.
Johnson agreed to get assistance through Cape Fear Valley, according to Nolette, and police had medical crews ready to respond.
But Maria Iwanski said police canceled the emergency vehicle while they continued to try to persuade Johnson to give up the gun.
“They said it was not needed,” she recalled of the EMS vehicle. “She wanted to go back to the hospital. She got more and more anxious.’’
At one point, Iwanski said, the officers went outside and talked in private. When they returned, Johnson asked what they had been talking about, Iwanski said. She was told that the conversation was private.
After about an hour, police said they attempted to take the gun from Johnson and secure control of it. Police and the woman struggled and fell to the ground before the officer fired, according to Nolette.
Maria Iwanski said she saw an officer shoot Johnson in the back.
Rick Iwanski said he did not hear any shots fired by Johnson.
"From what I saw, it was the police. I did not hear any shots from her, from when she went down or after she went down," he said.
Iwanski said the family plans to take some type of legal action, but at this point, "we don't know the route. I believe we have to wait until the SBI's investigation is complete. In the meantime, we'll have some protests, some picketing, some demonstrations. We're working it now," he added.
"She was a wonderful girl," Maria Iwanski said of her granddaughter. "I have cancer. She helped me. She was here for me during the treatments. She was very helpful."
Michael Futch covers Fayetteville and education for CityView TODAY. He can be reached at email@example.com. Have a news tip? Email news@CityViewTODAY.com