Phoenix police release report of DPS shooting that killed Dion Johnson

Jul 15, 2020, 8:00 PM | Updated: 8:34 pm
(KTAR News 92.3 FM Photo/Gabriel Gamiño)...
(KTAR News 92.3 FM Photo/Gabriel Gamiño)
(KTAR News 92.3 FM Photo/Gabriel Gamiño)

PHOENIX — The Phoenix Police Department on Wednesday released an incident report documenting the investigation into an Arizona Department of Public Safety trooper’s fatal shooting of Dion Johnson.

Johnson, a 28-year-old Black man, died after being shot by 15-year veteran and trooper George Cervantes at the Loop 101 and Tatum Boulevard on May 25 — the same day Minnesotan George Floyd died in police custody.

The incident report provides Cervantes’ account of the incident as well as that of other law enforcement and emergency personnel.

On the morning of the shooting, Cervantes told investigators he was on his way to meet DPS Trooper Neil Osborn at the 64th Street exit of the Loop 101 where they frequently began their shifts.

Before meeting Osborn, Cervantes spotted Johnson’s gray Toyota Prius stopped at the east end of the Tatum Boulevard on-ramp to the Loop 101.

Observing the vehicle to be partially obstructing traffic in an unsafe location, Cervantes began approaching the vehicle, unsure if it was occupied or abandoned.

After parking his motorcycle behind the car and informing radio dispatch of the situation, Cervantes told investigators he observed a male in the vehicle who was not moving.

Upon opening the unlocked front passenger door, Cervantes said he smelled alcohol and witnessed beer cans in the car.

The trooper also reported seeing a key in the ignition along with a semi-automatic handgun in the passenger seat — which he then removed and placed in his motorcycle’s saddlebag.

Noticing that Johnson had begun to move about, Cervantes decided to effect the arrest to prevent him from driving away and presenting an additional hazard.

Cervantes was able to handcuff Johnson’s left wrist, after which a struggle ensued. The trooper claimed Johnson had tried to reach the gun on the passenger seat. Cervantes then drew his firearm and threatened twice to shoot Johnson if he continued to resist arrest.

At that point, Johnson appeared to relax.

Cervantes said he then retracted his gun and planned to re-holster it when Johnson suddenly grabbed his right hand — which was still holding the firearm.

Fearing that Johnson would be able to gain control of his weapon, Cervantes fired two shots amid the struggle.

After Johnson had been struck in the abdomen, Osborn arrived on scene.

In statements to investigators, Osborn corroborated the odor of alcohol. He also described Johnson as uncooperative though not violent toward he and Cervantes.

After a minor struggle, the troopers were able to remove Johnson from the vehicle. They then handcuffed him, called for medical backup and realized the gunshot wound was more serious than had been originally assessed.

Medical personnel then arrived and took Johnson to a local hospital where he died.

Last week, the Phoenix Police Department and the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office both confirmed that the investigation into Dion Johnson’s death was submitted to Metro Phoenix prosecutors on Tuesday.

Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel told KTAR News 92.3 FM’s The Mike Broomhead Show on Thursday that while she understands both the community and law enforcement’s need for answers, she won’t make a knee-jerk decision for the sake of a finding a speedy resolution to the case.

Though Adel has asked for the case to be prioritized, MCAO spokeswoman Jennifer Liewer told KTAR News 92.3 FM in a statement that there is currently no timeline for a charging decision.

KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Martha Maurer contributed to this report.

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Phoenix police release report of DPS shooting that killed Dion Johnson