ARIZONA NEWS

Family of Dion Johnson to pursue civil suit after Arizona trooper not charged

Sep 21, 2020, 5:03 PM | Updated: 5:13 pm
(KTAR News Photo/Peter Samore)...
(KTAR News Photo/Peter Samore)
(KTAR News Photo/Peter Samore)

PHOENIX — The attorney for Dion Johnson’s family said a civil lawsuit will be pursued after a decision came down Monday to not charge the Arizona state trooper who fatally shot the 28-year-old on Memorial Day.

Attorney Jocquese Blackwell said a notice of claim will be filed soon regarding Johnson’s death.

In Arizona, a notice of claim must be submitted before a lawsuit can be filed against a public entity.

“It’s a little bit disheartening to hear they didn’t charge [the trooper], but it’s par for the course,” Blackwell said during a press conference Monday.

Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel revealed the highly anticipated decision to not charge trooper George Cervantes in Johnson’s death during a separate press conference earlier in the day.

Adel said she had final say in the decision, which came about four months after the shooting and two months after the police investigation was completed, and it was not made lightly or in haste.

Erma Johnson, Dion’s mother, took exception to Adel’s choice to not charge the 54-year-old Cervantes.

“I still feel George Cervantes is a monster and needs to be arrested for my son’s murder. Period,” Erma Johnson said during the press conference.

Authorities have said Cervantes shot and killed Johnson on May 25 after a struggle on the Loop 101 near Tatum Boulevard in north Phoenix.

Adel said the available evidence corroborated Cervantes’ description of the incident, and she determined the shooting was a legally valid use of self-defense. She also said the trooper didn’t get special treatment because he is a law enforcement officer.

She said the evidence included the observations of witnesses who drove past Johnson’s car, which was stopped in a gore point when Cervantes approached it.

Blackwell argued that Johnson’s side was unable to have a strong voice on the events that occurred during the incident since Johnson didn’t survive.

“It’s a one-sided story,” Blackwell said.

Johnson was killed the same day George Floyd died while in police custody in Minneapolis after an officer knelt on his neck for around nine minutes.

Four police officers have been charged in Floyd’s death, which was captured on video and set off a wave of protests against police brutality and racial inequality across the nation and world.

During Phoenix-area rallies, protesters cited Johnson’s case along with those of Floyd and others killed by law enforcement officers as examples of injustice against minorities.

“Deep in my heart, I knew they weren’t going to charge him in my son’s murder,” Erma Johnson said.

Cervantes told investigators a partially handcuffed Johnson had pulled part of the officer’s body into Johnson’s car through an open door. The officer said he feared he would lose control of his gun if Johnson continued to overpower him, so he shot Johnson in the torso, leading to his death.

Police reports say Johnson’s encounter with Cervantes started when the trooper saw Johnson passed out in a car that smelled of alcohol and had a handgun sitting on the seat. A toxicology report shows Johnson had methamphetamine, the synthetic opioid fentanyl and marijuana in his system.

The officer took the gun and secured it on his motorcycle and then returned to the car to arrest Johnson, who was by then seen moving around. Cervantes cuffed one of Johnson’s hands, marking the beginning of the struggle, according to the reports.

The officer said he feared that Johnson was going to push him into a lane of traffic with his legs, so he pulled out his gun and told him to stop resisting arrest or he would be shot.

Cervantes said he started to re-holster his gun when he felt the threat had lessened, but then Johnson grabbed his arm that was holding the officer’s gun.

The officer told investigators that Johnson leaned back, pulled on the trooper and used his legs as leverage to pull part of the officer’s body into the vehicle through an open door.

“Yes, my son may have resisted arrest, but does that give him the right to shoot my son?” Erma Johnson said. “I have no trust in the judicial system right now.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Family of Dion Johnson to pursue civil suit after Arizona trooper not charged