JIM SHARPE

Throwing bullets may be more accurate — but throwing rocks can be deadly too

Apr 11, 2024, 1:15 PM

PHOENIX — On Sept. 24, 2022, radio traffic came over a Phoenix Police frequency reporting that a man was throwing rocks at patrol vehicles near 19th and Glendale avenues.

That rock-throwing man, 34-year-old Ali Osman, was shot to death that day by Phoenix officer Jesse Johnson. It’s a shooting that Johnson has now been fired for. He was canned after interim Phoenix Police Chief Michael Sullivan determined that Johnson discharged his weapon in a way that is “out-of-policy.” 

In the dark on that September day, officers, including Johnson, pulled over after their cars were struck by rocks that they say they witnessed Osman throwing. Rocks he continued throwing after they exited their vehicles. 

These weren’t pebbles or gravel, though. 

After the shooting, an officer told investigators that the rocks were the size of baseballs or bigger. And the rocks collected by investigators from the intersection of 19th Avenue and Tuckey Lane were between 2.9 ounces and 19.8 ounces — more than a pound.

The bodycam video shows Osman being shot after he continued throwing rocks at police, including one that hit an officer in the shin.

In a statement, the Phoenix Police Department said the decision to fire Johnson “…was not made lightly but was done after careful consideration of all the facts… the Phoenix Police Department must hold its employees to the highest standards, conduct and accountability.”

In their own statement, the union for rank-and-file officers, the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association (PLEA), said that Sullivan’s decision to fire officer Johnson was “unfair.”

“First and foremost, any loss of life to a community member during a police contact is tragic and our officers try to avoid those responses at all costs,” PLEA’s statement said. “But it is unfair to hold one half of the interaction 100% responsible for the outcome.”

And PLEA pointed out that the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office “reviewed the intimate details surrounding this use of force incident and cleared Officer Johnson of any criminal wrongdoing.”

But County Attorney Rachel Mitchell told our TV partners at ABC15, “The administrative investigation by the Phoenix Police Department … was concerning whether the officer violated department policy… the criminal case reviewed by my office involves whether we could prove beyond a reasonable doubt to a unanimous jury that a crime was committed. Those are two very different considerations.”

People who are consistently critical of the police will point at cops shooting a guy who was “only throwing rocks” as proof that police use overkill when dealing with the public — but having baseball-sized rocks thrown at you is a situation that can cause your death — which is the standard for officers to use deadly force, right?

And that means I’m not sure how the shooting of Osman equates to being an “out-of-policy” shooting… Unless, retreating would’ve put Johnson and his fellow officers out of range of the rock-thrower’s arm.  

Either way, I’ll just say I’m glad that officer Johnson has the right to appeal the chief’s decision to the Civil Service Board.

And I’m glad that I’m not an officer of the law: having to make life-and-death, split-second decisions — because I don’t know what I would’ve done if I was officer Johnson on that September day in 2022.

Jim Sharpe

(KTAR News Photo)...

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Throwing bullets may be more accurate — but throwing rocks can be deadly too