Norfolk, Va. - A judge in a federal civil suit has outlined a series of facts in a deadly May, 2013, Norfolk police shooting that directly contradicts what officers said happened at a Wells Fargo bank in Ghent.
Police have contended that a driver trying to cash a bogus check in the drive-through endangered an officer in the escape, forcing a second officer to shoot the driver several times. Joshua Johnson died in his car. But in a ruling in the family's excessive-force lawsuit, Judge Raymond A. Jackson disputes most of the police version.
Police have insisted Officer Matthew Williams was hurt when he was struck by Johnson's car, as Johnson tried to back out of the lane. But the judge wrote that Officer Matthew Watson actually shot Williams as he was firing at Johnson.
The judge also described Johnson's escape by saying the car reversed "slowly." The police account was more dramatic. A public-information officer wrote that the car "accelerates," strikes Williams, and that Williams "is thrown onto trunk of suspect vehicle." None of those life-threatening details were included in the judge's ruling. The judge said the car was reversing at a "walking pace."
The judge also said one officer blocked Johnson's car with a police cruiser, leaving reverse as Johnson's only escape. But then the second officer, Williams, approached the car from behind to "remain concealed." That approach, the judge said, violated basic police-and gun-safety rules. It put Williams, who was behind the car, in the line of fire from the other officer, Watson. The family has claimed that the officers' poor tactics turned what could have been a simple arrest for a bogus check into a deadly police shooting. The judge ruled there was enough controversy to move the case forward, denying the officers' request to dismiss the claims.