One police shooting, three official accounts

Posted at 5:21 PM, Aug 28, 2014
and last updated 2014-08-28 18:36:09-04

A federal-court lawsuit has offered a third account of a controversial police shooting last year in a drive-through lane at a Ghent Wells Fargo bank.

All three official accounts of the shooting that left a suspected check-forger dead in his car agree on some facts, but differ wildly on others. Those differences will be pivotal in the family's excessive-force lawsuit against two Norfolk officers.

The biggest and perhaps oddest discrepancy is how one of the responding officers got hurt. A day after the May, 2013, shooting, police officials in writing insisted neither officer was shot. But hospital records, a Commonwealth's Attorney's report, and even the officer himself in a radio call, confirm he'd been shot by his partner.

Click here to read Norfolk Police Department's press release on the shooting

Click here to read the Commonwealth's Attorney's report

Click here to read the federal court judge's ruling on the excessive force lawsuit

In May, 2013, Officers Matthew Williams and Matthew Watson were sent to the Wells Fargo bank on 21st St. A man named Joshua "Omar" Johnson was trying to cash a stolen check. All three accounts agree Watson's police cruiser blocked Johnson's car in the drive-through while Watson's partner circled on foot to the back of Johnson's car. When confronted, Johnson put his car in reverse and backed away. Watson fired. Johnson died.

Reports now show that, despite the police department's statements, Williams was in his partner's line of fire and was shot in the left thigh.

The police news release and the prosecutor's report both agree that Johnson put his car in reverse and accelerated backwards, "at a high rate of speed."

But, according to the family's attorney, a bank surveillance video doesn't show anything like that. The attorney, John Cooper, fought Norfolk police in court to get the surveillance tape. The police have steadfastly refused to release it. Cooper told federal-court Judge Raymond A. Jackson the tape shows the car was reversing "slowly" and at a "walking pace."

The pace of the escape is a crucial element in the civil suit. Police contend the car was being driven like a weapon right at Officer Williams. That forced Officer Watson to fire, to save his partner's life. But Cooper says the tape shows the car was traveling so slowly it wasn't a threat to anyone. And that would make the shooting excessive.

Judge Jackson agreed the case can move forward. Cooper said a police expert is analyzing the bank video. Cooper said he expects to take depositions from the officers in the next three months.

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