Fairfax, Virginia – A Northern Virginia police officer was fired Thursday after he fatally shot a man last month who allegedly stole sunglasses from a crowded mall. Police also released a video of the fatal encounter.
Fairfax County Sheriff Kevin Davis announced his dismissal at a press conference, where he also showed body camera footage showing the shooting of Timothy McCreary Johnson outside Tysons Corner Center on February 22.
Davis said two officers chasing Johnson that night fired their weapons. The person who fired the fatal shot in the chest has been fired from the department, and the other officer remains on restricted duty as the investigation continues.
The dismissed officer, Sgt. Davies said Wesley Shiflett showed “a failure to live up to our agency’s expectations, particularly the use of power politics.”
Caleb Kirshner, Shivlett’s attorney, said his client will appeal his dismissal and expects to be acquitted. He said Sheflett acted as he was trained to do, using lethal force if he had a reasonable belief his life was in danger. Kirchner said Shiflett saw Johnson reach for his waistband as if he was searching for a weapon.
“You have to make a split-second decision, which is a split-second life-or-death decision,” said Kirchner.
The same video shows a nighttime chase lasting less than two minutes, with officers running after him out of the mall, through a parking garage, across a street and into a wooded area. In a slow-motion version of the video police showed at Thursday’s news conference, it appears as if two shots were fired after an officer yelled “Get on the ground” but before he yelled “Stop reaching.” A third shot was also heard. The video is dimly lit and it’s hard to see Johnson in any detail once they exit the mall.
After the shooting, body camera video recorded Shivlett telling another officer that he had seen Johnson “wear his waistband constantly” and that he said to Johnson, “Let me see your hands.” But this command cannot be heard in the video.
The officer may not have accurately remembered the orders he gave Johnson, attorney Kirshner said, but the video shows Johnson was not observing.
“There is no doubt that he (Johnson) was not following orders,” Kirchner said.
Police searched for a weapon in the wooded area where Johnson was shot, but no weapon was ever found.
“For the most part, the police body cam footage speaks for itself,” Davis said. “This time, it didn’t.”
Davis declined to comment in detail on how he believes the officers should have responded, citing the ongoing investigation.
Police also released a video that appeared to show Johnson taking two sunglasses from a Nordstrom store, and sounding alarms as he left the store. Security at the store alerted officers who were assigned to patrol the mall.
The video was shown to the Johnson family on Wednesday, the day before it was released to the public. After witnessing it, family attorney Carl Cruz called Johnson’s death “an execution by a Fairfax County Sheriff’s officer.”
On Thursday, he said the family would continue to seek justice.
He said, “The officer’s administrative dismissal by Chief Davis corroborates what I saw on the footage which were several violations of police procedure. However, justice continues for Timothy (because) no one has been charged with his murder,” he said.
Johnson’s mother, Melissa Johnson, said Wednesday that Davis “painted half the negative truth about our son” when he described Johnson immediately after the shooting as someone with a “significant violent criminal history.”
Court records show Johnson has no criminal record in Fairfax County. He has been convicted of assault and gun charges in Maryland and the District of Columbia.
At Thursday’s news conference, Davis apologized for the way Johnson described the night of the shooting. He said he was trying to anticipate reporters’ questions about whether Johnson had a criminal history.
“I should have answered it much more sensitively than I did,” he said.
The agency has returned eight years of records, Davis said, and this is the only time officers have ever shot a suspect during a foot chase. He said he wanted to develop a policy for officer behavior during the foot chase that takes into account the training they already receive. He said preliminary research shows that only 18 police departments across the country have such a policy in place.
“There are no shining best practices out there,” he said.
No charges have been filed against the officers. Steve DiScano, the Fairfax District Attorney for the Commonwealth, said he is reviewing the case and will make a decision in the coming weeks.
Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay issued a statement Thursday calling the video “disturbing to say the least.”
“Under no circumstances should suspected shoplifting alone lead to a tragic loss of life,” McKay said.
The release of the video comes as seven Virginia sheriff’s deputies in Henrico County, near Richmond, and three hospital staff have been charged with second-degree murder in the death of a black prisoner due to mental health issues. Ervo Otieno died while being transported to a government hospital; Video posted Tuesday in the Otieno case shows deputies and workers surrounding Otieno and pinning him to the ground.