Police Chief Joel Fitzgerald said Wednesday that he believes the shooting involving officer Courtney Johnson was unintentional, but he acknowledged that there are legal ramifications for the officer’s actions.
Johnson, 33, was indicted Tuesday by a Tarrant County grand jury on a charge of aggravated assault by a public servant, a first-degree felony. He is accused of injuring Craigory Adams, 55, by recklessly handling his shotgun during an encounter between the two on June 23.
Fitzgerald said he does not believe that race played a role in the shooting and said there is no evidence that Johnson used a racial slur, as Adams’ relatives have said.
Johnson is white and Adams is black.
“Let’s be clear, we believe that race played no factor in this incident,” Fitzgerald said. “This is, in our opinion, an unintentional shooting but a shooting nonetheless that our officer will have to deal with in a court of law.”
Fitzgerald played the dash cam video of the shooting, saying that it’s important to be transparent and that he wants the public to draw their own conclusions.
“Given the current national environment, we must now work even harder to maintain our reputation as a fair and impartial Police Department. In the truest spirit of transparency, we have released the dashcam video of this incident with the hope that everyone reserves final judgment until the adjudication of this case in court,” Fitzgerald said.
This is, in our opinion, an unintentional shooting but a shooting nonetheless that our officer will have to deal with in a court of law.
Fort Worth Police Chief Joel Fitzgerald
‘An unintentional act without malice’
At a news conference Wednesday, several Fort Worth officers stood behind Fitzgerald as he spoke to reporters before showing the video on a large screen.
Rick Van Houten, president of the Fort Worth Police Officers Association, said he does not agree with the timing of the video release but supports Fitzgerald’s effort to be transparent.
The presidents of the Fort Worth Black Law Enforcement Officers’ Association and the Fort Worth Chapter of the National Latino Peace Officers Association also expressed their support for Fitzgerald’s transparency.
Van Houten said officers have mere seconds to make decisions that will be scrutinized for a long time.
“We sincerely hope the community looks at this and sees it for what it truly is — an unintentional act without malice of any kind,” Van Houten said.
Johnson, who has been placed on restricted duty, is accused in the two-count indictment of taking his gun off safety and sliding the pump action back, then forward as it was pointed toward Adams. The shotgun then fired, hitting Adams in the arm.
Johnson’s lawyer, Jim Lane, has said he was shocked by the indictment and called the shooting the result of an “unintentional discharge.” He told the Star-Telegram, “Just pure and simple, it was an accident.”
Officer Courtney Johnson, who has been with the department since 2013, has been placed on restricted duty.
Fitzgerald said that for the gun to discharge, Johnson must have pulled the trigger or the weapon had a flaw.
“Do we feel as if there was a flaw here? I can’t say at this time,” Fitzgerald said. “All I can say is that the grand jury decided to indict him.”
The officer had responded to the 1300 block of New York Avenue about 3:28 a.m. on a report that a prowler armed with a long knife was banging on a home’s front door.
In the video, the officer approaches Adams, soon drawing up his shotgun and aiming it at him.
The officer told investigators after the shooting that as he approached Adams, he ordered him several times to drop the knife.
Adams, according to a news release issued by the department Wednesday, dropped the “knife” — which was later found to be a barbecue fork with two tines — in front of him and dropped to one knee.
Radioed for medics
About 10 seconds later, the video shows Johnson’s shotgun firing and Adams falling facedown on the lawn.
Johnson appears panicked, running toward the writhing man, then stopping to put his shotgun down in the street. He then runs toward Adams again and speaks repeatedly on his radio.
Fitzgerald said Johnson rushed to give Adams medical assistance and immediately radioed for medics.
He said the shotgun is Johnson’s own.
Adams was shot in the right arm. In a lawsuit filed in December against the officer, Adams said movement and use of that arm has been significantly impaired because of nerve damage. The lawsuit says he has also been hospitalized for severe depression, lack of sleep and night terrors.
Adams’ cousin Kenneth Finley has said Adams was simply taking a brief walk outside to cool off because the family’s air conditioning was out. He said Adams was holding barbecue “tongs” for protection against loose dogs.
Johnson, who has been with the department since 2013, was booked into the Tarrant County Jail late Tuesday morning and immediately released after posting $25,000 bail.
Lane said Johnson is a decorated combat veteran who served in Iraq. He was a high school baseball coach when he decided to become a police officer..