Fort Worth

Man testifies that Fort Worth officer used racial slur before shooting him

Fort Worth police officer Courtney Johnson is on trial in a wrongful shooting case at the Tim Curry Criminal Justice Center in Fort Worth.
Fort Worth police officer Courtney Johnson is on trial in a wrongful shooting case at the Tim Curry Criminal Justice Center in Fort Worth.

A man shot by a Fort Worth police officer in 2015 testified Thursday that the officer used a racial slur before the officer’s shotgun went off, striking him in the arm.

Officer Courtney Johnson, 35, is accused of shooting Craigory Adams, 56, on June 23, 2015, by recklessly handling his shotgun. The two-count indictment accuses Johnson of taking his gun off safety and sliding the pump action back, then forward as the weapon was pointed toward Adams. The shotgun fired, hitting Adams in the arm.

The officer has said he thought Adams was holding a knife, but it was actually a barbecue fork.

Adams, who said he has bipolar disorder, testified that he had gone outside to get some air because the air conditioning at his parents’ house was not working.

Adams said he carried the barbecue fork to ward off small animals that he might encounter. As he walked down the street, Adams said he was confronted by a bright white light.

“I thought it was police or a taxi,” Adams said.

There were no sirens or emergency lights and the officer did not identify himself when he got out of his vehicle, Adams testified.

Then, Adams testified, the officer yelled a racial slur and told him to get down and drop the knife.

“I clearly heard him say ‘n-----,’ ” Adams testified. “That’s a bad word to use.”

Adams said he immediately followed the officers commands and “he still shot me.”

“I could feel the impact on my shoulder and I could feel the blood splatter against my ear,” Adams testified.

One of Johnson’s attorneys, Jim Lane, asked why Adams neglected to mention the slur during statements he made to police after the shooting.

“Sir, I was heavily sedated while I was in the hospital because I had an injury,” Adams responded.

The crime Johnson is charged with, aggravated assault by a public servant, is a first-degree felony and carries a maximum penalty of life or 99 years if convicted. Johnson, who has been with the department since 2013, remains on desk duty. He was indicted in March 2016.

During a news conference after the indictment, Police Chief Joel Fitzgerald said that he does not believe that race played a role in the shooting and that there is no evidence that Johnson used a slur. The police dashcam video played for the jury has no audio.

The video shows Johnson responding to the 1300 block of New York Avenue on a report that a prowler armed with a long knife was banging on the front door of a residence.

The officer approached Adams and aimed his shotgun at him. He told investigators that as he approached, he ordered Johnson several times to drop the knife.

Adams dropped the “knife” — later found to be a barbecue fork with two tines — in front of him and went down to one knee. About 10 seconds later, the video shows Johnson’s shotgun firing and Adams falling facedown on the lawn.

Johnson appeared to panic and ran toward Adams, stopping to lay his shotgun in the street. Fitzgerald said Johnson rushed to give Adams medical assistance and immediately radioed for medics.

Sgt. Robert Phillips, a Fort Worth police use-of-force training officer, testified that police academy cadets are trained to disengage the safety and put their finger on the trigger only after making a decision to shoot.

Phillips said Adams fell in a gray area of not being fully compliant with Johnson’s commands but not being fully noncompliant. Phillips testified that suspects are instructed to get on both knees to limit their mobility and increase the arresting officer’s reaction time if a suspect tries to attack.

“A person on one knee can close the distance much easier than a person can on two knees,” Phillips said.

He also said suspects are ordered to face away from the officer when they are being handcuffed, again to better protect officers.

“It would not be unreasonable for Johnson to think that this was still a dangerous situation,” asked Tim Choy, one of Johnson’s attorneys.

“Correct,” Phillips said.

Phillips said use-of-force training is inadequate and new police officers are ill-equipped to grapple with the real-world life-and-death decisions they face. The training does not address every eventuality, Phillips said.

“In control tactics, yes, they are unprepared,” Phillips said. “One, I don’t feel in the 100 hours of control training they receive they get the necessary skill sets they need to effectively do their job. Two, this is perishable knowledge. If you don’t use it, you lose it.”

The prosecution rested Thursday. The trial is expected to resume in state District Judge Wayne Salvant’s court on Monday.

Mitch Mitchell: 817-390-7752, @mitchmitchel3

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