Fort Worth

Fort Worth officer on trial in wrongful shooting case: ‘I need to be ready to fire’

Dashcam video: Man with barbecue fork shot by officer

WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT. On Wednesday, Fort Worth police released video of the June 23 shooting that led to Officer Courtney Johnson's indictment. Johnson is accused of injuring Craigory Adams by recklessly handling his shotgun. Police Chief Joel
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WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT. On Wednesday, Fort Worth police released video of the June 23 shooting that led to Officer Courtney Johnson's indictment. Johnson is accused of injuring Craigory Adams by recklessly handling his shotgun. Police Chief Joel

A police officer on trial in a wrongful shooting case testified Monday that he was never trained to compensate for the type of accidental shooting in which he wounded a mentally ill man almost two years ago.

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.

Johnson said he had to be ready to shoot in case Adams tried to run. Johnson testified that there was a chance that Adams might attack someone in the neighborhood.

To retreat and wait for backup could have put residents in harm’s way, Johnson testified. And the way Adams reacted to his commands raised several red flags and put the police officer on edge.

“I need to be ready to fire,” Johnson said. “He dropped the knife directly in front of him. But it took him so long to do it. If he heard me the sixth or seventh time, he heard me the first time. That means he’s picking and choosing what he’s going to do.”

Johnson, who said he was also apprehensive because Adams did not drop to both knees as commanded, disengaged his safety, pumped the shotgun, pointed his weapon at the suspect and held his trigger finger at the ready.

That’s when the gun went off, Johnson said.

Johnson, who said he joined the Fort Worth Police Academy in 2013 after serving a tour in Iraq with the Army, said he started carrying the shotgun in his car in 2014. He testified that although the Army trained him to build things on the battlefield as a construction engineer and an explosives expert, he saw lots of combat.

“After a dozen firefights I learned there are a lot of things that can go wrong,” Johnson said. “The idea of having a secondary weapon was always on my mind.”

Cmdr. Albert Rodriguez, who has trained Texas Department of Public Safety troopers on use-of force issues, testified Monday that Johnson was following standard police training by disengaging the safety and pointing the weapon at Adams.

Rodriguez attributed the unintentional discharge to a physical phenomenon called sympathetic reflex — the tendency of the muscles in one hand to mimic the actions of the other hand, Rodriguez said.

The brain does not even figure into it, Rodriguez explained, and said this is the first time he has ever seen sympathetic reflex related to a shotgun. People are familiar with this type of unintentional discharge happening to officers while they are handling a handgun, Rodriguez said.

“When one had grips the other hand grips,” Rodriguez said. “When you perform a forceful function like pumping a shotgun, the other hand wants to contract.”

Rodriguez said he plans on writing an article on sympathetic reflex as it relates to shotguns and recommending to state officials that law enforcement officer training be modified to accommodate the new information learned because of this case.

A Tarrant County prosecutor argued that the reason Rodriguez had not heard of sympathetic reflex related to shotgun fire is because no other officer had pointed a loaded shotgun with the safety off at a suspect before.

Jacob Mitchell, Tarrant County assistant district attorney, asked Rodriguez if other training officers had testified during the trial whether safeties are to be left engaged until the decision to fire is reached.

Rodriguez said yes.

Mitchell also asked Rodriguez if the safety on Johnson’s shotgun had been engaged, wouldn’t Adams have escaped being accidentally shot?

Rodriguez said Mitchell was correct, but also suggested that the number of alternative ways Adams could have avoided being accidentally shot were endless.

Johnson is expected to continue testifying in state District Judge Wayne Salvant’s court Tuesday.

Mitch Mitchell: 817-390-7752, @mitchmitchel3

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