Fort Worth

Fort Worth officer fired for shooting man who held barbecue fork

Fort Worth police officer Courtney Johnson — whose charge of aggravated assault by a public servant for shooting a man who was holding a barbecue fork was dismissed last month after a mistrial — has been fired, police Chief Joel Fitzgerald said Tuesday.

Johnson, 35, was accused of shooting Craigory Adams by recklessly handling his shotgun on June 23, 2015.

“We found that these actions were careless and that led to an individual being injured and that’s something we can’t let happen,” Fitzgerald said. “He certainly shouldn’t have racked his shotgun and pulled the trigger. I believe that Officer Johnson pulled the trigger. Our officers don’t train to rack shotguns and point it at folks.”

A two-count indictment accused Johnson of taking his gun off safety and sliding the pump action back, then forward as it 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 was at least in partial compliance, Fitzgerald said.

In Johnson’s trial, the jury split 5-7, but it was not known which way the majority voted.

Johnson testified that based on information from the 911 call taker, he thought Adams was holding a knife. Johnson’s attorneys, Tim Choy and Jim Lane, maintained that the shooting was accidental but acknowledged that the case may have been difficult for jurors to understand.

“After review of the trial case, and the evidence produced at that trial, it is my belief that any subsequent retrial is unlikely to result in the return of a unanimous jury verdict,” a motion filed by District Attorney Sharen Wilson stated.

Fitzgerald said that Fort Worth police officers, from top to bottom, including himself, are going through de-escalation training, or learning methods of how to effectively defuse tense situations.

Police command staff expects officers to assess situations when they arrive on a scene and not to rely on what they are told by dispatchers, Fitzgerald said.

“We can’t hard-charge into every situation,” Fitzgerald said. “Society dictates we must take a different stance in dealing with people.”

Adams, a mentally challenged man who was living with his parents, was outside holding a barbecue fork when he knocked on a neighbor’s door and the neighbor called police.

Johnson failed to identify himself as a police officer when he approached Adams, said Tamala Ray, a Tarrant County prosecutor. Johnson drove up to the location of the call without his lights and sirens activated and gave Adams several commands, Ray said.

Adams dropped the barbecue fork and dropped to one knee, Ray said in her opening statement at trial.

Johnson called for additional officers to assist. Soon after calling for backup, Johnson radioed to dispatch that shots were fired and he called MedStar for emergency medical assistance, according to the recordings.

In court documents filed with the Tarrant County district clerk’s office last year, Adams said that he had forgiven the defendant because he had heard Johnson “was a Christian.”

During a news conference in March last year, Fitzgerald said he did not believe that race played a role in the shooting and said Tuesday that there is no evidence that Johnson used a racial slur, as Adams’ relatives have said.

Fitzgerald said the use of a racial slur by Johnson or the absence of its use did not play a factor in his decision to terminate the officer. Fitzgerald also said that initially when he said Adams’ shooting was an accident he did not have the benefit of an investigation by internal affairs staff. An assistant chief also recommended Johnson’s termination while others recommended lengthy suspensions, Fitzgerald said.

But Fitzgerald said the decision to fire Johnson was his.

Johnson is white and Adams is black. Johnson will have an opportunity to appeal his termination, Fitzgerald said.

This report contains information from Star-Telegram archives.

Ryan Osborne: 817-390-7684, @RyanOsborneFWST

Mitch Mitchell: 817-390-7752, @mitchmitchel3