State lawmakers, family members asking for federal probe into Dion Johnson's death

Two state lawmakers and a Corporation Commissioner are asking federal officials to step in and oversee the investigation into a DPS trooper-involved shooting that killed Dion Johnson.

The deadly shooting happened on the morning of May 25, in an area near Loop 101 and Tatum Boulevard. In a statement released by Phoenix Police on Wednesday, officials say Johnson, 28, was found parked alongside the freeway by a trooper. When the trooper tried to arrest Johnson, Johnson grabbed onto the trooper through the open driver-side door, resulting in a struggle.

Dion Johnson

Police officials say the trooper told investigators that during the struggle, he feared he would be pushed into oncoming traffic. The trooper took out his gun and ordered Johnson to follow his commands. Johnson did so until the trooper was putting his gun back into the holster, when Johnson grabbed for it and the trooper opened fire, striking Johnson.

Family speaks out over Johnson's death

Johnson's family said Friday they want a federal investigation.

“Phoenix police officers aren’t willing to do anything on my behalf,” Dion Johnson’s mother, Erma, told reporters. “They haven’t contacted me. I haven’t heard nothing since the day that it happened.”

The Phoenix Police Department is overseeing the investigation into the May 25 shooting. Family members expressed growing frustration that the trooper, who is on paid administrative leave, has not been identified to them. They also believe investigators have not interviewed other potential witnesses, attorney Jocquese Blackwell said.

Erma Johnson said her son was not someone who would try to confront police.

When asked Thursday why the trooper’s name hasn’t been released, DPS director Col. Heston Silbert, said due diligence must be maintained for the criminal and internal investigations going on. He also had no answers for why paramedics were kept at bay for several minutes.

While the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer fueled protests nationwide, the death of Johnson, who was black, has also been a rallying point in Phoenix.

“Why did Dion get shot and killed when he was passed out drunk? That’s a question that needs to be answered,” Blackwell said. “And that’s all we want. We want answers.”

Questions remain, state leaders say

The letter was addressed to U.S. Attorney General William Barr, Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband and U.S. Attorney for Arizona Michael Bailey, and was signed by State Reps. Reginald Bolding, Dr. Geraldine Peten, and Corporation Commission Sandra Kennedy.

In the letter, Kennedy is noted as the state's only African American to be elected to a statewide office, while Bolding and Peten were noted as two of Arizona's three state lawmakers of African American heritage.

The letter alleges that video recorded from an ADOT live stream shows two troopers standing over Johnson for nearly six minutes while an ambulance was parked a short distance away.

"In a rock-throwing distance, we saw an ambulance sit for over six minutes that could have potentially saved Mr. Johnson’s life," said State Rep. Bolding. "So, what is the policy? What is the policy when someone has been shot, they've been handcuffed and the scene has been secured."

An attorney representing Johnson's family also pointed to the trooper's lack of body cameras and dash cam.

"The fact that we’re in the year 2020, when a group of individuals do not have body-worn cameras and they come in contact with citizens of the state or any state," said Joquese Blackwell. "How can they prove that what they said actually happened?"

In the letter, the decision by DPS to hand the shooting investigation off to Phoenix Police was also criticized.

"It's impossible to see how handing over the investigation of Dion Johnson's death to one of the deadliest police departments in the country will result in the objectivity and transparency his family, our communities and our constituents are demanding," a portion of the letter read.

"“I’m not trusting everything that’s going on right now. Too much that's not being said. They're not coming out with everything. The truth," said Johnson's mother, Ema Johnson.