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Arizona officials ask U.S. Justice Department to step in on Dion Johnson investigation

One of the names at the center of protests in Phoenix is Dion Johnson, who was shot and killed by a DPS Trooper on Memorial Day.

PHOENIX — Editor's note: The above video is from a June 4 newscast

Multiple elected officials in Arizona are asking the U.S. Justice Department to take over an independent investigation in the shooting death of Dion Johnson in Phoenix last week.

Johnson is one of the names at the center of protests in Phoenix. Johnson was shot and killed by a DPS Trooper on Memorial Day.

In a letter addressed to U.S. Attorney General William Barr, Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband and United States Attorney for Arizona Michael Bailey, the Arizona officials say the Phoenix Police Department should not be handling the investigation. 

"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," the letter reads in part.

The letter is signed by Reginald Bolding Jr., Democratic Whip of the Arizona House of Representatives; Dr. Geraldine Peten of the Arizona House of Representatives and Arizona Commissioner Sandra D. Kennedy. 

DPS Director Col. Heston Silbert explained at a press conference Thursday that it's procedural that DPS handle the internal investigation, and it is standard procedure for Phoenix PD to handle the investigation when a trooper-involved shooting happens in Phoenix. 

"Because of the current distrust between communities of color and local law enforcement in Arizona over issues of police brutality and racial profiling, and because of the potential civil rights implications of this incident, we respectfully request that the Department of Justice step in to oversee this investigation," the letter reads in part. "We make this request in consultation with Mr. Johnson's family, and in our capacities as elected officials – Arizona's only African American statewide elected official, and two of Arizona's three African American state legislators."

Attorney for Dion Johnson's family gives update

The attorney for Dion Johnson's family is talking about the need for accountability and transparency. Johnson died after a shooting involving DPS. The story: https://bit.ly/3cJvBQ5

Posted by 12 News on Friday, June 5, 2020

Phoenix Police says the responding trooper found Johnson passed out in his car, blocking part of the road near Loop 101 and Tatum. They say the trooper smelled alcohol and saw open containers inside the car and also saw a gun.

Police say the trooper removed the gun and came back to arrest Johnson.  At that point, police say Johnson grabbed at the trooper through the car window and the Trooper pulled his gun, fearing he might get pushed into traffic.

Police say Johnson started to comply, but when the trooper went to put his gun away, Johnson grabbed at it and the Trooper fired at Johnson.

Erma Johnson is still reeling from her son's death as his family starts to piece together how he died.

"I'm devastated," she says.

She said in a press conference this week she wants the troopers involved fired and arrested. 

None of the shooting was captured on video. The responding troopers did not have body cameras or dash cameras. DPS does not issue any body-worn cameras to troopers, but funding for cameras is in next year's budget proposal.

But the moments after Johnson was shot were captured on camera, while he is on the ground.

"What you see in the video is Dion Johnson, on the ground, handcuffed and suffering," says Jocquese Blackwell, Jonson's family attorney.

This video from an ADOT feed recorded by another news outlet appears to show Dion on the ground, restrained and moving after he was shot.

"He was trying to get up," Erma says. "My son was fighting for his life."

Then, the video appears to show a trooper trying to apply aid while an ambulance stages nearby for at least two minutes.

"They stay there," Erma tells. "Instead of going to the aid of my son."

Phoenix Police tell us they're still investigating what happened in these moments, but says, in general, a scene needs to be cleared by law enforcement before other first responders can go in.

"Those precious moments should have been used to save Dion's life," Blackwell says.

In a press conference with state leaders Thursday afternoon, Col. Silbert says he saw the ADOT video, but can’t speak to all of the timelines.

"The trooper involved in the shooting immediately notified he was in a shooting and literally within milliseconds of that was requesting the fire dept for medical aid," Col. Silbert says. "I can’t answer you any period of time for fire to roll in."

Dion Johnson also has a felony record. It's not clear if the responding Trooper knew that history, but Dion's family says that shouldn't have had any bearing on what happened Memorial Day.

Investigators have not released the names of the troopers involved.

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