PHOENIX — Prosecutors have declined to criminally charge an Arizona state trooper in the fatal shooting of a Black man during a roadside struggle nearly four months ago that inspired protests in Phoenix.
Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel said charges weren't warranted against Trooper George Cervantes in the May 25 fatal shooting of 28-year-old Dion Johnson along the Loop 101 freeway.
Thousands of demonstrators took the street in downtown Phoenix during June to protest the deaths of Mr. Johnson and George Floyd, who died on the same day as Mr. Johnson in Minneapolis police custody.
Ms. Adel said the evidence showed Mr. Johnson, who was impaired and asleep in the vehicle, fought the officer, and that Mr. Cervantes feared for his life. Ms. Adel said witnesses provided details that backed up the officers’ account.
Erma Johnson, Dion’s mother, said she knew prosecutors weren’t going to charge Mr. Cervantes in her son’s death. “They’re making it seem like my son was the aggressor,” Erma Johnson said.
The Arizona Department of Public Safety declined to comment on the decision not to charge Cervantes. Efforts to contact Mr. Cervantes for comment through phone records and social media weren’t successful.
Mr. Cervantes told investigators a partially handcuffed Dion Johnson had pulled part of the officer’s body into Mr. Johnson’s car through an open door. The officer said he feared he would lose control of his gun if Mr. Johnson continued to overpower him, so he shot Mr. Johnson in the torso, leading to his death.
Police reports say Mr.Johnson’s encounter with Mr. Cervantes started when the trooper saw him passed out in a car that smelled of alcohol and had a handgun sitting on the seat. A toxicology report shows Mr. Johnson had methamphetamine, the synthetic opioid fentanyl and marijuana in his system.
The officer took the gun and secured it on his motorcycle and then returned to the car to arrest Mr. Johnson, who was by then seen moving around. Mr. Cervantes cuffed one of Mr. Johnson’s hands, marking the beginning of the struggle, according to the reports.
The officer said he feared that Mr. Johnson was going to push him into a lane of traffic with his legs, so he pulled out his gun and told him to stop resisting arrest or he would be shot.
Mr. Cervantes said he started to re-holster his gun when he felt the threat had lessened, but then Mr. Johnson grabbed his arm that was holding the officer’s gun.
The officer told investigators that Mr. Johnson leaned back, pulled on the trooper and used his legs as leverage to pull part of the officer’s body into the vehicle through an open door.
The trooper also said he feared Mr. Johnson would get hold of his gun if he were further drawn into the car, so he shot Mr. Johnson.
Jocquese Blackwell, an attorney representing Mr. Johnson’s family, questioned the completeness of details provided by eyewitnesses who were driving by the scene. “Not one of the so-called eyewitnesses stated that they saw Mr. Dion Johnson kicking at Officer George Cervantes.”
There was no body-camera footage of the struggle.
Earlier in his 15-year career at the Arizona Department of Public Safety, Mr. Cervantes received an 80-hour suspension in 2013 for a series of violations of policy. The violations included shooting his girlfriend’s puppy with a stun gun in an attempt to discipline the pet and using a state vehicle to leave a note on the car of his former girlfriend, who had been at odds with him and found the anonymous note to be worrisome.