Virginia Police Officer Resigns After Shooting and Murdering Unarmed Shoplifting Suspect

Fairfax County police said on Thursday that an officer had been terminated and was the subject of a criminal investigation after he fatally shot an unarmed shoplifting suspect. Timothy Johnson, 37, was shot and killed by police on February 22.

Chief Kevin Davis told reporters that officers had reason to believe Johnson had stolen merchandise from a Tysons Corner mall. An official statement read, “Sergeant Wesley Shifflett, a 7-year veteran of the department and Police Officer First Class James Sadler, an 8-year veteran of the department discharged their firearms.”

Davis verified Shifflett fired the fatal shot, and police stated the two policemen fired three shots in total.

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“The officer’s actions do not meet the expectations of our police department – in particular, use of force policies, protocols and procedures,” Davis said. “He will no longer be a Fairfax County police officer.”

Shifflett’s employment was ended. Shifflett, through his lawyer Caleb Kershner, denies any wrongdoing and claims he was protecting himself from a suspect who disobeyed all police directions.

Virginia Police Officer Resigns After Shooting and Murdering Unarmed Shoplifting Suspect
Virginia Police Officer Resigns After Shooting and Murdering Unarmed Shoplifting Suspect

Davis claims that Sadler is still on light duty restrictions. Sadler may or may not be represented by counsel. The Fairfax County Police Association has also been contacted by CNN for comment.

Bodycam captures fatal chase

Store security reported a man concealing designer sunglasses, according to the police news release last month. “An officer observed the man exiting the store near a parking garage. As he exited the store, an anti-theft alarm was activated as he fled,” a release from police stated.

Police released footage from body cameras showing them chasing the guy through the mall and parking garage until he ran off into the forested part of the mall’s property while cops shouted orders at him.

After hearing two gunshots, an officer can be heard shouting “Get on the ground” in the footage. The officer orders the suspect to “stop reaching,” and then fires another shot. Officers then rush to Johnson’s aid as they repeatedly yell, “Shots fired, guns fired.”

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Johnson was shot once in the chest, according to the police, and both policemen fired their weapons. The footage does not show clearly who fired the shots or which bullet struck Johnson. A police officer may be heard saying, “He was reaching” after the shooting is captured on camera.

Later in the video, officers are seen talking to each other with one officer saying, “He didn’t get any rounds off. I don’t know if he’s armed. He was continually reaching in his waistband (inaudible) let me see your hands, let me see your hands.”

After transporting Johnson to the hospital, doctors sadly confirmed his death. Davis told the press that two pairs of sunglasses were found at the scene and that Johnson did not have any weapons on him.

Police revealed an edited CCTV video showing the suspect, who they identify as Johnson, taking two pairs of sunglasses from a display last month. Davis also stated that the agency is conducting a criminal investigation and would be providing information to prosecutors.

Charging decision expected soon

Both police officers have been cleared of any wrongdoing. In a statement to CNN affiliate WJLA, Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano said he expects to make a decision on how to proceed within weeks.

According to WJLA, Johnson’s loved ones saw the body camera footage early this month. His mother, Melissa Johnson, told the station earlier this month, “Timothy was unarmed and shoplifting.”  “What played out on the news was a judge, jury and an execution-style murder?”

Kershner defended his client saying, “A police officer should never be forced to be shot or seriously injured before he takes action to protect himself or others.”

Despite the fact that the alleged commands to show his hands are not audible in the footage released by police, Kershner said, 

“During the incident on February 22, Shifflett deployed his firearm after a fleeing suspect turned on him, refused all commands to show his hands and get on the ground, and began digging into his waist band, looking as if he were drawing a gun from under his baggy pants in order to kill Sergeant Shifflett.” 

Johnson and his motions are hard to make out in the grainy, low-light bodycam film.

“Shifflett was only a few yards away from the suspect. He had no cover, and only his gun to protect himself from being shot at point-blank range. Shifflett fired his own weapon twice at the suspect, then tripped over some nearby brush and fell to the ground. The other pursuing officer also responded by firing his weapon,” Kershner said.

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Kershner claimed Shifflett’s actions were “entirely justified,” and he added, “and we are confident that he will be exonerated.” if his client appeals his firing through the department’s regular grievance process.

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