(Updated at 5 p.m.) A former Fairfax County police officer will face a court trial for shooting and killing Timothy Johnson outside Tysons Corner Center in February.
A grand jury indicted Wesley Shifflett today (Thursday) on felony charges of involuntary manslaughter and reckless discharge of a firearm, Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano’s office announced.
According to police, Shifflett shot Johnson during a foot pursuit on Feb. 22 after he allegedly attempted to steal designer sunglasses from Nordstorm. A second officer identified as James Sadler, an eight-year veteran of the Fairfax County Police Department, also fired his gun.
In April, Descano requested a second, special grand jury that would allow prosecutors in the room while officers give testimony, something that wasn’t allowed during the original, regular grand jury’s hearings.
Carl Crews, an attorney representing Johnson’s family, confirmed the indictment. Johnson’s mother, Melissa Johnson, says her initial reaction was “just relief,” but she also has some mixed feelings knowing how rare an indictment is in cases against police officers.
“I don’t rejoice in what is coming upon the officer, and I also don’t rejoice because I know that this indictment and the news of this indictment is not the case for so many, many, many other impacted families of children, Black and brown, who’ve been the subject of police violence,” Johnson told FFXnow. “And so, as much as my heart is joyful, and I’m elated, I am still sorrowful of the impact and implications this had, that everybody just doesn’t get this to add to their story…There’s another family involved as well: this former officer, his family, his coworkers. So, my heart is sorrowful for this too.”
Descano said in a statement that the grand jury’s indictment will allow a jury of community members to see all evidence in the case:
As the elected head of Fairfax County’s justice system, my primary goal is to keep this community safe, and I have the utmost respect for the police officers throughout Fairfax County who work tirelessly to protect our community.
The work of public safety includes charging officers for crimes when such actions are legally warranted. After reviewing the evidence in this case, I believe that probable cause existed that Shifflett committed a crime, and that the entirety of the evidence should be put to a jury of community members. Seeking justice blindly in cases involving officers improves public trust in the law enforcement agencies that serve and protect our communities; failing to do so disgraces the role of prosecutor and ruins the public’s trust in the justice system.
Our nation’s justice system has historically been stacked in favor of protecting powerful institutions and individuals, and it is no small feat that the grand jurors returned a true bill after reviewing this matter.
I cannot imagine the pain Timothy’s family has felt through the months after his death. Though the grand jury returned an indictment for this incident, this will not heal the wound in the Johnson family. I join the rest of the Fairfax County community in grieving for Timothy and his family.
Shifflett’s attorney, Caleb Kershner, blasted Descano for not accepting the original grand jury’s decision, calling his push for the special grand jury “purely political and shameful.”
“Descano’s actions have made Fairfax less safe,” Kershner said. “He has torn down the [police] department morale. He is simply Monday morning quarterbacking an officer’s decision to use lethal force when he reasonably believed he was about to be shot. It’s easy to sit back and second guess an officer’s actions. Few people understand what it’s like to have a gun pulled on you and regularly being put in risk of death. These men and women in uniform serve by putting their lives on the line every day. Descano has no concept of that.”
Though officers combed the scene for potential evidence, the FCPD later confirmed that Timothy Johnson didn’t have a weapon when he was shot.
A trial date will be scheduled on Friday, Oct. 20. At that time, Schifflett will be given a choice for whether a judge or a jury will preside over the trial, according to the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office.
Johnson’s death sparked renewed scrutiny of the FCPD’s policies regarding the use of force and foot pursuits. Since 2021, when current Police Chief Kevin Davis assumed the job, officers have shot nine people, including Johnson and Brandon Lemagne this year.
Last week, Davis addressed a series of reform recommendations from the nonprofit Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), which was hired to review the recent shootings, and a community Police Reform Matrix Working Group convened by Franconia District Supervisor Rodney Lusk, who chairs the Board of Supervisors’ public safety committee.
Davis told the public safety committee that most recommendations have been implemented in some form, including a policy requiring that foot pursuits be documented and supervised, but a more detailed policy dictating when officers can pursue an individual is still in the works.
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