Bristol, VA – A Virginia jury found Bristol Police Officer Johnathan Brown not guilty on all charges for the murder of 31-year-old man who drove his car at officers last year.
Virginia State Police (VSP) said the incident occurred at about 4:30 a.m. on March 30, 2021 when officers responded to 911 calls about shots fired at the Roadway Inn, the Associated Press reported.
Bristol Police Officer Eric Hinchey testified at Officer Brown’s trial that he and four other officers were having coffee and snacks at Sheetz gas station when dispatch received four separate 911 calls reporting shots fired, WJHL reported.
The officers raced to the motel where they found 31-year-old Jonathen Kohler in his red Ford Mustang in the parking lot.
“As officers were verbally engaged with Kohler, he backed up and then drove forward in an attempt to exit the parking lot, at which point one of the officers fired at Kohler’s vehicle,” the state police said in a statement.
VSP said that Kohler had ignored officers’ commands to exit his vehicle “despite repeated commands by the officers,” Associated Press reported.
“He then put the Mustang into drive and sped towards one of the officers. The officer fired at the suspect vehicle as it came at him,” according to the state police.
Kohler was pronounced dead at the scene, Associated Press reported.
His girlfriend, Summer Cooke, told police after the shooting that Kohler had texted her threats to “shoot up the motel” before the officer-involved shooting occurred, WJHL reported.
Officer Brown was placed on paid administrative leave while an investigation was conducted, as is protocol for all officer-involved shooting, Associated Press reported.
His status was changed to suspended without pay after the charges against him were announced.
VSP investigated the shooting and turned their findings over to the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office.
Don Caldwell, the commonwealth’s attorney for the City of Roanoke, was appointed by a judge to prosecute the case, Associated Press reported.
Caldwell presented evidence to the grand jury and came back with charges of murder, use of a firearm in the commission of murder, and malicious shooting into an occupied vehicle against Officer Brown, WJHL reported.
Officer Brown’s defense attorneys argued at trial that the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office had rushed the indictment and told the jury their client was a hero who had potentially stopped a mass shooting.
A fellow officer who was on the scene testified that if Officer Brown hadn’t shot Kohler, he would have, WJHL reported.
Officer Brown did not testify on his own behalf at the trial, WCYB reported.
The less-than-two-week-long criminal trial concluded on Wednesday, WJHL reported.
The jury deliberated for less than two hours before returning a verdict.
Jurors found Officer Brown not guilty of all charges in connection with the death of Kohler, WJHL reported.
“The truth will stand when everything else falls,” Officer Brown’s attorney, Heather Howard, told reporters as she left the courthouse with her client.