Fairfax County, VA – The prosecutor asked to empanel a special grand jury for a second try at bringing charges against a now-former police sergeant for fatally shooting a shoplifter after the first Virginia grand jury that reviewed the evidence refused to indict him.
A grand jury on April 17 declined to indict the now-former Fairfax County police sergeant who fatally shot an unarmed shoplifting suspect at a Northern Virginia mall in February.
The incident occurred on Feb. 22 after security guards reported to police that 37-year-old Timothy Johnson had shoplifted sunglasses in the Nordstroms department store in Tysons Corner Center, WTTG reported.
Fairfax County police officers spotted Johnson when he set off an anti-theft alarm as he was leaving the store, CNN reported.
Bodycam footage of the incident showed officers chased the suspect through the shopping mall and into an attached parking garage.
The foot pursuit continued into a grassy, wooded area of the mall property as officers shouted commands at the suspect to stop, WTTG reported.
“Get on the ground,” one of the officers yelled in the video and then two gunshots were heard.
“Stop reaching,” another officer told Johnson in the video.
Then another shot was fired, WTTG reported.
“Shots fired, shots fired,” an officer reported to the dispatcher and then the video showed police began performing lifesaving measures on the wounded suspect.
Fairfax County Police Chief Kevin Davis fired Fairfax County Police Sergeant Wesley Shifflett in March and launched a criminal investigation into the officer-involved shooting, CNN reported.
Sgt. Shifflett has been identified as the officer who shot Johnson, WTTG reported.
Chief Davis said Sgt. Shifflett’s actions did not meet the expectations of the police department or comport with the department’s use of force policies.
An investigation was conducted and the Virginia Commonwealth Attorney’s Office took the evidence before a grand jury panel in April seeking an indictment, WTTG reported.
But in April, that grand jury declined to indict the former police sergeant for his actions that day based on the evidence that prosecutors had put before them.
Shifflett’s defense attorney, Caleb Kershner, praised the grand jury’s decision not to criminally charge his client, the Associated Press reported.
“The grand jury has seen this case for exactly what it is,” Kershner told reporters.
Kershner called Johnson’s death a “tragedy” said the police sergeant had responded reasonably when he thought he the suspect reaching for a gun in his waistband, the Associated Press reported.
Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano condemned the grand jury’s decision, WTTG reported.
Descano said he had told Johnson’s family he was expecting Shifflett to be indicted and indicated immediately that he didn’t intend to give up on charging the former law enforcement officer.
On April 25, an attorney for Johnson’s family told WTOP that a judge had just approved the commonwealth attorney’s request to empanel a special grand jury.
Descano released a statement confirming he had requested the special grand jury but did not provide any other details on the fairly-rare legal move.
The use of special grand juries in Fairfax County is exceedingly rare, according to WTOP.
The last time that Descano empaneled a special grand jury was in the 2017 case of the officer-involved shooting of Bijan Ghaisar by U.S. Park Police (USPP) officers after a stop-and-go highway chase.
However, the charges against those officers were ultimately dismissed by a federal judge, WTOP reported.
The former sergeant’s attorney said he was shocked Descano had failed to respect the decision of the first grand jury who did not find probable cause to bring charges against Shifflett.
“It’s pretty clear they don’t want to respect the law, and they’re going to try hell or high water to get a charge,” Kershner said.
The rules for a special grand jury work differently from those for a regular grand jury, according to WTOP.
Prosecutors are absent from the room when police present evidence and testimony to the panel in a regular grand jury.
Attorneys for Johnson’s family have accused the officers who testified in the first grand jury hearings of having lied to cover up for a fellow officer, WTOP reported.