Bristol, VA – A grand jury indicted a Bristol police officer for murder on Tuesday in connection with the fatal officer-involved shooting of 31-year-old Jonathen Kohler in a motel parking lot in March when he drove his car at officers.
Virginia State Police (VSP) said the incident occurred at about 4:30 a.m. on March 30 when officers responded to a 911 call about shots fired from somebody inside the motel, the Associated Press reported.
When police arrived on the scene, Kohler was 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.
Bristol Police Officer Johnathan Brown has been identified as the officer who opened fire on Kohler inside his vehicle.
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.
An internal affairs investigation that was expected to be completed within 10 days will determine Officer Brown’s immediate fate with his department, Associated Press reported.
“This investigation was not conducted contemporaneously with the criminal investigation due to procedural issues that could have hampered the criminal investigation,” the release read, according to WJHL.
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.
The prosecutor has refused to discuss what evidence led the grand jury to indict the police officer.
“I don’t believe in trying cases in the public eye,” he told the Associated Press. “The evidence will be presented during trial, and a trier of fact, either a judge or jury, will make a decision.”
Officer Brown turned himself in on May 4 and was released on a $25,000 bond, WJHL reported.
Bristol Mayor Bill Hartley and City Manager Randall Eads put out a statement that condemned the officer’s use of force, ABC News reported.
“We do not condone, nor will we tolerate the unnecessary use of force by our police officers,” the statement read. “There is a time and a place for the use of force, and force must be used sparingly and within the bounds of the law.”