June 18, 2012 in City

Man shot by police claims he was confronting thief

By The Spokesman-Review
Tyler Tjomsland photo

Jesse Hugh Johnson, 24, scratches his head as he lies with a bandaged thigh in a hospital bed on Monday, June 18, 2012, at Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center in Spokane, Wash. Johnson was shot in the leg by a Spokane police officer while armed with what turned out to be a BB gun. Authorities also said he had methamphetamine on him.
(Full-size photo)

Jesse Hugh Johnson says he thought no one else was around when, armed with a BB gun, he confronted a suspected thief early Sunday.

The 24-year-old Spokane man realized a neighbor must’ve called police when a bullet struck the back of his upper right leg and police officers swarmed the area.

“I go to pull the trigger, they go and shoot me,” Johnson said Monday evening in an interview with The Spokesman-Review from his hospital bed at Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center. “They just kind of came out of nowhere.”

Johnson was shot just after 4 a.m. near North Napa Street and East Mission Avenue by an officer responding to reports of an armed man firing a weapon. He says he had tracked down the man he believes stole two bicycles from him and was preparing to shoot him with the BB gun when the police bullet knocked him to the ground instead.

In his first public comments since the shooting, Johnson dismissed any suggestion that drugs might have had something to do with the dispute and claimed the methamphetamine found in his possession wasn’t his. He also said police over-reacted but acknowledged shooting the BB gun several times to force the suspected thief out of his house and was preparing to fire again.

Johnson said Monday that he never heard police say anything to him before firing.

“If they had said ‘put it down,’ I would have put it down in a heart beat,” he said. “I don’t think I’m above the law. I’m not some crazy person running around shooting people. When I see a cop, it’s time to obey the law.”

Washington state law allows officers to use deadly force to protect themselves or others from imminent danger. A similar incident outside the Special K tavern on Dec. 4, 2010, involved Spokane police officers fatally shooting a 34-year-old Jeremy Groom, who was pointing a gun at a friend, who later told officers he didn’t feel threatened. The weapon in that incident was loaded and authentic. Officers told the man to drop the weapon before they shot him. Prosecutors reviewed the case and concluded they did nothing wrong.

The officer involved in the shooting, whose name has not yet been released, remains on paid administrative leave, which is standard in officer-involved shootings. He has given investigators a tactical briefing on the circumstances of the shooting and will be interviewed fully soon, Gregory said.

The responding officer “almost immediately contacted” the man in the Hai’s Mini-Mart parking lot, where he was “reportedly pointing the weapon at another person,” in the yard of a neighboring home, said Spokane County sheriff’s Deputy Mark Gregory.

Johnson said he believes the officer did not intend to shoot him in the leg but instead had bad aim. He said he lost five to six quarts of blood and feared his leg would need to be amputated. He believes he was shot with an assault rifle.

“I almost died,” Johnson said.

He underwent surgery Sunday and is expected to recover fully, though he said his leg feels very painful. He pointed to his morphine drip button and said it gives him a dose every eight seconds.

“Spokane police, they shoot and they generally aim to kill,” Johnson said.

Johnson said he still intends to get his bicycles back from the man he wanted to shoot. “That’s probably one of the first moves I’m making when I get out,” he said.

He said he never intended to report the thefts to police.

“Who am I to call the cops?” Maybe if I was a W-2-having citizen, but I’m not,” Johnson said, referring to tax return forms. “I’m not going to call the cops because I’m not a snitch. I can go and get my bikes back myself.”

Johnson said he’s unemployed but earns money by performing odd jobs for his grandfather and uncle. He said he lives with his girlfriend about three blocks away from where he was shot.

He said two detectives, including sheriff’s Detective Mike Ricketts, talked to him Monday in his hospital room, but he stopped talking to him when they continued questioning him about drugs and his criminal background, which includes two felony convictions for riot in 2007, fourth-degree assault in 2010 and obstructing an officer in 2011.

“I was like, ‘what is this?’“ Johnson said. “They’re trying to make me look worse so (the officer) can get off.”

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