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Accused killer used racial slur toward victim hours before shooting, court documents say

July 2, 2022 Updated Sat., July 2, 2022 at 8:29 p.m.

Steven B. Bronowski is accused of shooting and killing 28-year-old Ammar Johnson March 2 on the lower South Hill.   (Courtesy of Spokane Police Department)
Steven B. Bronowski is accused of shooting and killing 28-year-old Ammar Johnson March 2 on the lower South Hill.  (Courtesy of Spokane Police Department)

The 56-year-old man charged with the drive-by shooting and killing of Ammar Johnson in early March on the South Hill directed a racial slur at Johnson during an argument hours before the shooting, according to court documents.

Steven B. Bronowski made his first appearance Friday in Spokane County Superior Court on second-degree murder, first-degree assault and drive-by shooting charges. He was arrested in downtown Coeur d’Alene about two weeks after the shooting, according to the Kootenai County Jail roster at the time. The Spokane County Jail roster indicates Bronowski arrived June 3 at that jail, where he remained Saturday with a $2 million bond.

The Spokane County Medical Examiner’s Office determined Johnson, 28, died from a gunshot to the head and the manner of death was homicide.

According to a probable cause affidavit filed March 3 in Spokane County District Court, a male witness was at Johnson’s apartment, 1123 W. Seventh Ave., in the early morning hours of March 2. The man told police he heard a car door close in the area of the parking lot where he had parked, so Johnson, with Shields following, went outside to the lot.

There, Johnson got into an argument with another man, later identified as Bronowski, whose purple van was parked in the lot, court documents said. The witness told police Bronowski was drinking Coors Light beer.

He said he was unsure what Johnson and Bronowski were arguing about, but he did hear Bronowski call Johnson the N-word during the verbal altercation, documents said. Johnson was extremely upset and appeared ready to fight Bronowski, but the witness convinced Johnson to end the dispute and return to Johnson’s apartment.

Bronowski has not been charged with a hate crime as a result of the shooting. Spokane County Prosecutor Larry Haskell could not be reached Saturday to discuss whether his office will pursue such a charge.

The witness said in the affidavit he left the apartment around 4:40 a.m. and saw the purple van parked in the same parking space he had seen it during the argument.

Another witness who also knows Johnson left Johnson’s apartment around 11:30 p.m. March 1 and returned at about 5 a.m. March 2, according to court records. He and Johnson talked about going out onto the unit’s deck to smoke a cigarette.

That witness told police he was standing next to Johnson as Johnson opened the sliding glass door to the deck when he heard a loud sound. From the sliding glass door, the witness saw a purple van in the parking lot facing their direction and could see a hand protruding from the driver window of the van.

He then heard a second loud sound and Johnson fell against the sliding glass door and to the floor, according to the affidavit. The second witness said he realized Johnson had been shot.

That witness told police he saw the van drive across the driveway and parking lot toward Eighth Avenue. He said he tried to grab Johnson’s leg to pull him into the apartment but was unable to do so. He then fled to the back of the apartment and called 911.

A woman who lives at the Seventh Avenue apartment complex said Bronowski came to her apartment around 12:30 a.m. March 2, bringing Coors Light with him. She told police Bronowski was extremely upset and told her he had just been in an argument over parking spaces in the parking lot.

The woman said she had to tell Bronowski several times to calm down, but he continued to be angry over the dispute, documents said. She said she fell asleep and Bronowski woke her up, saying he was going to leave her apartment.

The woman said Bronowski left and within a few minutes she heard two gun shots, the affidavit said. She said she assumed Bronowski fired his gun into the air as he left because he was still upset over the parking argument. She later saw police activity at Johnson’s apartment and checked the news to discover police were investigating a homicide.

The woman said Bronowski drives a dark blue van and during the more than 25 years she has known him, she said he has been armed with a black pistol. A detective said in the affidavit that a police report indicates Bronowski’s association with a blue 1999 Dodge Caravan.

The shooting came about 11/2 months after a near-fatal shooting about three blocks away from Johnson’s apartment. Gary L. Cottrill Sr. is accused of shooting Scott Jerko in the face on Jan. 19 outside a South Cedar Street residence. Cottrill was charged with first-degree assault.

Bronowski is scheduled for an arraignment July 12 in front of Judge Tony Hazel.

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