By Julietta Bisharyan
PHOENIX – Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel announced Monday that she will not pursue criminal charges against Department of Public Safety Trooper George Cervantes in connection with the fatal shooting of Dion Johnson, who was Black.
Several area political leaders criticized the decision.
“Trooper Cervantes reasonably feared for his life,” Adel said. “Criminal charges against the trooper are not warranted.”
Adel said her decision was not made lightly and was made with the opinions of a full committee, but she had to consider the likelihood of getting a conviction in court. She also added that the lack of criminal charges does not affect the possibility of potential civil action.
“When the facts and evidence justify a criminal prosecution against an officer, this office has charged those cases, and we will continue to do so. Officers do not get a greater benefit of doubt than any other person facing criminal prosecution,” Adel said. “No matter who you are … if you commit a crime in our county, you will be held accountable.”
Johnson, 28, died after Cervantes shot him on May 25 on Loop 101 near Tatum Boulevard. He was killed on Memorial Day, the same day George Floyd was killed by a Minneapolis police officer.
Adel said there was physical and photographic evidence as well as accounts from multiple witnesses regarding what happened.
The attorney for Johnson’s family, however, questioned those witness accounts, saying, “Yes, there were witnesses… but they were driving on the highway at high rates of speed,” said Jocquese Blackwell.
“No body-worn cameras, no dash cameras, no video. There’s no way possible you can objectively determine whether Officer Cervantes’ statements were accurate,” he added.
In response to Adel’s decision, Arizona Representative Reginald Bolding released a statement.
“My thoughts and prayers continue to go out to the family of Dion Johnson,” said Bolding. “Like many families whose loved ones are killed at the hands of law enforcement, the decision to prosecute officers or not is often re-traumatizing.”
“It is odd to me that Allister Adel appears to have limited her determination of wrongdoing to the shooting itself, which had no video evidence, and not the critical last minutes of Dion Johnson’s life, which were captured on Arizona Department of Transportation traffic cameras.
“In that footage, the Troopers are not rendering aid, but standing over Dion Johnson, who was alive and writhing in pain for several minutes while an ambulance sits parked only a short distance away. When every second counts, why were the decisions Mr. Cervantes made during these critical minutes not considered?”
He added, “Dion Johnson could have and should have survived this encounter with police. In Arizona, we must continue to seek legislative changes to ensure this type of violence is not allowed to continue unchecked. We need substantial reforms, including changing the use-of-force statutes in Arizona that allow for wide discretion in taking someone’s life.”
Julie Gunnigle, the Democratic nominee for Maricopa County Attorney, also responded to Adel’s decision.
“We will never see equal justice under the law so long as County Attorneys like Allister Adel politicize prosecutions and fail to uphold their obligation to the Constitution. Her decision today was an act of cowardice and the family of Dion Johnson deserves better. We should all demand swift reforms that require transparency, accountability, and community partnerships to ensure this never happens again.”
The deaths of both Johnson and Floyd have led to weeks of protests in the Phoenix area demanding equal treatment for people of color.
Johnson’s mother said that, although her son may have resisted arrest, “Did that give him the right to shoot my son?”
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