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Maricopa County Attorney to announce charging decision in deadly shooting of Dion Johnson

By: Zach Crenshaw for ABC15 #phoenix-az

PHOENIX — The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office will announce a charging decision Monday at 2 p.m. regarding the shooting death of Dion Johnson.

The decision comes 119 days after the 28-year-old was killed by Trooper George Cervantes. The deadly encounter happened on Memorial Day, after Johnson was found passed out in a rental car near a Phoenix interstate on-ramp.

The death of the young African American father, on the same day as George Floyd’s death, has become a common chant among activists and demonstrators in the valley.

The Arizona Department of Public Safety told ABC15 last week that Trooper Cervantes remains on administrative leave. Despite initially saying it was completed, the state police agency says their internal investigation surrounding the shooting is ongoing.

Phoenix Police Department took over the criminal investigation shortly after the shooting, so DPS could avoid a conflict of interest.

“The Phoenix Police Department made no recommendations regarding potential charges,” said Jennifer Liewer, a spokesperson with MCAO, back on July 8. “They typically do not make suggestions in the submittals of officer-involved shootings.”

“The family wants Alister Adel to charge George Cervantes, based on their understanding of the report,” said Jocquese Blackwell, the attorney for Dion’s family. “I do know that there is a 15-person team looking at this case. Each one will read the report that we received. They will meet like a round-robin fashion to determine what should be done to Officer George Cervantes.”

In Mid-July, Phoenix Police released a 160-page report into the shooting death of Dion Johnson.

The investigation also reveals Trooper Cervantes fired two shots and hit Dion once in the abdomen, which ultimately led to his death.

Trooper Cervantes, who was not equipped with a body or dash camera, declined to be interviewed hours after the incident. He was not interviewed until June 1, six days after the shooting, and he had his lawyer present when questioned.

Cervantes said during the struggle he put his finger on the trigger and fired a shot while Dion was just six inches away.

According to dispatch audio, Cervantes said Johnson was passed out, the keys were still in the ignition, “there’s a heavy odor of alcoholic beverage, he’s urinated on himself,” and there were open containers in the car.

Another trooper watching the Arizona Department of Transportation freeway cameras noted, “that motor unit is fighting with the guy at Tatum.”

That trooper told investigators, “Cervantes leaned into the vehicle possibly to remove the keys from the ignition…then jumped back, as if he was avoiding an assault or was pushed out. Next, Trooper Cervantes re-engaged the suspect and leaned back into the vehicle. Trooper Whittney broadcasted trooper Cervantes was in a struggle and for additional units to provide assistance immediately.”

The time from the initial alcohol observation until the time shots were fired was less than 40 seconds.

The ADOT camera, with a view of the incident, did not record the alleged struggle or shooting.

Some of Dion’s final words were, “Leave me alone… you just shot me.”

Phoenix Fire Department was staging nearby because they were not cleared to arrive at the scene due to safety. It is unclear if the safety was traffic-related or a communication failure, because Dion was handcuffed on the pavement.

It took six minutes for Johnson to be loaded into an ambulance. He was rushed to a hospital but died hours later.

Around that time, Cervantes declined to be interviewed by investigators.

According to the report, when a friend texted Cervantes asking if it was a good shoot, replied:”My lawyer told me to invoke. He thinks my level of lethal use does the [sic] meet the threshold for deadly use.”

Phoenix police noted that Johnson would have been arrested for aggravated assault on an officer had he survived. An autopsy also revealed he had meth, fentanyl and marijuana in his system when he died.

The Department of Justice and FBI Civil Rights Division are also involved in the review of the shooting death, after being requested by state lawmakers.