(Updated at 4:30 p.m. on 8/3/2023) The former Fairfax County police officer who reportedly shot and killed D.C. resident Timothy Johnson on Feb. 22 in Tysons lost a court petition seeking reinstatment earlier this month.
Wesley Shifflett’s petition alleging that the county violated his due process rights and its own policies during a grievance review was rejected by Fairfax County Circuit Court Judge Stephen Shannon, who affirmed County Executive Bryan Hill’s conclusion that the Fairfax County Police Department had followed proper county procedures.
“The County Executive’s determination was neither arbitrary and capricious, nor made in bad faith,” Shannon wrote in a July 6 opinion letter. “In contrast, the determination was well-grounded in fact and proper.”
(This story has been updated to clarify that the petition was asking the court to review the grievance process, an administrative review that will determine whether Shifflett’s firing should be upheld.)
A seven-year veteran of the department, Shifflett was officially fired by the FCPD on April 14, a couple of weeks after Fairfax County Police Chief Kevin Davis informed both the officer and the public of his decision on March 23, according to court documents.
The FCPD identified Shifflett and James Sadler, an eight-year veteran of the department, as the two officers who fired their guns at Johnson during a foot chase outside Tysons Corner Center. The mall’s Nordstrom had called the police around 6:30 p.m., reporting that Johnson was attempting to shoplift sunglasses.
Video of the encounter shared by police showed the officers pursuing Johnson into a wooded area, where one of them trips and says, “Stop reaching.” Three gunshots were apparently fired, two before the officer tripped and one afterwards.
(An earlier version of this article incorrectly said that all three shots were fired after the officer tripped.)
Police said Shifflett was responsible for the fatal shots, the Washington Post previously reported. Sadler was put on modified restrictive duty during a criminal investigation into the shooting, but he retained his job.
In a pair of memos to Shifflett dated March 23 and 30, Davis said his “performance during this incident and personal conduct…have failed to meet the expected standards required for continued employment” with the FCPD.
Shifflett made “shifting and inconsistent statements” during interviews with Major Crimes Bureau and internal affairs detectives that left it unclear whether he fired his gun intentionally “in response to a perceived threat” or by accident, Davis wrote in the March 30 memo.
“Your demonstrated inability to definitively state whether or not you meant to intentionally fired [sic] your weapon at Mr. Johnson that evening diminishes your credibility in this case, and accordingly undermines your ability to be a law enforcement officer,” Davis said. “Therefore, looking at the totality of the circumstances in this case, I no longer have confidence in your abilities to serve and protect the Fairfax County community as an FCPD officer.”
In a petition filed in court on May 30, Shifflett argued that Davis didn’t sufficiently explain the reasons for his termination and that the subsequent grievance process challenging the decision had “procedural deficiencies.” Read More
A board-commissioned workgroup is calling for changes to Fairfax County Police Department’s use of force policies and expanded independent oversight.
At a Fairfax County Board of Supervisors safety and security committee meeting on Tuesday (May 16), a 10-member Police Reform Matrix Working Group (MWG) created by the board released a broad 46-page report that establishes the need for policy changes and additional accountability.
The report builds on more than 300 recommendations from a community-wide survey of residents that evaluated the FCPD’s public safety and security responsibilities. It was influenced by the death of Timothy Johnson, who was shot and killed by an officer who pursued him for reportedly stealing sunglasses at Tysons Corner Center.
The officer who shot Johnson was fired but not indicted. A second officer who also fired his gun remains with the department.
“The MWG could not overlook the totality of these events and the context within which we received and created an actionable set of policy and program initiatives,” the report said.
As noted by the report, the FCPD has had eight police shootings in the past 15 months after the prior decade averaged 1.5 per year. Starting in 2022, police officers have killed four people, including Brandon Lemagne just last week.
In a recent study, a team from the University of Texas San Antonio found Black civilians are almost two times more likely than white civilians to experience high levels of force. Additionally, Black civilians were 1.2 times more likely than arrested white civilians to have force used against them.
Board Chairman Jeff McKay said the report is working document that will inform continuous change in the FCPD, which he said is in a much better place than it was in 2015.
“To be a great police department, you have to constantly evolve,” McKay said.
Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn said he appreciates the recommendations — some of which are already going forward — particularly the co-responder model, which emphasizes coordination between police and mental health professionals.
“This is not easy. This is complex fraught with emotion, human emotion,” Alcorn said, adding that the rise in shootings by officers is not acceptable.
But Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity said he struggled to reconcile the report with high levels of confidence reported by recent community surveys.
“We don’t have broad community input into this. We’ve got a group of police reform folks that got together and hasn’t heard the other side of the impact,” Herrity said.
The report argues that most recommendations by the county’s Use of Force Community Advisory Committee — a group charged with reviewing the university’s report — weren’t adopted in full, despite revisions to FCPD’s use-of-force general order in 2022.
It emphasizes that any force must be proportional to the risk of harm to the officer or others, and the events leading up to the use of force have to be taken into account. It also says the FCPD should add pointing a gun or other weapon to its definition of force, revising a current standard that treats it as a separate reportable action not subject to a use-of-force investigation. Read More
(Updated at 2 p.m. on 5/12/2023) A man from Newport News was killed during a struggle with police in Penn Daw where two officers fired their guns.
No officers were injured in the gunfire, which occured outside a McDonalds (6239 Richmond Highway), but one officer was hospitalized with head injuries from a fight with 38-year-old Brandon Lemagne prior to the shooting, the Fairfax County Police Department said.
“He was fighting for his life, literally,” Fairfax County Police Chief Kevin Davis said of the injured officer in a media briefing.
According to the FCPD, the encounter began when that officer got a license plate alert at 4:06 p.m. for a U-Haul truck that had been reported stolen in Richmond on May 3. The officer pulled into the Citgo gas station adjacent to McDonalds when Lemagne stopped the truck at the station and got out.
“He made contact with driver outside the vehicle,” Davis said. “Very shortly thereafter, the assailant — and that’s what I’m calling him — shoved our police officer into the open front driver’s door of the marked police car and was attacking him, was on top of him and was violently assaulting our uniformed Fairfax County police officer.”
At some point during the struggle, the police cruiser was put in reverse and drove backwards until it hit two vehicles parked at McDonalds.
Scanner traffic on Open MHz captured an officer yelling, “He’s got my gun” at 4:07 p.m., followed about 20 seconds later by shouts of “shots fired.”
According to police, two officers — a 24-year veteran and an 8-year veteran from the Mount Vernon District station — responded to the dispatch. The 8-year veteran fired “several rounds,” while the other pulled Lemagne off of the police officer, Davis said.
The 24-year veteran then fired his gun, hitting and killing Lemagne.
“Several shots fired. We got the guy,” an officer told the dispatcher.
The officer’s gun was recovered from the scene, and he was discharged from the hospital a day later.
Describing the incident as “pretty dramatic” and unlike anything he’s seen before, Davis noted that there was body-worn camera and surveillance footage of the incident. A video from what appears to be a cell phone has already been circulated on social media.
This is the second fatal shooting by Fairfax County police this year, after D.C. resident Timothy Johnson was killed outside Tysons Corner Center on Feb. 22.
“All officer involved shootings receive the utmost investigative attention from our internal affairs bureau and major crimes,” Davis said, later adding that “we certainly take the loss of any life very seriously.”
No officers were injured from the gunfire. Updates to follow.
— Fairfax County Police (@FairfaxCountyPD) May 11, 2023
— Romeo (@RVANOVA01) May 11, 2023
The federal government has agreed to pay $5 million to settle a civil lawsuit brought by the parents of McLean resident Bijan Ghaisar, who was shot and killed by two U.S. Park Police officers in Fort Hunt more than five years ago.
The settlement will allocate up to 25% of the total — or $1.25 million — to the family’s lawyers with the remaining money going directly to James and Kelly Ghaisar, according to court documents.
Officially approved by U.S. District Judge Claude Hilton after a hearing at the federal courthouse in Alexandria on Friday (April 28), the agreement states that it shouldn’t be interpreted as “an admission of liability or fault on the part of the United States.”
In a statement, the Ghaisars said their proceeds from the settlement will go to The Bijan Ghaisar Foundation — a nonprofit dedicated to addressing police brutality and helping victims of gun violence — “and other charitable causes.”
Despite agreeing to settle, the family said they “do not believe this is justice” and remain disappointed that federal prosecutors declined multiple times to pursue charges against officers Alejandro Amaya and Lucas Vinyard, who were only identified after the family filed the wrongful death lawsuit in 2018.
“We still believe, however, that accountability for Bijan’s murder is possible, somehow, sometime, and some way,” the family said. “We now shift our focus to fighting in Bijan’s name for other victims, and for all Americans, for accountability and prevention of police brutality.”
— Bijan Ghaisar (@WeAreBijan) April 28, 2023
Rep. Don Beyer, who represents Virginia’s 8th Congressional District, including McLean, called the settlement “the clearest admission to date that Bijan Ghaisar did not deserve to be shot and killed.”
“The officers who shot him showed reckless disregard for Bijan Ghaisar’s humanity,” Beyer said in a statement. “Yet, to this day no one has been held accountable for that act that left an unarmed young man dead, or for the unacceptable government stonewalling that compounded the Ghaisar family’s suffering and enraged the community I represent. This lawsuit is ending, but justice has never been done in this case.”
The DOJ settlement is the clearest admission to date that Bijan Ghaisar did not deserve to be shot and killed.
My thoughts go out to Kelly and James Ghaisar and their family. As their fight for reform and justice continues, I will continue to be their friend and ally. pic.twitter.com/hp9jhspZqh
— Rep. Don Beyer (@RepDonBeyer) April 28, 2023
The Department of the Interior, which includes the Park Police, didn’t return a request for comment by press time. The department’s Office of Inspector General is conducting an administrative investigation to determine whether Park Police policies were followed, according to the Washington Post. Read More
(Updated at 9:35 a.m. on 4/18/2023) A Fairfax County grand jury opted not to indict the police officer accused of shooting and killing Timothy Johnson outside Tysons Corner Center in February.
The Fairfax County Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney was scheduled to share an update in the case with a press conference at noon, but the event was canceled after the grand jury’s decision came out. The news was first reported by NBC4 Northern Virginia Bureau Chief Julie Carey.
Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano said in a statement that he had anticipated the grand jury to come through with an indictment, to the point where he told Johnson’s family this morning that they could expect one.
“I can only imagine their pain and shock when they received the news that the officer — who shot and killed their unarmed son — was not indicted,” Descano said. “Since, by law, no prosecutors were permitted to be present in the room when the investigating officers made their presentation to the grand jury, I can’t say for sure what information was conveyed to the grand jurors. In light of this outcome, I am evaluating all options on the path forward and continue to grieve Timothy’s loss.”
Prosecutors had sought charges for involuntary manslaughter and reckless discharge of a firearm.
An attorney representing Johnson’s family said the family had no comment for the time being. The Fairfax County Police Department didn’t immediately return a request for comment.
Two police officers shot and killed Johnson, a 37-year-old man from Maryland, after pursuing him by foot across a parking lot at Tysons Corner Center on Feb. 22. He had allegedly tried to shoplift sunglasses from Nordstrom.
Fairfax County Police Chief Kevin Davis fired one of the officers involved in the shooting last month. While the officer’s name wasn’t mentioned, the Washington Post reported that he was Sgt. Wesley Shifflett, a seven-year veteran of the department who was believed to have fired the fatal shots.
The second officer — previously identified as eight-year veteran James Sadler — was kept on modified restricted duty but remains employed by the FCPD.
In the wake of the shooting, Johnson’s parents and the Fairfax County NAACP have questioned the uptick in shootings by county police under Davis’s tenure, particularly in 2022, and the department’s lack of a policy dictating when officers should engage in a foot pursuit, despite one being recommended.
The FCPD announced on March 3 that it had agreed to let the nonprofit Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) study the recent shootings for broad trends, though the study won’t specifically focus on Johnson’s death.
PERF will also provide guidance to the department for a potential foot pursuit policy.
(Updated at 6:10 p.m.) A woman who was allegedly abducted in New York died last night (Wednesday) after a police chase that started on I-95 in Springfield ended in gunfire near Quantico.
According to Virginia State Police, at 9:40 p.m., one of its troopers attempted to stop a Jeep Cherokee traveling south on I-95 near the Backlick Road exit for having the wrong license plates on display.
“When the trooper activated his lights and sirens, the Jeep pulled to the shoulder of I-95 near Exit 167 in Fairfax County,” police said. “The trooper made contact with the driver and returned to his patrol car.”
While checking the driver’s identity, the trooper learned that the driver — a 34-year-old adult man from North Chesterfield — was wanted in New York for allegedly abducting a woman — now identified as Tatiana David, 34, of Ithaca — earlier that day.
— VA State Police (@VSPPIO) April 6, 2023
As the trooper returned to the Jeep to investigate, the vehicle “pulled away at a high rate of speed,” prompting a pursuit that extended into Prince William County, police said.
The fleeing vehicle initially crashed near the 152 mile marker, when it struck the guardrail, but kept going south on I-95. State police vehicles positioned around the Jeep to contain it and bring it to a stop. Near Exit 148 in Prince William County, the Jeep ran off the right side of the road and crashed into the woods. As troopers approached the SUV, the driver began shooting at them. State police returned fire.
During the shootout, the driver and David, a passenger in the Jeep, were both injured. The driver was transported to Inova Fairfax Hospital with injuries considered life-threatening, while David died at the scene.
“Her remains have been transported to the Office of the Medical Examiner in Manassas for examination and autopsy,” VSP said.
New video: It shows the high speed #chase from Newington to Quantico leading to the I-95 shootout where scores of shots were fired. It shows the driver repeatedly eluding #police as they tried to box it in & stop it. https://t.co/RCx0ypLPaF@SafetyVid @ffxnow @anobleDC
— Dave Statter (@STATter911) April 6, 2023
None of the police involved in the pursuit, including Fairfax County police officers who assisted, were injured. Also not injured were the Fairfax County Police Department helicopter and K9 officers called to assist.
“Per policy, that officer has been placed on modified restricted duty,” the FCPD said.
All the state troopers involved in the shooting have been placed on administrative leave while the incident is under investigation, the VSP said.
According to police, a firearm was found in the Jeep.
“State police is working with New York authorities in regards to the abduction investigation,” the VSP said. “Charges are pending.”
Southbound I-95 was closed to traffic in the Quantico area for the police investigation. As of 8:20 a.m., just two lanes had reopened, according to the Virginia Department of Transportation, which advised drivers to find an alternate route.
— VDOT Northern VA (@VaDOTNOVA) April 6, 2023
(Updated at 6:15 p.m.) The Fairfax County police officer who allegedly fired the gunshot that killed Timothy McCree Johnson outside Tysons Corner Center last month will be fired, Chief Kevin Davis announced this afternoon (Thursday).
Davis didn’t identify the officer removed from duty, but the Washington Post reports that Sgt. Wesley Shifflett, a seven-year veteran of the Fairfax County Police Department, is believed to have fired the fatal shots.
The announcement was made at a 1 p.m. press conference, where the FCPD publicly released surveillance and body camera footage of the Feb. 22 encounter, which began with Johnson allegedly shoplifting a pair of sunglasses from Nordstrom and evolved into an extended foot chase.
“As a parent, my heart is still broken,” Melissa Johnson, Timothy’s mother, said. “I feel like I can just breathe a little bit lighter after hearing the announcement today, but we’re still waiting to see exactly what’s going to happen.”
The second officer involved — previously identified as eight-year veteran James Sadler — has been kept on modified restricted duty as a criminal investigation into the shooting continues.
Carl Crews, a lawyer representing the Johnson family, called Shifflett’s firing an “appropriate” move for an apparent violation of the FCPD’s use-of-force policy.
“But we’re not satisfied,” Crews told FFXnow. “The process needs to continue. The Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office needs to indict. There needs to be a charge against the officer, because a life was taken wrongly.”
The FCPD policy permits the use of deadly force against someone who’s fleeing if they’re suspected of committing a felony and their escape could pose a “significant threat” to others.
It’s unclear exactly where Johnson was in relation to the pursuing officers from the over eight-minute video compilation that the FCPD released. Shifflett can be heard saying that Johnson is going into the woods and yelling “get on the ground.”
He then appears to trip on the underbrush and says “Stop reaching.” The body camera’s lens gets briefly covered up as Shifflett reports “shots fired,” though the video needs to be slowed down and digitally enhanced to hear the three “pops” of gunshots.
Johnson did not have a weapon.
Police have confirmed that both Shifflett and Sadler fired their weapons, which means they both need to be held accountable, Crews argues.
“If [the other officer] was involved in the shooting, firing his weapon…he also violated the Fairfax County police officer policy for the use of deadly force, so he should be fired as well,” Crews said.
Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay confirmed that a notice of separation was served to one of the officers involved, expressing support for Davis’s decision in a lengthy statement that called the released video “disturbing.” Read More
Fairfax County’s independent police auditor has published its annual report, showing an increase in police shootings but a decrease in use-of-force complaints last year.
The county’s Board of Supervisors established the Office of the Independent Police Auditor (OIPA) in 2016 to increase trust between residents and the police department “by providing accountability, fairness, and transparency in the complaint system and investigative process,” the report stated.
The auditor, Richard Schott, reviews all investigations of death or serious injury cases conducted by the Fairfax County Police Department’s internal affairs bureau as well as use-of-force investigations that are the subject of a public complaint.
According to the report released on March 14, the office monitored or reviewed 22 police investigations in 2022, covering incidents from 2019 to 2022. Automatic monitoring kicked in for 12 investigations: 10 officer-involved shootings, and two cases involving a death or serious injury. Nine investigations were for use-of-force allegations.
“The types of force used by FCPD officers in these allegations were varied and included two takedowns, two uses of force to cuff, one brandished firearm, one strike, and one assault,” the report reads.
In 2022, the office closed or published reports on eight incidents from 2019 to 2022. Five cases involved using force, two were police shootings, and one involved a patrol dog bite.
Although the auditor found that all eight investigations met the standards of “being complete, thorough, accurate, objective, and impartial,” he made three recommendations:
- Requiring a warning before releasing a patrol service dog.
- Adding non-criminal factors when considering whether force was objectively reasonable during a non-criminal situation.
- Training on the proper conduct of searches incident to a lawful arrest.
The police department implemented all three recommendations, according to the report.
In 2022, the office started reviewing investigations into 13 incidents. Twelve of the reviews remain open, continuing into this year.
From 2017 to 2021, the OIPA reviewed eight officer-involved shootings, including two of domesticated animals. However, in 2022, the FCPD had seven police shootings, with the victim in one being a dog.
The office received just one use-of-force complaint from the public in 2022 — the fewest ever — compared to a high of 12 in 2018. Read More
The Fairfax County Police Department has agreed to undergo an independent review of its policies and practices after seeing an increase in shootings by officers over the past year.
The Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), a D.C.-based nonprofit that has looked at the department before, will conduct a “broad examination” of officer shootings since 2021 to “identify any performance patterns, deficiencies, or trends,” the FCPD said today (Friday).
“PERF will share training and policy recommendations to ensure FCPD continues to adopt industry best practices,” the department said. “PERF will begin its work immediately and will present its findings and recommendations to FCPD in a brief report.”
In the news release, Police Chief Kevin Davis stresses that the review will not constitute “a focused, independent examination” of the most recent shooting, where two officers shot and killed Timothy McCree Johnson in response to an alleged shoplifting attempt at Tysons Corner Center on Feb. 22.
Johnson’s mother and local civil rights groups have called for an independent investigation into the incident, questioning why officers used their firearms on a man accused of only stealing sunglasses and Davis’s description of Johnson as someone with a “violent criminal history” in the shooting’s immediate aftermath.
With this new review, the nonprofit will provide guidance on a potential policy dictating when officers should engage in foot chases, according to police.
The Fairfax County NAACP and ACLU People Power Fairfax have urged the FCPD to adopt a foot pursuit policy in the wake of Johnson’s death, noting that one was recommended by a separate 2021 use-of-force study by the University of Texas.
Fairfax County police officers have been involved in eight shootings since Davis became chief in 2021, including six incidents in 2022. According to FCPD data, there were nine officer-involved shootings total from 2013 to 2020.
(Updated at 10 a.m. on 2/28/2023) The fatal police shooting of a man accused of shoplifting sunglasses at Tysons Corner Center last week has local civil rights groups questioning the Fairfax County Police Department’s commitment to enforcing its own policies.
The Fairfax County NAACP wants “an independent, transparent and comprehensive investigation” into the death of D.C. resident Timothy McCree Johnson, who was shot by officers on Wednesday (Feb. 22) during a foot chase that extended a quarter-mile from the Nordstrom where he allegedly stole a pair of designer sunglasses.
In a statement released this morning, the organization says the information shared so far about the incident suggests the shooting was unwarranted based on the FCPD’s own use-of-force policy.
“The tragic killing of Mr. Johnson reminds us once again how unjust America’s policing truly is,” Fairfax County NAACP President Michelle Leete said. “The facts as we know them signal that the officers’ actions were entirely out of step with FCPD’s Use of Force policy.”
The FCPD major crimes bureau is conducting a criminal investigation into incident, while the internal affairs bureau is tasked with leading an administrative investigation, which will be reviewed by the county’s independent police auditor.
The NAACP has set up a Gofundme to help Johnson’s family with funeral expenses.
Effective as of Aug. 12, 2022, FCPD’s policy says deadly force “shall not be used to apprehend a fleeing misdemeanant (unless they pose an imminent threat of serious physical harm or death to the officer or others).”
Notably, the parenthetical is a revision from the prior use-of-force policy that was in place in 2021.
It allows deadly force to be used to apprehend a fleeing person if certain conditions are met:
- The officer has probable cause to believe that the individual committed a felony involving violence, and
- All other means to effect an arrest have been exhausted, and
- The felon’s escape poses a significant threat of serious injury or death to the officer or others.
(Correction: This article previously cited the FCPD’s 2021 use-of-force policy as the current one but has now been corrected to reflect the most recent update.)
“Suspicion of stealing a few pairs of sunglasses without the use or possession of a weapon do not satisfy any — much less all — of [the policy’s] requirements,” the NAACP said. “Whether or not Mr. Johnson was guilty of a crime, he had the right to due process, and for the sanctity of his life to be respected by police officers to the maximum extent possible.”
The NAACP says the police department should release “unedited camera footage” of the Tysons incident, a medical examiner’s report, and the officers’ identities and complaint histories.
FCPD policies dictate that the names of officers involved in a shooting be made public within 10 days and that body-worn camera footage be released within 30 days. Read More