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Family views video of police shooting unarmed Black man near Tysons Corner

Timothy McCree Johnson's parents Melissa Johnson, center, and Timothy Walker, left, address reporters along with attorney Carl Crews, right, outside Fairfax County Police headquarters Wednesday. (Matthew Barakat/AP)
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The family of Timothy McCree Johnson, an unarmed Black man fatally shot by Fairfax County police outside Tysons Corner Center last month, watched body-camera footage of his killing. Their lawyer asserted afterward that the video showed Johnson had posed no threat to law enforcement.

“The best way to describe the video is to say first what was not on it,” said Carl Crews, an attorney for the family, after viewing the footage Wednesday. “What it doesn’t show: danger. It doesn’t show the officers faced any danger — imminent or otherwise.”

Crews said he and the family watched eight minutes of the Feb. 22 footage, ending with Sgt. Wesley Shifflett and Officer First Class James Sadler firing at Johnson, 37, who authorities have said was suspected of stealing designer sunglasses at the mall nearby. The Fairfax County Police Department is planning to release the footage publicly on Thursday afternoon.

Crews said the footage showed Shifflett, who was in uniform, and Sadler, who was in plain clothes, attempting to stop Johnson after the suspected theft and chasing him on foot into a wooded area. He said the officers can be heard telling Johnson to stop running and to lie down before they shoot him.

Crews said it was unclear to see who fired and when, though police have previously said that both officers fired shots and that Johnson was struck once in the chest. Authorities said he was taken to a hospital, where he died.

“This was an execution by Fairfax County police officers,” Crews said.

Police declined to comment on remarks made by the Johnson family Wednesday, but they confirmed the meeting occurred. The footage was from a body camera worn by Shifflett.

Melissa Johnson, Timothy Johnson’s mother, said that she could not describe specific details from the footage and that it was difficult to process and make sense of what she saw.

“No parent should have to view the killing of their child and then be asked to give remarks,” Melissa Johnson said. “However, here we are. And here I stand.”

Melissa Johnson said she hoped the court system would provide justice for her son, who she previously said was a father of two and an artist who had hoped to start his own clothing line. Timothy Johnson’s killing was an opportunity for the community to right systemic failures and racial bias, she said, adding that when police first investigated the case, she felt he had been painted in a negative light. Police did not say initially that Timothy Johnson was unarmed and indicated that they were searching the woods for evidence before later confirming that no weapon had been recovered. The police chief also referenced his criminal history.

“They drew their guns, fired and shot and killed him,” Melissa Johnson said. “And the only thing that they knew was that he was accused of allegedly taking a pair of sunglasses. Officer Sadler and Shifflett did not know his name, did not know his age, did not know where he went to school, did not know the names of his children or anything about his past — personal or judicial — history. The only thing they knew was that he was Black and male.”

The Fairfax County chapter of the Southern States Police Benevolent Association, which represents the officers, said in a statement: “The brave men and women of the Fairfax County Police Department are expected to make split second, life or death decisions. Decisions that for them, they have to make in a fraction of a second, which later will be reviewed with no restriction on time. This investigation is still very new and raw to those involved. We stand by the high quality officers of the FCPD and believe in due process of the law. We hope that everyone allows for due process and the opportunity for all the facts to come out.”

In 2022, the Fairfax County Police Department recorded six officer-involved shootings, a term that refers to any case where an officer discharges a firearm at a person or occupied vehicle. The last time there were six officer-involved shootings in the county was in 2008.

The NAACP criticized the Fairfax Police department after Timothy Johnson’s shooting over its lack of a foot-pursuit policy. Fairfax Police Chief Kevin Davis issued a memo on March 10 that said the department would implement a policy to track data from such cases, according to an email forwarded to The Post. The policy requires any officer who participates in a chase to document all of their actions during the chase. The reports will be reviewed by their supervisors and other command staff, according to the memo.

Fairfax Police officials also asked the Police Executive Research Forum, an independent research organization that focuses on policing issues, to examine all Fairfax County police shootings that have occurred between 2021 and 2022, identifying potential patterns, deficiencies and trends.

Melissa Johnson said it would be difficult for the footage to be disseminated publicly, but she recognized its importance.

“Without such footage, [those] responsible would not have been held accountable for their wrongful actions,” she said.