Fairfax County police announced Thursday that they will fire an officer who fatally shot an unarmed Black man outside Tysons Corner Center last month in an encounter that an attorney for the man’s family described as an “execution.”
Shifflett, a seven-year veteran of the department, was one of two officers to fire his weapon during the encounter. The other, Officer James Sadler, remains with the department on a restricted-duty status as officials, including Fairfax’s top prosecutor, continue to investigate the shooting. Authorities said both officers are White.
Davis said that the officer he decided to fire was given a notice of an “administrative separation” Thursday and that his actions “do not meet the expectations of our police department.” The officer, the police chief said, did not follow the department’s use-of-force protocols. Davis said that neither Shifflett nor Sadler had been involved in a police shooting before the incident, and they were not associated with a “significant disciplinary history.”
Caleb Kershner, an attorney for Shifflett, said Thursday he planned to file a grievance to the county in response to the administrative separation. Kershner’s law firm also represents Sadler.
“Any reasonable officer faced with the same circumstances would have done the exact same thing as Sgt. Shifflett,” Kershner said. “For the department to do this, it was deeply disappointing.”
Authorities previously said that police shot Johnson in the chest during the encounter, which began when Shifflett and Sadler attempted to stop Johnson on suspicion that he had stolen a pair of designer sunglasses at the mall.
Shifflett, who was in uniform, and Sadler, in plain clothes, chased him on foot into a nearby wooded area, where he was shot, according to authorities and Johnson’s family members, who watched the video from Shifflett’s body camera and mall security footage on Wednesday.
Edited surveillance footage taken inside the Nordstrom store at the mall shows a man, identified as Johnson, entering the store at 6:13 p.m., according to a time stamp on the video. Footage recorded at 6:22 p.m. shows Johnson at an area in the store with sunglasses, where police said employees began to suspect a “larceny was about to occur.” The department said that at 6:23 p.m., staff called Fairfax Police’s Tysons Urban Team, which responded to the location.
Surveillance footage taken from a bridge connecting the Nordstrom to a Tysons Corner Corner parking garage shows Johnson leaving at 6:29 p.m., according to a time stamp, followed seconds later by what police said were two plainclothes officers. Johnson is then seen in the garage, followed by one of the plainclothes officers.
Body-cam footage from a uniformed officer, identified as Shifflett, also was shown. According to the time stamp, it picks up at 6:29 p.m. inside the Nordstrom. A minute later, the officer leaves through the same exit. The uniformed officer crosses the bridge to the parking garage and down a stairwell, where one of the plainclothes officers passes in front of him, chasing Johnson on foot. The uniformed officer runs behind the plainclothes officer, falling behind as they move down Fashion Boulevard.
At 6:31 p.m., the uniformed officer crosses to the other side of Fashion Boulevard, giving chase into a wooded area. The officer yells “get on the ground” as he crosses the road, stating that he is “going into the woods.” Police said both officers discharged their firearms as they “followed Johnson into the wood line.” The wooded area is dark, and it is unclear from the body-camera footage exactly where the plainclothes officer is. A person identified by police as Johnson appears in front of the uniformed officer just moments before the sound of gunfire. Johnson appeared to no longer be running when he was shot; police said he was crouching.
Two shots can be heard in quick succession as the uniformed officer is still moving forward. A third shot can be heard just over two seconds later, as someone is heard saying “stop reaching.” A voice — presumably Johnson’s — can be heard saying, “I’m not reaching for nothing. I don’t have nothing,” as other responders are around him.
Carl Crews, the Johnson family’s attorney, decried the shooting after seeing the video, describing it as an “execution.”
“The best way to describe the video is to say first what was not on it,” Crews said. “What it doesn’t show: danger. It doesn’t show the officers faced any danger — imminent or otherwise.”
The Rev. Vernon Walton, a pastor at First Baptist Church of Vienna, said Thursday that the footage was alarming — and left him wondering why mall security staff called police in anticipation of a theft.
“What was it about this young man who was very casually dressed in his Black skin that would give them the thought that it looks like there’s going to be a theft to take place?” he said.
Melissa Johnson, Timothy Johnson’s mother, said Wednesday that her son should never have been shot and that she hoped the officers would be held accountable.
“My truth is that I am a Black mother and I have a Black son,” Johnson said. “And the truth of my people’s experience here is that freedom, liberty and the basic human rights have cost the lives of not just many Black people, but of many White people, as well.”
Johnson criticized police for initially pointing to her son’s criminal record. Davis, the police chief, noted that he did so in response to a question at a news conference, which he said Thursday he regretted.
“Maybe it’s a thoughtful endeavor for all of us to think about the necessity of that question, particularly in the heat of the moment,” Davis said. “I know I’m thinking about it. I’m thinking about how I answer it, and perhaps others may think about how they ask it.”
Fairfax County Board Chairman Jeffrey C. McKay said he did not believe the footage was indicative of the character of the police department but was disturbed by what he saw on it. McKay (D-At Large) said he supported Davis’s decision to dismiss Shifflett.
“This is very troubling to me, personally,” McKay said. “I am waiting to see how some of these things shape out, but there is no reason why people shouldn’t be angry after seeing this. And there is no reason why people shouldn’t be demanding accountability.”
Fairfax police have been conducting administrative and criminal investigations into the shooting and said they would present their findings to Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano. Descano (D) said Thursday that he would also conduct a comprehensive and independent investigation of the shooting.
“I have seen and am devastated by the body-camera footage showing yet another death of a Black man at the hands of police,” Descano said in a statement. “My heart grieves for the Johnsons, who lost a beloved family member over an incident involving a pair of sunglasses. Like many members of our community, I sincerely hope to see the day when police shootings are a thing of the past.”
Diane Burkley Alejandro, lead advocate of ACLU People Power Fairfax, said the footage left her with many questions, such as why only one officer was dismissed when both discharged their weapon. But her primary concern was why two officers chased a man over a pair of sunglasses.
“Neither of them had any business chasing an individual and using deadly force for a misdemeanor,” she said.