Home News Dion Johnson Died as He Lived, in a World of Crime and...

Dion Johnson Died as He Lived, in a World of Crime and Harsh Punishment


The identical day a Minneapolis police officer killed George Floyd in Minneapolis, an Arizona Division of Public Security trooper killed Dion Johnson in Phoenix. 

The trooper, George Cervantes, had discovered Johnson, a 28-year-old Black man, handed out in his Toyota Prius in a freeway gore space. He claims Johnson awakened, fought him throughout an tried arrest, tried to kick him into oncoming visitors, and tried to drag him into the Prius and seize his service pistol. Cervantes shot Johnson twice. Freeway video reveals two troopers close to Johnson, on the bottom and writhing in ache, whereas an EMT automobile sat on the sidelines, unable to assist till DPS declared the scene safe.

Within the wake of the killing, native and nationwide information reporters scrutinized practically each angle of the case: the protests that adopted, the household’s grief, the police investigation, the social context. In mid-July, revelations about Cervantes’ lengthy document of troubling habits got here to mild — he had intimidated an ex-girlfriend and tased his personal pet — and raised questions on whether or not his account of the deadly taking pictures on the Loop 101 Freeway may very well be believed.

This week, Maricopa County Lawyer Allister Adel cleared Cervantes of felony expenses. However Erma Johnson, Dion’s mom, and her legal professional, Jocquese Blackwell, stay satisfied that Cervantes dedicated “homicide.” Blackwell stated at a press convention Monday that with no body-cam or sprint video of the taking pictures, there’s “no approach doable you possibly can objectively decide if Officer Cervantes’ statements have been correct.” Blackwell plans to file a discover of declare towards the state on behalf of Johnson’s household. “It is a one-sided story,” he stated.

But regardless of all the general public curiosity, the media did not look into one crucial facet of the case: Dion Johnson’s background.

Native information media reported, virtually uniformly, solely that Johnson had served some jail time — itemizing a few the fees however leaving out all the main points, denying the general public a extra full have a look at Johnson’s background.

Members of the family described Johnson in glowing phrases to unquestioning reporters, acknowledging solely that he had had some troubles. The reporters both did not examine what these troubles have been or, in the event that they did, determined to not relate them to readers and viewers. Erma Johnson instructed the media that Dion was a loving son and a giant assist to her and others. He was described as one in all 5 siblings, a “mama’s boy,” well mannered, a music lover, and an individual who was preferred by most individuals he met. He was additionally the daddy of a 14-year-old daughter. Members of the family instructed AZFamily.com (Channel 3, KTVK-TV), that Dion was “turning a brand new leaf” and had not too long ago gotten a job.

Cervantes had no thought who Johnson was earlier than their deadly encounter. In accordance with Cervantes, Johnson attacked him and resisted arrest after waking up. However was Johnson actually the kind of one who would assault a police officer?

Police and court docket information counsel that he most likely was. They depict Johnson as a violent man whose historical past consists of attacking correctional officers, attacking inmates, resisting arrest, and, in 2018, delivering a horrific beating to an ex-girlfriend.

The information additionally reveal that his childhood was a tragedy, placing him on the right track for a lifetime behind bars. Johnson was locked up repeatedly earlier than adolescence, thrust right into a system that appeared to take no pity on him. Systemic racism might certainly have performed a task in his demise. However it additionally affected Johnson lengthy earlier than Might 25.

Blackwell, who objects to the data that follows being made public, instructed Phoenix New Occasions to keep in mind that such paperwork might not be utterly correct. However he did not dispute any facet of the main points New Occasions knowledgeable him about. He denied realizing about Johnson’s earlier violence, however warned that some readers might use the main points to argue that Johnson “deserved to die.” New Occasions is publishing these particulars — the identical info Maricopa County judges used, a number of occasions through the years, to find out the size of Johnson’s jail sentences — within the curiosity of bringing a few extra full public understanding of this high-profile case.

Childhood Gone Mistaken

Dion Johnson grew up within the faculty city of Tempe along with his siblings and mom, who was a single guardian.

New Occasions interviewed Valley resident Ashley Winters about Johnson’s youth. She lived a block down from the place he lived close to McClintock Drive and Broadway Highway and knew Dion and his brothers nicely.

“We have been at all times hanging round,” she stated. “He is very respectful to his mom. They went to church collectively. We have been just about youngsters, driving bikes, taking part in ball.”

As a teen, she dated his older brother, Donovan. She remembered as soon as when Dion got here residence from juvenile detention.

“What drove them to that life, I am undecided,” she stated. “As soon as they get into it, it is onerous to get out of it.”

Dion Johnson’s first referral to juvenile corrections got here at age 8; information do not checklist the cost.

He started utilizing alcohol at age 11 and was the sufferer of unspecified childhood home violence, he would later report. Earlier than he was 16, Johnson had been referred to juvenile corrections authorities 25 occasions, with juvenile prosecution occurring in 11 of the circumstances. A few of it was child stuff — shoplifting and operating away from residence. However he was additionally discovered with weapons, stolen items, and assaulted somebody with “intent to trigger damage.” Two of the circumstances have been for attacking juvenile corrections officers. When he was not incarcerated as a baby, he spent his faculty time in special-education lessons, the results of an undiagnosed studying dysfunction.

By 16, Johnson had been ingesting practically daily for 2 years. He most well-liked onerous liquor.

Someday in October 2007, Johnson, his brother Donovan, and two different boys approached a bunch of 4 individuals in a QT fuel station who have been fixing a trailer and requested them for cash. Once they have been instructed no, the boys started yelling and cursing. Dion confirmed the group the 9mm he had tucked within the entrance waistband of his pants, telling the victims “he might use the weapon.”

Police confirmed up rapidly to the scene however have been solely capable of seize Johnson. His gun, it turned out, had been stolen from Arizona Firearms Collectibles and Pawn in Tempe two days earlier. Johnson denied he had stolen it. He grew to become “extraordinarily uncooperative and commenced yelling and screaming.” (The opposite three boys have been arrested quickly after.)

After pleading responsible, Johnson obtained a 2.5-year jail sentence. The probation division famous the teenager’s “historical past of violence” and that he was on juvenile parole on the time, recommending in his presentence report that Johnson obtain a “vital punitive sanction … to impress upon the defendant the severity of his actions.”

Johnson’s daughter was 1 on the time. He instructed the court docket {that a} 2.5-year sentence was acceptable as a result of “he is not going to miss that a lot of his daughter’s life.”

He’d be there for her when he bought out and turned 18, he promised.

‘Violent in Nature’

Johnson had a girlfriend in Tempe after being launched from jail in 2011. He routinely visited her at her Orange Avenue house. However to Johnson, crime was a lifestyle. When he needed one thing, he took it. Someday, a number of months after he was launched, he and some mates broke into one in all his girlfriend’s neighbor’s residences and stole a TV and an X-Field. Witnesses noticed the boys take the objects to the girlfriend’s house. When police investigated, they discovered the stolen objects and took Johnson and a person named Troy Combs into custody.

Combs apparently went quietly. Johnson reportedly didn’t.

An officer positioned Johnson in handcuffs and walked to him a patrol automobile.

“Presently, Johnson violently pulled away from the officer, twisting the handcuff and chopping the officer’s hand,” a report states. “The officer then put Johnson in a management maintain, the place he then pushed into the officer’s torso along with his shoulder. Johnson additionally fell to the bottom a number of occasions in makes an attempt to delay going to jail.”

Johnson had no earnings and no bills, information present. He was launched from jail on a $5,000 bond. 4 months into coping with this felony case, in September 2011, Johnson and two different males walked right into a Phoenix-area Circle Ok. Simulating a gun beneath his shirt, Johnson instructed the clerk that “if he did something, he would blow his head off.” He shoved the clerk onerous, however did not injure him. He went behind the counter and snatched a number of packs of cigarettes whereas a pal stole some beer. For this pathetic but violent crime, Johnson was sentenced to seven years in jail.

He obtained one other 2.5 years for the house housebreaking. The sentences ran concurrently, but it surely was nonetheless Johnson’s longest stretch within the joint. Jail staff and sure inmates might not have been glad to have him again. He had been disciplined for 14 infractions throughout his earlier incarceration, 9 of them “main.” Upon his return, he proceeded to rack up two dozen extra, with most occurring in 2016. Jail officers disciplined him 3 times for preventing, 4 occasions for threatening individuals, and two occasions for assaulting inmates, amongst different issues.

He lastly bought out in 2018, however discovered it troublesome to keep away from probation violations. He spent a few days in jail for a violation that July, and per week in jail for one more one which September.

Johnson had a romantic curiosity on the time named Ashley Winters. They had an abusive, tumultuous relationship. Sooner or later, she instructed them they have been executed for good. However they might see one another as soon as extra. On October 6, 2018, Johnson adopted Winters and one in all her mates, who he reportedly did not know, to the pal’s Avondale house. As the ladies have been strolling by way of the entrance door, Johnson stunned them and compelled his approach in.

Johnson “elbowed” the pal and commenced looking out rooms for Winters, who had locked herself in a toilet. Johnson broke the lavatory door in and commenced beating Winters. The pal yelled at Johnson to get out, later telling authorities he hit Winters within the head and face a number of occasions with closed fists. The pal yelled at Johnson that she had referred to as the police, and finally Johnson ran out of the home. Winters had “vital” accidents and was taken to the hospital. However she instructed police she did not need to press expenses and wouldn’t cooperate with their investigation.

Winters’ pal, nonetheless, instructed police she had by no means seen anybody get beat up that dangerous earlier than, and that it was “traumatizing” to her and her youngsters.

“What he did ‘was fucked up and he must do a while,'” the girl stated in a probation officer’s court docket report. “The defendant has no regard for different people and their property.”

Johnson was arrested 10 days later on the similar house complicated.

Earlier than Johnson’s sentencing for the crime, his probation officer wrote that he was at excessive threat of reoffending, remarking that “his offenses are violent in nature.”

“Probation has not been efficient in habits change or defending the group from his crimes,” the officer wrote in March 2019, simply earlier than Johnson was sentenced to a yr in jail. Receiving credit score for his time in jail earlier than sentencing, Johnson was launched from jail in November 2019.

For some time, he did appear to be turning over a brand new leaf. However because the probation officer additionally famous, Johnson’s psychological well being, felony habits, and employment scenario had by no means actually been addressed. By 2020, he was driving with a pistol in his automotive, once more gripped by substance abuse.

Officer-Concerned Taking pictures

It was 5:20 within the morning on Monday, Might 25, Memorial Day. The world would quickly be surprised by a video of George Floyd, a Black man in Minnesota, dying horribly later within the day of asphyxiation beneath the knee of police officer Derek Chauvin.

Scottsdale Detective Ashley Yunck was driving eastbound on the Loop 101 close to the Tatum Boulevard exit when she observed a Toyota Prius driving at a “low charge of velocity” come to a cease within the gore space, the marked-off triangle that separates freeway lanes from entrance and exit lanes. She thought the scenario is likely to be hazardous and slowed down, however stored going when she did not see anybody get out of the automobile. Minutes later, she heard phrase of pictures being fired on the scene and circled to assist.

Simply after Yunck noticed the Prius, Cervantes stopped behind the automobile in his DPS motorbike. A veteran of greater than 300 DUI stops with 15 years on the pressure, Cervantes stepped as much as the passenger facet door and opened it. Inside, Johnson was within the driver’s seat, unconscious. He reeked of alcohol and had urinated on himself. The automotive key was within the ignition, and a .45-caliber handgun was on the passenger seat. Cervantes put the gun in his motorbike, referred to as dispatch, and went again to the automotive to seize the ignition key and start the method of arrest. That is when, he claims, Johnson awakened and commenced preventing with him, grabbing on the passenger seat as if he anticipated the .45 to be there.

Cervantes, as he associated to investigators later, pulled his personal gun. “Cease resisting or I will shoot you!” he yelled.

“You ain’t gotta do all that! You ain’t gotta do all that!” Johnson yelled again. He “then relaxed his physique and positioned his ft on the sill of the motive force door,” based on Cervantes’ model within the Phoenix police report. “Feeling the approaching risk had diminished, Trooper Cervantes retracted his handgun and deliberate to put it again in his holster.”

Then Johnson grabbed the trooper’s vest and reached towards Cervantes’ gun, clutching Cervantes’ proper wrist, and utilizing his ft as leverage to drag Cervantes into the automobile.

“In worry for his life,” Cervantes fired a shot on the suspect, who was “six inches away and nonetheless greedy his wrist.” Cervantes fired a second time. One of many pictures hit Johnson within the stomach.

A number of motorists have been passing by on the time, and later stated they witnessed a part of the wrestle. One described “the trooper bent midway into the automobile along with his ft on the bottom.” She heard the trooper yell “cease, cease, do not, do not,” and, believing he was in misery, referred to as 911.

One other trooper confirmed up seconds after Johnson was shot. He heard Cervantes telling Johnson to get out of the automobile, and Johnson responding, “No, man… go away me alone… you simply shot me… get off me.”

The second trooper instructed Johnson to “cease resisting,” and each troopers took Johnson out of the automobile. That is when the freeway digicam video, later aired by AZFamily.com, caught the 2 troopers close to the writhing, dying Johnson, one trooper utilizing his shin to cease Johnson from rolling. The standing trooper’s angle within the video appears to be one in all utter indifference. It was not a very good search for the DPS. Johnson, like Floyd, grew to become one other highly effective image for Black Lives Matter and the truth that Black males face disproportionate use of pressure by police in the USA.

As individuals took to the streets in protest, the company was additionally quickly criticized for not releasing Cervantes’ identify and different details about the incident as rapidly as some needed. Within the curiosity of transparency, the DPS finally released Cervantes’ disciplinary record. The doc threw Cervantes’ trustworthiness into doubt.

In his 15 years with the DPS, he’d been written up for infractions a minimum of 13 occasions. In addition to admitting to utilizing his department-issued taser to repeatedly shock his canine for “coaching” functions, Cervantes had much more disturbing incidents on his document. An ex-girlfriend accused him of restraining her by the arms throughout a combat, leaving bruises. And in June of 2012, he left a word on his former girlfriend’s automotive in a public parking zone, stating “I see you. I do know the place you reside.”

His ex-girlfriend, additionally in regulation enforcement, had no thought Cervantes was accountable for the word. Spooked, she reported the incident to Phoenix police. The division’s Homeland Safety unit carried out a risk evaluation and had Peoria police monitor the girl’s residence, as a July 16 Arizona Republic article about Cervantes’ background associated.

“This occasion was additionally reflective of Officer Cervantes’ continued impulsive habits and poor determination making,” the disciplinary report says.

Cervantes was given 80 hours of unpaid suspension however allowed to remain on the job.


Who’s telling the reality — the person who lived to inform what occurred, or those that communicate for Dion Johnson?

By her legal professional, Erma Johnson declined to be interviewed for this text.

“She stated she did not consider it was related to speak about his previous,” Blackwell instructed New Occasions.

At Monday’s press convention following Adel’s announcement that Cervantes would not face felony expenses, Erma Johnson stated, “I nonetheless really feel George Cervantes is a monster and must be arrested for my son’s homicide. Interval.”

Blackwell and others consider Adel ought to have put Cervantes’ story to the check earlier than a jury, and let the jury resolve if it is plausible. If Cervantes had confronted felony prosecution, protection attorneys probably would have pushed to introduce Johnson’s background to the jury, however little if any of it might have been admitted as proof, Blackwell stated.

Jennifer Liewer, spokesperson for the county legal professional’s workplace, agreed {that a} felony defendant (like Cervantes could be, if he had been charged) wouldn’t usually be capable of deliver up a sufferer’s felony historical past as a protection. Likewise, the county legal professional’s workplace did not take Cervantes’ background into consideration whereas deciding whether or not to cost him. Liewer stated the workplace is receiving criticism for that, “but it surely’s necessary as prosecutors to have a look at what we all know can be allowed right into a felony trial. In making the choice on this case, we actually did deal with the occasions main as much as the wrestle, together with all of the corroborating witnesses.”

Nonetheless, the background of each males is “most likely related for most of the people,” she stated.

On Monday, Adel stated at her presser that Cervantes had the suitable to defend himself beneath Arizona regulation, and that primarily based on the details, it might have been not possible to show at trial that the trooper did not act in self-defense.

Blackwell grew defensive this week when requested about Johnson’s background, and stated police and court docket stories are unreliable. He stated New Occasions ought to write a narrative in regards to the trooper as a substitute, claiming “no person’s written an article about George Cervantes.”

Johnson was “calm” throughout the arrest, so why would he go for Cervantes’ gun? Blackwell contemplated.

“It would not make any sense,” he stated of Cervantes’ story. He additionally stated it is “not believable” for Johnson to have had his physique within the place described by Cervantes and nonetheless seize the trooper’s proper wrist.

Requested if Johnson was the kind of one who would possibly assault a cop, Blackwell stated “no,” including that Erma Johnson stated her son “revered the police.”

Blackwell stated he did not learn about Winters’ beating and different features of Johnson’s background, however did not suppose it mattered. Cervantes’ previous, then again, he stated, ought to undoubtedly have been thought of by Adel’s workplace when deciding whether or not to cost the trooper.

Johnson’s childhood pal Ashley Winters — a special Ashley Winters, she instructed New Occasions, than the one who was assaulted by Johnson in 2018 — stated she merely by no means noticed the facet of Johnson that the opposite Ashley Winters reportedly endured, or another signal of violence in him. She was floored, she stated, when she first noticed the information of how Johnson died, and the accusations by Cervantes.

“I would not suppose he would do something like that,” she stated. “He was actually candy.” The trooper’s story sounded suspicious to her, and so did the dearth of digicam footage.

Police brutality has gotten out of hand, she stated. “It is a worldwide drawback.”

Reverend Jarrett Maupin, a civil rights activist along with his personal problematic background, stated he thinks the Dion Johnson case is a “very unhappy factor and tragic… However that is an instance of a story that was bullshit.”

He stated Johnson had a gang affiliation (New Occasions has been unable to verify this) and that his lengthy historical past of felony habits signifies it is fairly believable that he instigated the combat with the trooper. Maupin, who has led protests and introduced quite a few brutality circumstances to mild, stated group activists needs to be “mature sufficient” to look at a scenario in its entirety.

Adel’s determination was the “proper name,” he asserted. Cervantes “was not solely attempting to do his job, however was fortunate to be alive.”

Black Lives Matter Phoenix Metro, and Black Phoenix Organizing Collective, two of the teams that organized marches on behalf of Dion Johnson, didn’t return messages from New Occasions.

One other native civil rights activist and organizer, Warren Stewart Jr., founder and lead pastor of the Church of The Remnant, stated the trooper’s previous “completely” is related to the case, as is the officer’s “psychological well being.”

Johnson’s previous? “Not related in any respect.”

Stewart Jr. led Johnson’s funeral service in June. He stated he did not know Johnson, however after talking with lots of his household and mates, he would not consider Johnson would ever assault a police officer, particularly after waking up intoxicated.

“That’s not who he was,” Stewart Jr. stated. “He wasn’t a violent particular person.” He added that he could be stunned to be taught Johnson had a historical past of violence.

But even when Johnson was responsible of attacking Cervantes, the response by Cervantes shouldn’t have been to shoot Johnson, Stewart Jr. stated.

“Unarmed Black individuals are being killed by the hands of police,” he stated, “and it is not justifiable.”