KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Kansas City, Missouri, police officers involved in the deadly shooting of Malcolm Johnson won't face charges, a special prosecutor announced Monday.
Johnson died after being shot by police during an attempted arrest inside March 25, 2021, inside a gas station near East 63rd Street and Prospect Avenue.
"We regret the loss of Mr. Johnson's life, as well as the injury to the police officer who also was shot in the incident, and regardless of the legal conclusions, any loss of life and injury to an officer is tragic," the St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney's Office said Monday in a statement accompanying the release of the special prosecutor's report.
Officers from KCPD's Impact Unit were searching for and surveilling Johnson the day he was killed in connection to an unrelated shooting incident.
Missouri State Highway Patrol Sgt. Andy Bell said two officers located Johnson at the gas station and tried to take him into custody.
A struggle ensued and police alleged Johnson fired at least one shot at police, who returned fire in self-defense, Bell said at the time. An officer was also shot in the leg during the struggle.
The special prosecutor's team, which included two attorneys and an investigator, conducted its own investigation beyond the Missouri State Highway Patrol's investigation. It reviewed the case for consideration of murder and manslaughter charges, but decided against recommending any charges.
“The physical evidence is clear that one officer was shot with a bullet that could not have been fired from a police officer’s gun, but it could have been fired from Mr. Johnson’s gun,” the special prosecutor’s five-page report said. “This evidence is consistent with Mr. Johnson having a firearm and using that gun to shoot one police officer. The physical evidence does not corroborate a theory that one officer mistakenly shot the second officer.”
Thus, the report concludes, the officer who shot Johnson can reasonably claim that he was “acting in lawful self-defense or defense of others under Missouri law”
“Further, there is insufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that officers involved in the arrest of Malcolm Johnson acted unlawfully under Missouri law,” the report said.
Video evidence from more than 12 surveillance cameras, including three inside the store that captured the whole interaction, were reviewed along with available bystander cell-phone video and, while it never clearly showed Johnson with a gun, it didn’t show any other officers open fire either.
“During the ongoing struggle, shouts of ‘he has a gun!’ or ‘gun!’ can be heard on various recordings reviewed by the team,” the report said. “These shouts can be heard on both the store’s surveillance video and a cell phone video recorded at the scene. Shortly after the shouting about a gun, an officer standing by the side of Mr. Johnson was shot in the leg.”
The injured officer who was shot returned fire, killing Johnson as he lay on the ground.
No witnesses in the store saw Johnson with a gun, but there is no evidence of “any officer searching Mr. Johnson or significantly moving him” before paramedics arrive to render aid, according to the report.
Paramedics found a .45-caliber Glock 37 handgun, including a spent shell casing in the chamber, under Johnson’s body and highway patrol investigators found additional ammunition for the gun in his vehicle with his fingerprints on the boxes, according to the report.
The report said the bullet that struck the officer went through his leg and was lodged in a cooler by the store's front windows. The bullet was taken out of the cooler and examined. The team said it could have been fired from a Glock 37 but it was too damaged to definitively say. However, the team said the bullet's characteristics matched the type of ammunition that can be fired from a Glock 37, and not the 9mm handguns the officers were carrying.
The report said the location of the bullet in the cooler matched up to where the officer was standing at the time he was shot in the leg.
In a separate email, Chris King, the spokesperson for the St. Louis County prosecutor's office, told KSHB 41 that based on bullet holes in Johnson's coat, the team concluded that Johnson had the gun in one of his coat pockets, fired the gun through the pocket and the bullet hit the officer's leg.
The spokesperson said the gun could have fallen out of Johnson's pocket after the shooting, therefore ending up underneath his body when the struggle was over and Johnson was dead.
KSHB 41 asked King if the team checked to see if there had been any other shootings at the gas station before March 25, 2021, and if it's possible that the bullet lodged in the cooler could have been from another incident. King said the team did not check for that.
"The presence of that bullet matches with the other physical evidence detailed in the report," King said.
The special prosecutor stressed that the limited “footage available to the public does not depict the entire events leading up to Mr. Johnson’s death” in its report.
A clerk at the gas station where Johnson was killed claimed to have additional footage “showing that a gun fell from Mr. Johnson’s waist band when Mr. Johnson was placed on the EMS stretcher,” but the witness did not provide the video, stopped cooperating and even changed phone numbers.
Following on the clerk’s claims, the special prosecutor interviewed “several EMS staff,” who had not been previously interviewed as part of the highway patrol investigation.
“The team’s interviews with EMS and other personnel directly conflict with the clerk’s claim,” the report said. “Some EMS personnel said that the gun was found under Mr. Johnson when they rolled him over to better administer aid.”
The expanded investigation, coupled with family emergencies, which prevented the special prosecutor from conducting interviews in Kansas City, and an initial lack of funding also slowed down the investigation.
"Most, but not all, of the witnesses cooperated with the team," according to the special prosecutor's report.
A couple months after the shooting, faith leaders in Kansas City released cell-phone video from the store clerk, who later stopped cooperating with the special prosecutor, and raised questions about the way police handled the incident. Some even called it an execution.
In the video, five officers are seen in a struggle with Johnson, before two more run to assist. Seconds later, several shots ring out inside the store.
The video can be watched below (Warning: Some viewers might find the content disturbing):
Jackson County Prosecuting Attorney Jean Peters Baker later asked a court to assign a special prosecutor to the case because she feared there could be bias in reviewing it.
Her office had previously investigated Johnson in connection to a 2014 murder.
The ruling from the St. Louis Prosecuting Attorney came just weeks after activists in Kansas City called for answers in the investigation.
KCPD Chief of Police Stacey Graves released a statement Monday, saying no police officer wants to be in a situation where they are injured or injure others. She also said there is still work to do to build trust between the police department and the community:
Today I was notified by the St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office that a decision had been reached in the investigation of the officer involved shooting on March 25th, 2021 at 63rd and Prospect.
Our oath and responsibility is to keep the community safe. It is our goal that everyone goes home safe after every interaction.
No police officer wants to be in a situation where they get injured, nor do they want to have to cause injury to someone else.
A loss of life affects everyone in our community, and it matters to us all.
This decision represents the culmination of a process from the onset of outside independent investigation meant to inspire trust in the review of KCPD’s use of force. We recognize there is still work to do with our community to build that trust and under my leadership relationships are among my top priorities.
As I have been doing since being appointed Chief, I will continue to meet with and have tough conversations with all segments of the community to build those relationships at every opportunity.
KCMO Mayor Quinton Lucas, who sits on the KCPD Board of Police Commissioners, also weighed in on the decision via social media, saying he appreciated "a thorough and independent investigation" and adding that his "prayers continue to go out to the family of Mr. Johnson and our officer who was injured during the event."
I appreciate the decision today by an independent special prosecutor that Kansas City police officers acted in lawful self-defense in connection with actions that led to the loss of life of Malcolm Johnson and injury to an officer.— Mayor Q (@QuintonLucasKC) March 13, 2023
Pastor Darron Edwards of United Believers Community Church, who called Johnson's killing "an execution" in June 2021, struck a more conciliatory tone in a statement Monday.
When this initially happened, I expressed the hurt that so many felt in the community when a life is tragically lost. Being given the videos and observing it with a untrained eye, I felt what others were feeling. I admit that I expressed those feelings in a way that could have been said better.
One of our initial demands was for outside investigations in regards to officer involved shootings. After a lengthy conversation with African American attorney Wesley Bell, African American investigator Patrick Henson, and special prosecutor Rachel Smith, they did their work. I respect their findings. I was also told if new, credible evidence emerges this case could have a second look.
Under KCPD’s current leadership, i am confident about Chief Stacey Graves openness to tough conversations to instill trust in the community. In all openness, we were having a conversation about repairing relationships when the notification from the special prosecutor alerted my phone.
Kansas City, we will always have work to do in our community regarding positive and productive relationships with the police. As a faith community leader, I will continue to advocate for that work and do my best to hold the KCPD accountable when they are wrong and applaud when they are doing successful policing in every zip code.