The investigation into the alleged shooting of 24-year-old Black man Elliot Johnson that spurred protest and calls for police transparency seems to have come to a conclusion as Dane County officials announce no potential criminal court liability for the City of Monona Police Officer involved in the death.
Dane County district attorney Ismael Ozanne issued a statement on Friday announcing that no criminal charges would be filed against the officer present during the Sept. 17 incident. The DA’s report concluded that Johnson’s death was a suicide.
According to the statement, the officer, whose identity has not been released, was attempting to initiate a traffic stop on Johnson who was driving at speeds exceeding 80 m.p.h. Johnson refused to stop for the officer and the ensuing pursuit ended when Johnson crashed into a utility pole.
The officer proceeded to order Johnson out of the car, an order which Johnson initially complied with before re-entering his vehicle despite the officer’s verbal commands. The involved officer then deployed his taser which temporarily subdued Johnson before failing to work for undetermined reasons.
The officer then heard a single gunshot from the cab of the disabled vehicle which caused the officer to retreat to their squad car. Upon search of the vehicle, Johnson was found dead from a single gunshot wound to the head with a loaded 9mm pistol with a spent cartridge on the floor, the release said.
In the report issued by the DA’s office, Ozanne states that the information gathered provided by the medical report and bodycam footage indicate that Johnson committed suicide and that the officer at no time used deadly force.
“It is clear that the officer was not using deadly force and the injuries which caused Mr. Johnson’s death could only have been caused by Mr. Johnson,” the report stated.
Prior to the release of the official report, Johnson’s family expressed doubt regarding the claim that Elliot, who had six children and showed no outward signs of despondency, committed suicide. These doubts were furthered by a lack of transparency during the investigation, a fact which also had an emotional toll on Johnson's family members.
"I want to know what happened to him so I can put him to rest. That’s all, and they’re making it so difficult,” said Sarah Johnson, Elliot’s mother, in an interview with Channel 3000. “It makes me feel in my heart they did something to my child.”
Sarah Johnson repeatedly asked for greater transparency so that she and other family members of Elliot’s could be at peace with the incident.
“They can actually take away some of the pain if they’re just open about what happened to my baby,” she said.
Other members of the community have raised concerns about the past conduct of the Monona police department, which was involved in a pursuit this summer that was allegedly related to the death of a 21-year-old Black man Rodney Freedman Jr.
According to an official investigation, in the early hours of June 27, Freedman fled from police in a vehicle which he eventually crashed into some trees. Freedman then exited the car and evaded capture, but two days later he was found drowned in a nearby lagoon.
Medical reports of the incident uncovered no evidence of foul play, however, in conjunction with the death of Elliot Johnson, concerns were raised by local advocacy groups, such as Black Umbrella over officer conduct at the Monona Police Department. Black Umbrella met with Monona Police Chief Walter Ostrenga on Nov. 11 to discuss concerns of racial profiling.