Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Officer identified in Park Plaza shooting UPDATE

Posted By on Wed, Dec 28, 2011 at 10:49 AM

WHAT HAPPENED AT PARK PLAZA: Crime scene tape gone today but many questions remain.
  • WHAT HAPPENED AT PARK PLAZA: Crime scene tape gone today but many questions remain.

A Little Rock police officer, working private security at Park Plaza mall, shot and gravely wounded one person and slightly wounded another in the mall parking deck yesterday. Two people in the car, including the one with the minor wound, were detained/taken into custody/something.

The police officer who fired the shot has not been identified.

The "threatening" actions that prompted the officer to fire two shots have not been detailed.

The reasons for detaining two people who ran from a car being fired on have not been released.

The shooting happened about 2:30 p.m. The time lapse without more information from police on an unsettling occurrence in a heavily used public space is, at a minimum, disappointing

I have asked city officials if this shooting is to be handled like the recent beating an off-duty cop gave to a Hillcrest bar customer. That is, will it be treated as a personnel matter? The Little Rock police and their enablers at City Hall believe that actions taken by police officers — even those not on official duty — are not subject to full disclosure unless and until an officer is suspended or fired for those actions. It does not instill faith in the accountability of a police force recently given additional millions by Little Rock taxpayers. It does not instill faith in city leaders that they don't demand more accountability when deadly force is used.

Full disclosure might establish that the shooting was justified. It might even put nervous minds at ease. Meanwhile, rumor proliferates and distrust builds. It fostered news reporting last night that more or less depicted Park Plaza as a continuous crime scene, unsafe to visit. Not good for encouraging sales that generate police pay dollars with the new sales tax increase.

UPDATE: LR police still stonewalling my requests for information. But Channel 7 is reporting that "white powder" and cash found on driver of car shot by security guard. Drug possession is not a summary capital offense, by the way. The police have also told Channel 7 that the car was backing up toward the officer at a high rate of speed. It does not describe where the car was situated and whether the car needed to back up before it could drive forward to escape an officer on foot.

According to Channel 11, the officer has been identifed as Christopher Johannes. According to their account, he was called to assist mall security officers who'd been told by a Cabot woman that three men had attempted to talk her 17-year-old daughter into getting into their car. When officers walked toward the car, the driver "began to back up at a high rate of speed towards security officers and other subjects in the lot." According to 11, Johannes yelled for the driver to stop, but the car didn't stop. Johannes then fired several shots at the passenger side of the vehicle, striking the driver and front seat passenger, according to a police report. The driver, Joseph Williams, lost control and struck an elevator shaft. Williams, who tried to run away, Keithen Pettus and Johnnie Campbell were taken into custody.

Forbidden Hillcrest has a snatch of police radio traffic on the episode in which an officer, explaining why a fleeing suspect was being sought, said people in the car had tried to "convince" a female juvenile to get into their car and that, when the officer approached, the driver "backed up and tried to run over some folks."

Finally, the LRPD has provided me with an incident report, but no responses to a number of questions I posed. Sgt. Cassandra Davis said Johannes had been a patrol officer since 2004. Williams is reported in critical but stable condition at UAMS. No charges have been filed against anyone at last report. I have asked for a drawing or description on the location of the car before the shooting and about distances between the officer and the car when the shots were fired. I'm curious, too, where he was standing when he fired shots at the passenger side of the car. No guns were found in possession of the suspects or in the first inspection of the car, but it is being processed further today.

UPDATE II: Sgt. Cassandra Davis said the car was backing up from a parking stall when the shooting occurred. So police aren't ready to say if they've determined with a certainty that the car was backing up to strike people nearby or backing up to make an exit when the shooting occurred. She said the location of witnesses and the car and where shots were fired from and where they struck were part of the investigation and not ready for release at this point.

Police have found one arrest record with a name and birthdate matching that of the driver — a drug possession charge in 2005. Davis said Campbell also had been charged with drug possession this year. She said Pettus was charged with fleeing, obstruction and tampering with evidence in 2008, but the particulars of that case weren't known. She didn't know if any of the charges resulted in convictions. Campbell and Pettus were released without charges last night after being held for questioning about the incident. No charges have been filed against Williams "yet," Davis said.

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