Malvern mystery 

click to enlarge OFFICER JOHNSON: Shot in the woods.
  • OFFICER JOHNSON: Shot in the woods.

It was kind of inevitable that Malvern's small-town rumor mill started humming almost as soon as word of the shooting of a then-unnamed police officer hit the front page of the Malvern Daily Record. From the bare-bones perspective afforded the press and public about most any ongoing police investigation, the story told by 25-year-old patrol officer Brian Johnson does seem like a pretty big pill to swallow.

Just after 1 a.m. on the morning of Friday, April 18, Johnson — bleeding from what turned out to be a superficial gunshot wound to his left shoulder — called for help from a secluded road just outside of town, a dead end in a network of neatly paved streets and cul-de-sacs created for a yet-to-gel subdivision, all of it tucked back in the woods near the Ouachita River. There had been vandalism and thefts at some of the construction sites there. The Malvern Police Department had resolved to make more patrols in the area, especially at night.

The reason the rumors were inevitable is because after investigators arrived at the scene, Johnson told them a story that sounds more like a violent nightmare than a real event. Though Johnson has not responded to requests for an interview forwarded through the Malvern Police Department, according to the original incident report, Johnson said he was on routine patrol when he caught a glimpse of a man dressed in head-to-toe camouflage, crouched in the ink-black woods off the edge of the road. By Johnson's description, the stranger was formidable — 6-foot-3 or -4, 240 pounds; a broad, scruffy, mountain-man type with a full beard and armed with a compound bow.

Nonetheless, Johnson — who, according to his personnel file, barely tops six feet — jumped out of his cruiser and gave chase into the woods. Johnson caught up to the fleeing suspect and a struggle ensued. In the midst of the altercation, the man took the officer's sidearm — a Glock semi-automatic. In the report, the account of that moment reads like something out of a bad dream, inexplicable and instantaneous. “(T)he Officer noticed the suspect had a gun,” the report states. “When (the) officer reached for his weapon, he realized the suspect had his duty weapon.”

Johnson said the man aimed the pistol at him, but he was able to push the muzzle away just before the gun fired so that the bullet only grazed his shoulder. Before the man could shoot again, Johnson was somehow able to find and press the Glock's magazine release, dropping out the clip and the majority of the gun's shells. The assailant managed to fire once more with the cartridge that remained in the chamber — a bullet that went wild into the trees. At some point — though not specifically spelled out in the report — the pair must have tumbled to the ground, with the suspect landing on top of Johnson. Even then — shot, losing blood from a wound he had no way of assessing, no doubt blinded by the muzzle flash, struggling in the dark with a much larger opponent and with the full weight of the 240-pound mystery man pressing down on him — Johnson pulled off the seemingly impossible feat of reaching into his left front pants pocket (Johnson is reportedly right-handed), finding his folding knife, opening it with one hand, and stabbing his attacker in the right side, breaking off the four-inch blade in the man's ribs as Johnson “tried to use the knife as leverage to roll the suspect off him.”  After that, the assailant somehow located his bow and fled into the woods. At this writing, the only physical object the Malvern PD will admit the suspect left behind is a single hair, found clinging to Johnson's uniform.



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