(CN) - Virginia police officers may have used excessive force in fatally shooting an unarmed black man 11 times when he attempted to cash an invalid check, a federal judge ruled.
Joshua Johnson entered the drive-through lane of a Wells Fargo in Norfolk, Va., one afternoon in May 2013.
While Johnson waited for the teller to cash his check, the teller contacted police, claiming that a customer was attempting to cash an invalid and possibly stolen check.
When a pair of officers arrived, they blocked Johnson's exit with their cruiser. Unaware that Officer Matthew Williams was standing behind his car, Johnson slowly began reversing out of the drive-through lane, according to the court's summary of the complaint.
Johnson did not hit Williams when he backed up, but Officer Matthew Watson pursued Johnson on foot with his gun drawn and fired 11 times at the vehicle, killing Johnson. One of the shots Watson fired allegedly hit and injured Williams.
U.S. District Judge Raymond Jackson refused to dismiss an excessive-force claim against the officers Friday.
"Plaintiff has alleged sufficient facts to support a theory of culpability against Officer Watson based upon his: (1) positioning his police cruiser directly in front of Johnson's vehicle while it was parked in a confined drive-through lane to make an arrest for a non-violent property crime; (2) acting in concert with his partner for Officer Williams to approach from behind and remain concealed; (3) exiting his police cruiser and brandishing his firearm; (4) taking actions that left Johnson with reverse as his only means of egress; (5) firing his gun even though Officer Williams was yards away from Johnson's vehicle and Johnson was moving as slowly as Officer Watson's pace on foot; and (6) violating a police safety rule prohibiting fire upon a fleeing, unarmed and non-threatening arrestee," the 11-page opinion states.
Local news reported
that Johnson struck and injured Officer Williams.
Jackson said that the facts as alleged could suggest that Officer Watson knew his partner was not in danger of death, and that Officer Williams "manufactured circumstances in which he knew or should have known that Johnson would not see him near the vehicle, and Officer Watson would respond with excessive force to protect him."