The mother of a 24-year-old man who was killed in an alleged shoot-out with a St. Paul police officer is suing Ramsey County to have the investigation into her son’s death expedited and to have additional evidence released.
Howard Johnson died on Dec. 5, after police were called to a domestic violence incident. The caller said Johnson was armed. According to police, the officer’s body cam recorded him saying Johnson was trying to steal a car at gunpoint. The officer then hit Johnson with the squad car, knocking him to the ground, and got out of the vehicle. Johnson then got off the ground before the officer fired his service pistol multiple times, killing Johnson. Police maintain that Johnson was armed and shot at the officer first, prompting the officer to return fire. The body camera footage does not make it clear who fired first.
Howard Johnson’s mother, Monique Johnson, sued St. Paul, Ramsey County and Minnesota on May 18, claiming she has the right to the footage and the files related to her son’s death. Her lawsuit asserts that state law gives crime victims and their families the right to all materials related to those files. The Ramsey County Attorney’s Office is in possession of the files, but is refusing Johnson’s request because it is still investigating the shooting. The Bureau of Criminal Apprehension gave the Attorney’s office the files in February.
The family’s attorney, Paul Bosman, says that the county attorney is stalling, making it even more difficult for the family to pursue justice.
“There is a clock running, almost every time, with two or three exceptions in the state of Minnesota’s history, that a police officer has been charged in a police killing,” Bosman said. “Otherwise, if you’re ever going to get the whole story about what happened to your loved one, you’re going to get it in civil court. But you only have three years to do it.”
Bosman says that the BCA investigation typically takes 10–14 months, and leaves the grieving family two years to read the report, organize a narrative of police misconduct, and find a lawyer to take the case. He says that the files related to the case can be released to the family unless the county attorney believes that it will interfere with the investigation.
“That’s what happened with the case of Monique Johnson,” Bosman said. “The Ramsey County Attorney says you can’t have that because we may have to conduct an independent investigation before we make a charging decision, and we don’t want your client messing up our investigation.”
Bosman says that the county’s practices limit families' ability to find closure and to get the whole story of their loved ones’ deaths.