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New Police Reform law secures indictment against Officer in another Virginia killing

  • 06-05-2021 8:34pm
    Registered Users Posts: 80,487 ✭✭✭✭

    The days of Cops always taking things to 11 may be coming to an end,

    This indictment brought to you by a new Virginia state police reform law, requiring not just that an officer 'fear for their life etc.' but also accounts for totality of circumstances, such as whether the officer was the one to escalate a situation into a lethal encounter and whether they took reasonable efforts to de-escalate.

    This officer is charged with murdering a suspect driver on March 30 that drove away from the scene of his investigation at a parking garage. The Police have refused to release the video however it appears the officer positioned themselves in front of the vehicle and used this justification to report they had to kill the driver because they 'sped toward the officer,' but a May 5 revision of the report now says the driver categorically, "drove forward in an attempt to exit the parking lot."

    The officer is out on immediate bond of $25,000 - avoiding the embarrassment of a public record mugshot. His charges are murder and other incidentals.

    The VA State Police have thus far refused to release footage of an incident they initially appear to have falsely reported on.
    State police claim the events unfolded when the Bristol Police Department was called to investigate a report of gunshots at a motel at about 4:30 in the morning on March 30. Jonathen B. Kohler, 31, of neighboring Bristol, Tenn., refused to get out of the driver’s seat of a 1994 Ford Mustang in the parking lot.

    An original state police press release dated March 30 described what authorities originally claimed happened (emphases added): “Kohler refused to exit his vehicle, despite repeated commands by the officers. He then put the Mustang into drive and sped towards one of the officers. The officer fired at the suspect vehicle as it came at him. Kohler died at the scene. No officers were injured during the incident, which remains under investigation at this time.”

    A May 5 correction issued by the state police says “officers were verbally engaged with Kohler,” who “backed up and then drove forward in an attempt to exit the parking lot, at which point one of the officers fired at Kohler’s vehicle.”

    At least 3 shots were fired, 2 through the windshield and one through the driver side window.

    What's more interesting about the indictment though is it's the first time an Officer in this town has been charged with a shooting in 118 years, and it comes 29 days after a new police reform law went into effect:

    § 19.2-83.5. (Effective March 1, 2021) Use of deadly force by a law-enforcement officer during an arrest or detention.
    A. A law-enforcement officer shall not use deadly force against a person unless:

    1. The law-enforcement officer reasonably believes that deadly force is immediately necessary to protect the law-enforcement officer or another person, other than the subject of the use of deadly force, from the threat of serious bodily injury or death;

    2. If feasible, the law-enforcement officer has provided a warning to the subject of the deadly force that he will use deadly force;

    3. The law-enforcement officer's actions are reasonable, given the totality of the circumstances; and

    4. All other options have been exhausted or do not reasonably lend themselves to the circumstances.

    B. In determining if a law-enforcement officer's use of deadly force is proper, the following factors shall be considered:

    1. The reasonableness of the law-enforcement officer's belief and actions from the perspective of a reasonable law-enforcement officer on the scene at the time of the incident; and

    2. The totality of the circumstances, including (i) the amount of time available to the law-enforcement officer to make a decision; (ii) whether the subject of the use of deadly force (a) possessed or appeared to possess a deadly weapon and (b) refused to comply with the law-enforcement officer's lawful order to surrender an object believed to be a deadly weapon prior to the law-enforcement officer using deadly force; (iii) whether the law-enforcement officer engaged in de-escalation measures prior to the use of deadly force, including taking cover, waiting for backup, trying to calm the subject prior to the use of force, or using non-deadly force prior to the use of deadly force; (iv) whether any conduct by the law-enforcement officer prior to the use of deadly force intentionally increased the risk of a confrontation resulting in deadly force being used; and (v) the seriousness of the suspected crime.

    2020, Sp. Sess. I, c. 37.

    The old use of force policy dated 2014 read as follows:
    An officer may use deadly force only when the officer reasonably believes that the action is:

    a. In defense of human life, including the officer’s life, or

    b. In defense of any person in immediate danger of serious physical injury, or

    c. In the apprehension of a fleeing felon, when:

    1. The officer has probable cause to believe that the suspect has committed a felony and poses a significant immediate threat of serious physical injury or death to the officer or to other persons, and

    2. The officer has identified himself as a police officer, and given notice of his intention to arrest (time and circumstances permitting), and

    3. All other reasonable means of apprehension have been exhausted before deadly force is used.

    Which is the use of force policy generally argued as to why officers should be shooting at runaway drivers, people fleeing, etc. - the new policy places an equal 'totality of circumstances' onus on the officer. For example, if an officer given all of the circumstances was found to have been the escalator of lethal and physical force. Under the old rule a cop could, within these bounds, take any situation they wanted to 11, and from there it's up to the suspect to try and react to that escalation in a way where they don't end up dead (as is so often the case, and as it is the case here if we assume the prosecutions case is fully correct).

    The officer will still get their day in court, naturally, however it is something to celebrate that the officers will more and more be summoned to those days in court.
    “We do not condone, nor will we tolerate the unnecessary use of force by our police officers,” said a joint news release by Bristol City Manager and Attorney Randall Eads and Bristol Mayor Bill Hartley. “There is a time and place for the use of force, and force must be used sparingly and within the bounds of the law.”

    A special state prosecutor was appointed to manage this criminal investigation into the officer's conduct. The officer is Johnathan Richard Brown and the victim is Jonathen B. Kohler, 31, RIP.


  • Registered Users Posts: 8,085 ✭✭✭Quantum Erasure

    So, not Virginia county Cavan then?

  • Registered Users Posts: 1,185 ✭✭✭hawley

    Bodycams have made a massive difference in how we see cops behavior being held accountable. They can no longer hide and cover each others violence. If it wasn't for a bystander's footage, the George Floyd might never have become such an issue. They need to check themselves.

  • Registered Users Posts: 80,487 ✭✭✭✭Overheal

    TIL that officers murder trial just started today. He was already indicted by a grand jury when the OP was made

    Post edited by Overheal on

  • Registered Users Posts: 80,487 ✭✭✭✭Overheal

    And judging by the fact his department doesn’t even want to say whether they cleared him of wrongdoing, or even if he is still employed by the department, it doesn’t look like they have confidence this officer will walk out of this.

  • Registered Users Posts: 40,013 ✭✭✭✭ohnonotgmail

    Or maybe they don't want to release that information in case it prejudices the trial?

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  • Posts: 1,010 ✭✭✭[Deleted User]

    You should post some up to date articles from the trial. No evidence presented by the prosecution to show murder. The prosecution witnesses are more like defence witnesses. Dead man revving up the car before accelarating at the police officer. CCTV showing dead man firing five shots at the motel from his car. It seems this policeman is being prosecuted to stop rioting.

  • Registered Users Posts: 11,758 ✭✭✭✭BattleCorp

    There'd be no rioting. The person shot was white.

  • Registered Users Posts: 22,792 ✭✭✭✭pjohnson

  • Registered Users Posts: 80,487 ✭✭✭✭Overheal

    so, why didn’t you post any links which claim the prosecution “presented no evidence?” #doubt

    Had the prosecution presented no evidence there would be no trial (see: what is a grand jury?). It’s gone on for over seated 3 days already

    I think it’s amusing the defense focused on the cars modification. As though it makes you a murderer to modify your engine. Arrest my brother his Jetta has a +30 HP factory tune up. My dad has a K&N exhaust system, take him away boys. Geez.

    Post edited by Overheal on

  • Registered Users Posts: 80,487 ✭✭✭✭Overheal

    Re: 'arrested for politics' 'no evidence of murder'

    Defense's motion to dismiss was already denied, and the above 2 claims are false. You can't sustain an indictment for murder in the first place unless a Grand Jury supported it to begin with, requiring a modicum of evidence. As detailed in the OP the officer was arrested for clearly breaching the use of force laws in the state of Virginia. The motion rested on information the defendants did not have at the time of the incident.

    The defense, however, filed a motion to strike the case, which would dismiss all charges against Brown. Judge Sage Johnson denied that motion, saying that the responding officers were not aware that Kohler was under the influence of methamphetamine and armed at the time of the shooting.

    Brown’s defense referred to the incident as a “classic felon fleeing case” and said, “when Mr. Kohler stomped the gas pedal, he pulled the trigger.” In a citation of preceding cases, Brown’s defense said a vehicle fleeing a scene is a display of “homicidal intent.” The defense claimed that there was not time for Brown or the other officers to deescalate the situation.

    The defense further argued that the Commonwealth had jumped the gun by indicting Brown before the investigation into the shooting was complete.

    The prosecution argued that a reasonable person would not have acted in the way Brown did by stepping in front of a moving vehicle or by shooting six times. In response, the defense said that the prosecution had presented no evidence to suggest Brown’s actions were unreasonable.

    Perhaps you were referring to this bit @ChocolateIce ?

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  • Registered Users Posts: 11,758 ✭✭✭✭BattleCorp

    The defence have more evidence than just a modified car. Motel resident Marianne Perkey testified that the Mustang drove toward Brown before he fired.

    I don't think this case is the slam dunk you think it is.

  • Registered Users Posts: 80,487 ✭✭✭✭Overheal

    Of course it drove toward him, he is evidenced as jumping in front of it. That’s the crux of the whole case if you hadn’t recalled.

  • Registered Users Posts: 11,758 ✭✭✭✭BattleCorp

    Very little info is available over here on how the trial is going. The website seems to be keeping up-to-date but it isn't available here in Ireland. Normally you'd have loads of mainstream media sites covering it but when you google Jonathan Brown trial you mostly get old links.

  • Registered Users Posts: 40,013 ✭✭✭✭ohnonotgmail

    this is the latest report on the trial I can see. The guy spells his name as Johnathon not Jonathon which may be why you are having trouble any links

  • Registered Users Posts: 11,758 ✭✭✭✭BattleCorp

    Cheers. I'll take a look at it now. Thanks.

  • Posts: 0 [Deleted User]

    its ridiculous at this stage, every second thread is yank politics

    i wonder do ppl realise they dont live in the US at all?

  • Registered Users Posts: 11,758 ✭✭✭✭BattleCorp

    Some of us are interested in stuff like this. If it's not your cup of tea, so be it.

  • Registered Users Posts: 40,013 ✭✭✭✭ohnonotgmail

    The poster who started the thread does live in the US I believe. and some of us are interested.

  • Registered Users Posts: 80,487 ✭✭✭✭Overheal

    Johnathan* Brown, actually. As a Jonathan myself I find my eyes involuntarily rolling when I see everyone spell it the wrong way, but I digress.

    This is the latest article I found from 2 hours ago

    Won't take the stand but that's not uncommon, and their right.

    And Monday Recap:

    BRISTOL, Va. (WCYB) — The defense for Bristol, Virginia Police Officer Jonathan Brown continued calling witnesses Monday. He is accused of murder in the on-duty killing of Jonathen Kohler in March 2021.

    The first witness called to the stand Monday morning, was Dr. Trista Wright, a Toxicologist with the Virginia Department of Forensic Science. She told members of the jury she had received a sample of Jonathen Kohler’s blood from the medical examiner. Wright testified there were several drugs in Kohler’s system, including methamphetamine, none of which were prescribed. She said the illicit use of meth could result in a person acting fidgety, have periods of irrational behavior and paranoid psychosis.

    The defense also called Eric Hinchey to the stand. In March 2021, Hinchey was employed by the Bristol, Virginia Police Department, working as an officer. He is no longer a member of the police force and is now pursuing a career as an independent contractor. He told members of the jury he was working in the early morning hours of March 30, 2021, when the report of shots fired at the Rodeway Inn came in. He said when he responded to the area, he was attempting to locate a sliver pickup truck that witnesses had reported seeing leave the motel when they called 911 after hearing shots. That vehicle was later determined to not be involved in this case. When Hinchey arrived in the parking lot of the Rodeway Inn, it was after Officer Brown had fired his weapon at Kohler. He testified he then worked to secure the scene and keep members of the public away. Hinchey also spoke with and questioned Summer Cook, at the scene. Cook who was at the motel, was the girlfriend of Kohler. The defense told jury members last week, that Kohler threatened to shoot 18 rounds through the window of the motel room his girlfriend was staying in and then threatened to “shoot up the motel.” Hinchey also told jury members at the time of this incident, his body camera was not working correctly, and did not record the events at the Rodeway Inn.

    Following Hinchey, Bristol, Virginia Police Chief John Austin testified. He told members of the jury he considers the Rodeway Inn a dangerous place and a haven for drug use. Heather Howard, representing Brown, asked Austin to look up data as to how many times police have been dispatched to the motel. Austin said between February 2021 and March 2022, police were dispatched 307 times. Austin also said that officers within the department are trained to respond to shots fired calls as if they are active shooter situations, until it can be determined otherwise. He testified that on March 30, 2021, he arrived at the scene 20 to 30 minutes after he received the call that Officer Brown had fired his weapon. He said he then checked on Brown and told him not to speak to anyone. The prosecution pressed Austin, asking if there was a delay contacting the Virginia State Police to come in and do an independent investigation, but he said he did not believe there was a delay.

    In addition to Austin and Hinchey, the defense also called Bristol, Virginia Police Officers Timothy Sizemore and Christopher Stine to testify. Officers recapped the events of March 30, 2021, while listening to 911 dispatch calls and body camera video from the event. Stine and Sizemore testified it was an intense and stressful situation, with Kohler being non-compliant at times. Stine told members of the jury it was hard for him to articulate how stressful the call was and how quickly the events unfolded. He did testify Officer Brown fired his weapon because his life was in an imminent threat of danger, and said Kohler attempted to run Brown over when he quickly accelerated his Mustang.

    Several of the officers involved also mentioned they had some issues with their body cameras – either forgetting to turn them on when first arriving on scene – or the cameras not recording any video.

    The defense will continue to call witnesses to the stand on Tuesday.

    Will probably be after midnight GMT before a full tuesday summary is available. I can't imagine the defense will take a lot more time before resting its case though, then closing arguments. Ordinarily I'd say he will walk, but VA's new Use of Force rules may factor primarily.

  • Registered Users Posts: 11,758 ✭✭✭✭BattleCorp

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  • Posts: 1,010 ✭✭✭[Deleted User]

    the appropriate verdict. food for thought,.. as a police officer in the US you can be brought to trial for murder, abandoned by your own police department, for defending yourself from a psychopathic drugged up known criminal, who just emptied a gun at a hotel, who backs up his souped up car, revs the engine , then guns towards you. Luckily the officer had a rifle instead of a sidearm or he would be dead

  • Registered Users Posts: 11,758 ✭✭✭✭BattleCorp

    To be perfectly honest, I haven't followed this case as closely as I'd have liked because it was hard to get detailed info on the case over here so I didn't get to read much of the evidence that was given.

    That said, if someone revs a car and drives in the direction of an officer, whether trying to flee or trying to drive over the officer, the fact that the car is heading in the direction of the officer potentially puts the officer's life in danger. And I'm in favour of officers being allowed to defend themselves if they genuinely feel that they are in danger. So yeah, I'm inclined to think it was the right decision based on the very limited information I have on the case.

  • Registered Users Posts: 80,487 ✭✭✭✭Overheal

    His Dept never abandoned him though? Many of them took the stand in his defence incl. his Chief.

    In practice I think there should be judicial oversight when an officer has to kill someone though. Police already have to appear in court as a routine of the job so I don't see it as abhorrent or unfair they may be called to defend themselves for actions that may appear legally questionable.

    With Virginia's new use of force law, a Jury essentially had to decide if, given the Totality of Circumstances clause, was the officer reasonable to use lethal force, or should he have jumped out of the way etc; and the officers and some of the witnesses iirc gave every indication at trial (and so did the deceased themself) that the deceased was a danger to himself, to the officer, and to the general public.

    2. The totality of the circumstances, including (i) the amount of time available to the law-enforcement officer to make a decision; (ii) whether the subject of the use of deadly force (a) possessed or appeared to possess a deadly weapon and (b) refused to comply with the law-enforcement officer's lawful order to surrender an object believed to be a deadly weapon prior to the law-enforcement officer using deadly force; (iii) whether the law-enforcement officer engaged in de-escalation measures prior to the use of deadly force, including taking cover, waiting for backup, trying to calm the subject prior to the use of force, or using non-deadly force prior to the use of deadly force; (iv) whether any conduct by the law-enforcement officer prior to the use of deadly force intentionally increased the risk of a confrontation resulting in deadly force being used; and (v) the seriousness of the suspected crime.

    He didn't know how methed up the guy was, but he knew a lot about the situation in real time according to testimony: shots fired, deadly weapon possession (firearm & incl. the vehicle); verbal refusal to comply evidenced on bodycam footage; etc.

    Reportedly the prosecution made point that it was a Shots Fired call, not a murder call or active shooter call (part (v) the seriousness of the suspected crime); their Chief testified it's a house policy of theirs to treat calls with multiple shots etc. as an active shooting.

  • Registered Users Posts: 11,758 ✭✭✭✭BattleCorp

    I'm not a fan of the whole 'suspended without pay' thing. Surely if one is considered innocent until proven guilty, Brown should have been paid while he was on suspension?

    Will he get back-pay for the time he was on suspension?

  • Registered Users Posts: 80,487 ✭✭✭✭Overheal

    There's probably a clause in his union contract to get it back. The Department wouldn't confirm if he was still a member of the force recently though.

  • Registered Users Posts: 11,758 ✭✭✭✭BattleCorp

    That system seems very unfair. He'd nearly be forced to leave the force to seek employment elsewhere as he has to make a living somehow.

  • Registered Users Posts: 80,487 ✭✭✭✭Overheal

    Suppose they had been found guilty though. This still made it to trial.

    I don't know what the rules all are for Virginia or Bristol but I'm confident the city will get him all his back pay if not with interest.

  • Registered Users Posts: 11,758 ✭✭✭✭BattleCorp

    I think it's unfair to penalise him before he has been found guilty. Remember, he has a constitutional right to be presumed innocent until a court determines otherwise. The fact that this made it to trial is irrelevant. He's just as innocent now as if this had never got to trial. And yeah, I know that he wasn't found innocent, he was found not guilty but you know the point I am trying to make.

    My thinking is that he should be paid while he is on suspension. Yeah, it's a pain in the face if he's found guilty knowing that he was paid money for nothing while on suspension but as the saying goes "That it is better 100 guilty persons should escape than that one innocent person should suffer, is a maxim that has been long and generally approved". Benjamin Franklin.