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BWC: Man armed with hammer, knife charges at Idaho officers before fatal OIS

The man, who was suffering a mental health crisis, hurled threats at officers as he ran toward them with knife and hammer raised

Welfare check ended in fatal Boise police shooting. Department has since updated policy

“Christian was armed and belligerent, in the middle of the parking lot of a large apartment complex ... with members of the public going about their daily activities. Christian posed a threat to himself and/or the public and refused to obey the officers’ lawful commands,” Fredback wrote in his report.

Police Activity

By Sally Krutzig
The Idaho Statesman

BOISE, Idaho — Two Boise police officers knew the man they fatally shot last August was likely going through a mental health crisis, according to newly released reports, and recently updated Boise Police Department policy could have led to alternate tactics being employed that day.

The Office of Police Accountability found that officers were justified in their use of force but could have responded differently in light of the man’s mental state. Blaine County Prosecuting Attorney Matthew Fredback reviewed the Ada County Critical Incident Task Force’s report and said that the shooting was justifiable under Idaho law, and that given the circumstances, the officers “had a legal duty to intervene.”

On Tuesday, the Boise Police Department released those reports, in addition to a letter from the prosecutor and police body camera footage. Boise Office of Police Accountability Director Nicole McKay published her office’s use of force findings separately.

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Police Activity

Christian Johnson, 54, of Boise, died Aug. 3 on the 110 block of South Dale Street after police shot him at the Morrison Park Apartments where he lived, the Idaho Statesman previously reported. Johnson was armed with a knife and other weapons, and ran at the officers while threatening violence.

“Christian was armed and belligerent, in the middle of the parking lot of a large apartment complex ... with members of the public going about their daily activities. Christian posed a threat to himself and/or the public and refused to obey the officers’ lawful commands,” Fredback wrote in his report.

Reports outline events leading up to shooting

Johnson made multiple 911 calls the day of the shooting, mentioning fears of stalking, someone trying to kill him with a “social media event” and men outside his home, according to the OPA report and audio released by police. A dispatcher also thought Johnson said something about a gun, according to the report and police.

Police said Cpl. Andrew Johnson and Officer Garrett Miller went to conduct a welfare check on Johnson at 10:59 a.m. Miller had conducted a welfare check on Johnson earlier that week, at which time Johnson told Miller that he had “smoked a bunch of meth” and not slept in days, according to police.

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In an unrecorded call while en route, Cpl. Johnson called Johnson and asked whether he needed help, but he was unresponsive on the call, police said. New policies put in place since the incident would have required law enforcement to record that call.

Shortly after the officers’ arrival, Johnson came out of his second-floor apartment and walked down the stairs armed with a 12-inch knife in his right hand, and a metal pry bar and hammer in his left, according to reports. Police body camera video showed this as well.

Cpl. Johnson got out of his car and approached the man. As he did, the officer “heard Christian Johnson say something about a gun,” police said. He also heard Johnson say, “Sir, you want to just take me out” and “I’ll rush you.”

At one point, Johnson pointed the knife at his own stomach, according to the accountability report.

Police said officers repeatedly commanded Johnson to drop the weapons, but he refused. He ran at the officers with his weapons raised and yelled that he would kill them, and both Cpl. Johnson and Miller fired their weapons.

“The officers ordered Christian to drop the weapons 12 separate times to avoid any violence. Christian refused to comply,” the prosecutor’s report noted.

The task force report showed that Johnson was on parole for felony DUI at the time of the incident, “had a history of alcohol and other substance abuse, and a criminal history that included convictions for aggravated assault, resisting and obstructing officers, and attempted robbery.” He also had an ongoing dispute with a neighbor whose window he was charged with breaking.

The police department’s internal review came to the same conclusions as the reports.

“Cpl. Johnson and Ofc. Miller were each faced with an immediate threat to their lives and their use of lethal force in response to that immediate threat was reasonable and did not violate applicable law,” the Boise Police Department concluded.

New policies to change how police respond

The Office of Police Accountability agreed that officers were justified and broke no laws, but said they could have done more to de-escalate the situation.

The office noted in its report that police understood Johnson was in crisis based on phone calls and recent interactions with him.

“Cpl. Johnson recognized that Mr. Johnson was likely having an emotional, mental health, or other type of crisis, could be under the influence of illegal substances, and offered to help him obtain counseling, medical treatment, or other community resources,” the report stated.

People who knew Johnson later told task force investigators that they thought he was struggling with “recent mental health issues.”

As this was a welfare check, officers did not need to go to Johnson’s home and engage with him immediately, according to the OPA report. It suggested the situation could have played out differently had police created a plan beforehand and utilized resources such as Johnson’s parole officer, BPD’s Behavioral Health Response Team and “less-lethal force options” to address the call.

“Because the officers recognized the elevated risk factors, OPA concludes that they could have slowed down, made plans, prepared for predictable contingencies and possibly influenced the sequence of events or the necessity for use of force,” the OPA report stated.

Officers had the time and space to “attempt verbal de-escalation techniques, such as engaging in conversation with gathered intelligence, without increasing officer safety risks,” but they “continued only to give commands to drop the weapons,” according to the OPA report.

The Boise Police Department added a new subsection last month to its use of force policy that mandates officers “must respect the sanctity of all human life.” OPA said that section could have changed how police responded.

“An analysis of this critical incident under these updated policies would have required a demonstration of tactics to prepare offsite, gather intelligence, call for appropriate resources, preplan, and designate roles to allow time, distance, and flexibility for the situation to resolve, and if unfeasible, documentation of the justification,” the OPA report stated.

The accountability report ended by acknowledging how many changes the police department has made since last August. Under new policies, the department is training all of its officers on how to plan, gather appropriate resources, control the pace, communicate, de-escalate and document.

OPA said it would not make additional recommendations until it has seen how the new training affects the use of force going forward.

“The loss of Mr. Johnson’s life is extremely unfortunate, and we hope others in crisis can get the help and resources they need to stabilize their lives and behaviors prior to getting to the point where a deadly threat is made to others, including police officers,” Boise Police Chief Ron Winegar said in a news release.

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