FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM) – A Fort Worth police officer’s fate was in the hands of a jury on Wednesday, but the panel could not agree and a mistrial was declared before the lunch hour.
Officer Courtney Johnson was charged with aggravated assault after shooting a man who was holding a barbecue fork.
The victim in the case survived, but Johnson was facing life in prison if he had been found guilty.
After the mistrial District Attorney Sharen Wilson released a statement that said:
“In our constitutional system of justice, we trust juries to make decisions in every trial based on the law and the evidence in each individual case. The jury carefully considered this case and was unable to reach a unanimous verdict. We will consider the jury’s inability to reach a verdict and the evidence presented at trial to decide whether a retrial is justified.”
It was two years ago when Johnson show Craigory Adams in the arm. The 35-year-old officer was responding to a call about a prowler who was armed with a knife. It turns out that Adams, who is mentally challenged, was actually holding onto a barbecue fork.
During the trial, Johnson testified that Adams was not obeying commands when confronted, so he grabbed his shotgun from the car and took the safety off. The defense has claimed that, as Johnson pumped the shotgun with his left hand to get Adams’ attention, an involuntary reflex in his right hand caused him to pull the trigger.
Johnson’s attorney, Jim Lane, told the jury, “You have to look at it from his standpoint, not from your standpoint, not from Mr. Mitchell’s standpoint, but from his standpoint… a person in his situation, an officer on the ground in a very difficult situation.”
Prosecutors said that the supposed unintentional discharge should never have happened. “Whether you were holding a handgun, a shotgun or a sandwich, it’s possible and they were taught on that. He was taught about that. Which is why it’s so important to keep your safety engaged until you made a conscious decision to fire,” said Tarrant County prosecutor Tamla Ray.=
The jury began their second day of deliberations at the Tim Curry Criminal Justice Center on Wednesday morning and after a few hours told the judge they were unable to agree on a verdict. The defense asked for a mistrial, but Judge Wayne Salvant initially denied that request. Even after the prosecution asked for an Allen charge, meant to persuade jurors to reach a decision and get those in the minority to reconsider, the group was still deadlocked 5 to 7.
The City of Fort Worth released the following statement on the trial:
“Clearly, this was a challenging set of circumstances for the jurors to evaluate, but we have faith in the judicial process. These events have deeply affected both the Adams and Johnson families, and we know it’s stressful that a final decision could not be reached. Questions about a retrial should be directed to the District Attorney’s office.”