COMSTOCK TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — A Kalamazoo County sheriff’s sergeant shot and killed a man armed with a knife at a gas station near Galesburg early Monday.
The man was identified as R.V. Johnson of Galesburg, born in 1999, Sheriff Richard Fuller said during a press conference Monday afternoon.
Fuller offered his condolences to Johnson’s family, who he said he has met with.
“They are suffering this loss. This is very tragic,” Fuller said.
The shooting happened around 2:45 a.m. at the Shell gas station near the intersection of 35th Street and Miller Drive, north of I-94 in Comstock Township. Fuller said that’s the only public business open 24 hours a day in the eastern half of the county, so it sees a lot of traffic.
The sheriff said Johnson walked into the gas station around 2:36 a.m. and told workers he needed to call 911. They dialed and handed Johnson the phone. He asked dispatchers to send someone to the gas station. A sheriff’s sergeant was dispatched for a “suspicious occurrence,” not knowing what the man wanted.
Body camera footage played at the press conference shows that when the sergeant arrived at the gas station, he was approached by Johnson, who was holding a knife. The sergeant can be heard telling Johnson to drop the knife and repeatedly warning him that he would shoot him if he didn’t.
“Don’t do it, dude. Don’t do it,” the sergeant can be heard saying. “I’ll shoot you, dude. I’ll shoot you.”
The sergeant also radioed to dispatch calling for backup.
The video shows Johnson did not drop the knife and made several steps forward toward the sergeant with the knife held in front of him threateningly.
The sergeant then opened fire, shooting Johnson once. Johnson fell to the ground and can be heard in the body camera video shouting in pain. He died at the scene.
The video shows a little more than a minute passed between the moment the sergeant stepped out of his cruiser and when he fired the shot. Fuller said he would not comment on the distance between the sergeant and Johnson, saying he preferred to wait for the investigation to provide an official measurement.
The sergeant, who Fuller said has been with the department for about 20 years, was not injured. He is on administrative leave while Michigan State Police investigate the use of force. That’s standard procedure.
Asked why the sergeant shot Johnson rather than using a less lethal type of force, Fuller said the answer to that question would have to be answered by the MSP investigation because every situation is different.
“Instead of trying to speculate or start trying to create a narrative around that question, we leave that to the investigation,” Fuller said. “Deputies at the Kalamazoo County Sheriff’s Office go through multiple trainings, we go through de-escalation … we go through a training that is designed to help recognized mental health and try to approach it in a way. We are (trained) on the self-defense of the officer. We are trained in trying to preserve the public safety. There are many different things that have to go into the answer to that question. That question’s going to be asked a lot, and we get that. And so, ultimately, it’s going to take the investigation to help dial down into that a little more for anybody.”
He did, however, note that his sergeant was alone on the scene.
The sheriff said he was not aware of any previous contact between Johnson and his department. He said that while his department’s goal is to preserve life, sometimes that’s not possible.