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Armed man reportedly told St. Petersburg police 'I hope I die'

ST. PETERSBURG — John Alfred "Smoky" Johnson lay dying when he bitterly complimented the officers who had just shot him:

"Good job," Johnson reportedly said. "I hope I die."

That's according to the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office report released Wednesday that cleared three St. Petersburg police officers who shot and killed Johnson on Dec. 26.

The prosecutor's report painted Johnson as a man intent on killing — and being killed — during the armed confrontation with officers.

And it all started with a beer.

Johnson, 49, was a longtime city employee who hadn't been in trouble with the law for two decades. But he was also known for his temper and for carrying a gun, the report states.

He met up with Ben Ware outside an apartment building in the 3600 block of 18th Ave. S. Ware threw him a beer, but it missed Johnson's hand. Johnson thought it was an intentional slight.

"You're going to make me one day kill you," Johnson said, according to Ware.

Johnson walked away, but returned, the report stated, quietly walked up to Ware and shot him in the leg with a .25-caliber pistol in front of witnesses.

"I done drawn your blood," said Johnson, according to Ware. "Now I got to kill you."

Johnson shot him four more times. Officer George W. Graves said he pulled up and saw an armed Johnson standing over Ware. But Johnson refused to drop his gun, saying: "You're going to have to shoot me."

Soon, Johnson was in a standoff with Graves and Officers Michael F. Karayianes and Michael J. Romano near 18th Terrace S and 38th Street.

According to the officers and other witnesses, a defiant Johnson said he wouldn't return to "prison" or "jail" and repeated: "You're going to have to shoot me." Johnson then turned toward the officers, they said, and raised his gun to waist level.

The officers fired five .40-caliber slugs at him from 25 to 35 feet away. Three hit Johnson. The ruling: "justifiable homicide."

The officers "had reason to believe that their lives … were in danger," wrote State Attorney Bernie McCabe.

Ware survived.

The report also addressed two contentious points:

Why would Johnson say he wasn't going back to "prison" when he had never been there? The State Attorney's Office surmised that Johnson simply meant he didn't want to go to prison for shooting Ware.

What of the witness who claimed Johnson wasn't armed and had his hands up when he was shot, which contradicted other witnesses?

That witness later admitted his statements were "false," according to the report, and so were the names he gave to police and the newspaper. Marvin Williford, 24, said he lied to "get in the newspaper." He was arrested on outstanding warrants.

Armed man reportedly told St. Petersburg police 'I hope I die' 01/20/10 [Last modified: Thursday, January 21, 2010 8:31am]
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