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Some questions remain after St. Petersburg police shooting

ST. PETERSBURG — Some questions remain unanswered as the investigation into Saturday's fatal police shooting continues.

One question in particular may never be answered.

Why would a man who has never been in prison tell police he wouldn't go back to prison just before officers shot him?

John Alfred Johnson was fatally shot after a confrontation with three St. Petersburg officers, according to police.

Johnson had just gunned down a man he was feuding with, police said. Then he ran from officers and refused to drop his gun before they opened fire. He died at a hospital that evening.

"According to initial statements from witnesses, Johnson told the officers that he was not going back to prison and told them they would have to shoot him," said the official statement.

Yet Johnson, 49, has never been in prison, records show. His family contacted the St. Petersburg Times to emphasize this. Police confirmed it.

Records show Johnson was arrested three times in 30 years, the last 19 years ago. The most time he spent behind bars was two days in the county jail in 1987.

Did Johnson mistake jail for prison? Did he actually mean that he wouldn't surrender or be taken into custody? What did he really say or mean?

"I really don't have an explanation at this juncture why he would make a comment about not wanting to go back to prison," said police spokesman Bill Proffitt. "Hopefully, the investigation will clarify that."

Police won't release any more details about the shooting until the investigation is completed — and that could take two months.

Nor did the agency comment on the account of a witness who said he saw Johnson unarmed, his hands up, before he was shot. Police say Johnson was armed and ignored commands to drop his weapon. Officers shot him twice in the stomach and once in the hand.

Police said the man Johnson shot, Ben Ware, suffered injuries not considered life threatening. His family has directed hospital officials not to release information about his condition.

The officers involved in the shooting — George W. Graves, 26, Michael F. Karayianes, 26, and Michael J. Romano, 29 — were placed on restricted duty until the investigation is done.

According to police, Johnson and Ware's weekslong feud turned into a brawl, then a shooting at 18th Avenue S and 37th Street about 2:30 p.m. Saturday.

Johnson spent 27 years working for the city's Stormwater, Pavement and Traffic Operations Department. His supervisors always gave him glowing reviews. He was called polite, dedicated, a thinker and hard working.

Yet he was cited 14 times for misconduct. He often missed work, earning complaints of chronic absenteeism. In 2005 he showed up for work after drinking, records show, and was driven home by a co-worker.

Times staff writer Cristina Silva contributed to this report.

Some questions remain after St. Petersburg police shooting 12/31/09 [Last modified: Thursday, December 31, 2009 9:45pm]
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