Prosecutors rule officer-involved shooting justified

SPOKANE, Wash. - Prosecutors have ruled the shooting of a man armed with a BB gun by a Spokane police officer in July was justified.

Jesse Johnson, 24, was in the 1900 block of East Mission in northeast Spokane at 4 a.m. on July 17, pointing the gun at people inside a home and demanding the return of a bicycle. Early 9-1-1 calls indicated he had been walking through the neighborhood firing the weapon which witnesses said looked like a shotgun.

"So far our investigation shows we have at least one witness, possibly more, saying the suspect had pointed what appeared to be a rifle at them," Spokane Police Major Craig Meidl said at the time of the shooting.

When the first officer, Spokane Police Officer Ron Van Tassel arrived at the scene, he ordered Johnson to put the weapon on the ground. Johnson instead put the weapon up to his shoulder and aimed it at another individual. Van Tassel opened fire, striking Johnson once in the leg.

After the shooting it was determined the weapon he had pointed at the person was a BB gun.

Johnson was treated for the gunshot and taken to the hospital, where it was discovered he had a small bag of methamphetamine in his possession. He subsequently recovered from the injury.

This week the Spokane County Prosecutor's Office ruled that Van Tassel's shooting of Johnson was justified.

"Generally speaking if anyone is portraying any weapon as a real weapon we have to believe it's a real weapon and we have to act on that," Deputy Mark Gregory with the Spokane County Sheriff's Office said the day of the shooting.

"If somebody is pointing a weapon that appears to be a real weapon, and they turn around and are portraying it as a real weapon, then we have a duty to protect the citizens at that point or ourselves," he added.

Johnson, who has a long criminal history including a 2007 drive-by shooting, was later charged with multiple counts of possession of controlled substance and assault.