Crime and Justice

20-year-old shot by police suffered from mental illness and wanted to be killed, court documents assert

In interviews with detectives later at the hospital, David Johnson said “he called the police because he wanted the police to kill him,” police wrote in an affidavit. File photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

BURLINGTON — A 20-year-old Burlington man who police shot in the leg on Saturday suffered from mental illness and said he wanted to be killed, according to court documents.

David Johnson is being held without bail after pleading not guilty Wednesday afternoon to two charges related to the encounter — aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and reckless endangerment — during an arraignment in Vermont Superior Court. 

He also pleaded not guilty to a charge of domestic assault in connection with a separate incident with a family member two days earlier.

Taken together, the charges could lead to imprisonment for up to seven and a half years and fines of up to $11,000, according to court documents.

Johnson was shot in the leg outside his Manhattan Drive home by Burlington Police Sgt. Simon Bombard, who has worked for the department for seven years, according to Vermont State Police, which is investigating the shooting. Bombard has been placed on paid administrative leave, as is standard practice in such incidents. The Vermont Attorney General’s Office and Chittenden County State’s Attorney’s Office plan to review whether use of force was justified.

Johnson appeared in court Wednesday afternoon in a green and white hospital gown and with a walker. Public defender Stacie Johnson said he has been in treatment for “significant mental health issues” and has no prior criminal record. His aunt wants to serve as a responsible adult for him, the attorney said.

“She feels horribly and definitely does not want him to go to jail,” she said.

David Johnson had surgery and needs medication, including shots to prevent clotting, she added. His aunt was at a loss over where he could go and was brainstorming options, according to his lawyer.

Deputy State’s Attorney Eliza Novick-Smith sought to hold Johnson without bail. Judge Alison Arms said the court would hold him preliminarily but would schedule an evidentiary hearing soon to take up the matter again.

Bombard shot Johnson after he charged at police while holding a knife and made “statements regarding an intent to die,” according to court documents.

Police responded to a 911 call shortly before 3 p.m. Saturday from a male who reported an unspecified emergency at 249 Manhattan Drive. Footage from a body camera worn by Officer Brock Marvin, the first officer at the scene, showed Johnson standing on the sidewalk outside “holding what appears to be a large kitchen knife,” Det. Sgt. James Vooris wrote in an affidavit.

Marvin tried to engage with Johnson, who is known to police from prior incidents, and asked him several times to drop the knife, saying that police were there to help, according to the affidavit. 

Vooris wrote that Johnson replied, “I’m sorry Brock, I’m going to die today.”

About four and a half minutes after officers arrived, Bombard asked another officer to fetch a beanbag and Johnson began to run toward him in the middle of the street, according to the affidavit. 

“As Johnson runs toward Officer Marvin, Officer Marvin fires his taser at Johnson,” Vooris wrote. “Almost simultaneously, Sergeant Bombard fires his service weapon, hitting Johnson. I later learned Johnson was hit one time in his upper leg.”

Johnson fell down near the center of Manhattan Drive and the knife was later recovered from the pavement nearby. He was taken to the University of Vermont Medical Center to be treated for his injuries.

In subsequent interviews with detectives at the hospital, Johnson said “he called the police because he wanted the police to kill him” and “charged at police because he wanted police to shoot him,” Vooris wrote.

Johnson told officers he did not want to hurt anyone, and when he heard police ask for a beanbag, he charged at them because he knew a beanbag would not kill him, Vooris wrote.

Court documents further relate a conversation between police and a relative of Johnson following an incident two days earlier, when she said he hit and bruised her, leading to the domestic assault charge. She also said he had “grabbed her by the neck” in another incident in the last few weeks that she did not report.

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Auditi Guha

About Auditi

Auditi is Chittenden County editor at VTDigger. Originally from Calcutta, India, she graduated from Emerson College with an MA in journalism. She has worked as an editor and reporter for several newspapers, and in various beats. Most recently, she covered race and justice at Rewire.News, and higher education at the New Bedford Standard-Times. She previously worked at several Massachusetts newsrooms. She is a mentor for young reporters through the Report For America program, founded the Boston chapter of the South Asian Journalists Association, and is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists.

Email: [email protected]

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