Kelso Gas Station Shooting: Police Chief Defends Officer’s Decision To Open Fire On Homeless Man

Following a shooting at a Kelso gas station on Wednesday morning, the county’s police chief has defended the decision of the officer involved in the incident to open fire and kill a suspect.

Washington’s Cowlitz County Sheriff Mark Nelson said the officer, who has served with the police for 22 years, had to “respond appropriately.” The suspect had reportedly attacked the officer, a customer, and clerks at the Kelso gas station store with a 2-by-4 stick, AP reported.

“When an officer sees someone who he believes that their life is possibly in danger…they have the right and the responsibility to respond to that. I’m not going to second-guess what the officer did. He was the one who was there,” Nelson said. He added that a Taser or a baton might not have been “an appropriate response” to the situation.

Kelso Gas Station Shooting
Officers walk in a neighborhood in Washington. [Photo by Rachel La Corte/AP Photo]

The officer involved in the Kelso gas station shooting has been identified as John Johnson. According to KPTV, Johnson was responding to a report of shoplifting at the Flying K Gas & Grocery a few minutes after 8 a.m. when the shooting occurred.

The Longview Daily News reported that the suspect, who died at the scene, is a 27-year-old black man from Sudan. An eyewitness at the store when the suspect shoplifted said the man had tried to pay for the things he was carrying, but his card was not accepted. The suspect allegedly ran away from the store with the items he wanted to purchase, prompting the clerk to call the police to report the shoplifting.

While Johnson was reviewing surveillance footage of the shoplifting with a store clerk, the suspect reportedly returned and attacked a customer and a store clerk with a stick. Nelson said Johnson tried to stop the suspect from attacking people with the stick. However, he turned and started striking the officer; injuring him on his head, knee, and arms.

Johnson shot the man afterward. It is unclear how many shots were fired. However, the suspect died on the spot.

Johnson and the store clerks were reportedly taken to the hospital following the Kelso gas station shooting. They have since been released after receiving treatment.

Meanwhile, Longview City and Cowlitz County Police officers are investigating the incident. According to administrative procedures, Johnson had been put on paid leave.

Despite widespread protests across the country against police officers shooting unarmed suspects, Nelson said he is not “worried” that the incident would lead to violent demonstrations, the Longview Daily News reported.

Nelson said protesters are free to “express their thoughts and feelings” about the Kelso gas station shooting.

The suspect shot to death at the Kelso gas station was known to the police, Nelson said. The man, who is said to have been homeless, had reportedly been arrested a few days ago.

An autopsy is expected to be conducted on the late suspect on Friday. Meanwhile, KOIN reported that the Kelso gas station where the shooting occurred is likely going to remain closed until Friday.

Nelson, who expressed confidence in Johnson’s decision to open fire on the suspect, said the officer had been in stressful situations many times.

“When an officer gets to that point, and he says this requires that level of force, well, I’m just glad he’s here to talk about it,” he said.

Johnson was not wearing a body cam at the time of the Kelso gas station shooting, as the county is still testing the technology. Nelson said it is unclear if CCTV footage of the incident is available since the store’s surveillance system was being changed at the time the shooting occurred.

Later on Wednesday, a group of people gathered outside the Kelso gas station where the shooting occurred to say a prayer for the victim.

[Photo by Mat Hayward/Getty Images]