Dallas shooter ostracised over army incident

2016-07-16 16:13
(File, AP)

(File, AP)

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Dallas - He was disarmed in the middle of a war zone and placed under 24-hour escort. The most humiliating part was that everyone in Micah Johnson's unit in Afghanistan knew why: He was accused of stealing a female soldier's panties.

Johnson's aspirations to a military career were over. Now he faced removal from the Army. The well-liked, easygoing young black man whose friendships were described as colour blind was suddenly deeply shamed and ostracised.

People who knew him, both before and after, say he was never the same.

Remembered by friends

Authorities have described Johnson as a loner who shot and killed five officers in downtown Dallas during last week's peaceful protest over police shootings nationwide.

President Barack Obama, at a memorial for the victims, called him "demented".

But in multiple interviews, the Mississippi-born, Texas-bred 25-year-old was remembered by friends, comrades and acquaintances as a gregarious, even "goofy" extrovert.

Johnson wasn't the best marksman, a fellow Army Reserve buddy recalled and his former squad leader described him as less than motivated during training.

But in Dallas, he showed striking tactical effectiveness, video from the scene shows. He moved stealthily, used columns for cover and swivelled his head to watch corners for threats.

Younger brother

As a boy in a Dallas suburb with friends of all backgrounds, Johnson dreamed of being a police officer or a soldier, relatives said.

His school transcripts show he struggled academically when he changed school districts a decade after his parents' 1996 divorce. He failed some courses but graduated in 2009 with a 1.98 grade-point average, ranking 430 out of 453 students in his class.

Close high school friends also described a different Johnson than the shooter in the shadows.

"He was the goofy guy. He always had something funny to say. He didn't have a care in the world," said Stanlee Washington, who now lives in California. Johnson cared deeply about his friends and family, especially his younger brother who had autism, Washington added.

Johnson would sometimes try to talk politics, said Jake Hunt, who became friends with Johnson shortly after transferring to Dr John D Horn High School in Mesquite when he was 17.

"We weren't big partiers. We just hung out with each other," he added. "If something happened in the news, he'd try and talk about it. But we tried to stay away from it."

Military prosecution

In July 2014, Johnson was sent home from Afghanistan.

Johnson originally faced removal from the Army altogether, said Texas-based defence attorney Bradford Glendening, which was "highly unusual" since sexual harassment cases typically wind up with a soldier receiving counselling. The case ended in September 2014, when Johnson signed paperwork agreeing to receive a "less than honourable" discharge from the Army, Glendening said.

But Johnson wasn't discharged until April 2015, and Glendening said last week he was told that Johnson received an honourable discharge.

The Army has not released Johnson's discharge forms and has refused to answer any questions while it reviews the case. Glendening is no longer discussing the case either, saying he could face military prosecution if he violates a gag order.

By April 2015, Johnson headed to the streets of downtown Dallas for a protest that brought many anti-police brutality groups together over the death of Freddie Gray, who died after his neck was broken inside the prisoner compartment of a Baltimore police van.

Yafeuh Balogun, who helped found the Dallas-based Huey P Newton Gun Club, said he met Johnson there through a mutual friend, but that they didn't discuss much beyond the day's protest. The gun club presses for accountability reforms at the Dallas Police Department and has carried out armed citizen patrols of Dallas neighbourhoods, Balogun said.

Balogun came away with an impression that Johnson was a "cool, level-headed person" who was exploring contemporary black nationalism.

Police report

"When you are in the beginning phase of consciousness, you go to a lot of lectures because you are looking to find someone to follow," he said. "That was what Micah was doing."

But Johnson never joined the gun club, Balogun added.

In May 2015, a month after Johnson was discharged, he and three other men were questioned by police in suburban Richardson responding to a "suspicious person" report while they were sitting in a black Chevrolet Tahoe, according to a police report.

Johnson explained he was waiting for his dad to arrive to pick up his brother, the report shows, and that he'd "just gotten out of a class at a nearby self-defence school."

The school, just a few doors down from where he was stopped, touts courses that include special tactics such as "shooting from different positions," ''shooting around barriers" and "speed & tactical reloading".

Justin J Everman, owner of the Academy of Combative Warrior Arts, said Johnson took hand-to-hand combat classes but "did not train any firearms with us" and "didn't learn any tactics from us".

Two handguns

Johnson's father recalled conversations with his son about police brutality, the distrust he had of officers and injustice he perceived in the world. But neither of Johnson's parents said he talked about killing police.

Then, on July 5 came the death of 37-year-old Alton Sterling, as two white officers pinned him to the pavement outside a convenience store in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, one of more than 500 fatal police shootings by on-duty officers in 2016, according to The Washington Post.

Sterling's death was followed the next day with a Facebook live-stream video of 32-year-old Philando Castile being shot and killed by an officer during a traffic stop in suburban Minneapolis.

On the evening of July 7, a diverse crowd of hundreds of protesters gathered in downtown Dallas for a Black Lives Matter march, just blocks from where President John F Kennedy was slain in 1963. Johnson left his home at some point before the rally, his mother said in an interview. She asked what he was protesting and he mentioned the shootings, telling her, "Mom, you've got to listen to the news."

"I told him to stay out of trouble ... and he said, 'I will,' " she recalled. His last words were "I love you."

Authorities said Johnson arrived downtown in a black Chevrolet Tahoe, parked and took up sniper positions. He wore a protective vest and carried a Russian-made Saiga semi-automatic rifle and two handguns, they said.

As the protest march was winding down, Johnson opened fire. Panicked protesters fled, as additional police rushed in.

Punish people

Hours later, on the morning of July 8, authorities isolated Johnson on the second floor of the El Centro community college downtown and began negotiating with him. Johnson insisted on speaking with a black police negotiator, police said, laughed at authorities, sang, talked about killing whites and asked how many officers he had shot.

"We're convinced that this suspect had other plans and thought that what he was doing was righteous and believed that he was going to target law enforcement - make us pay for what he sees as law enforcement's efforts to punish people of colour," Dallas Police Chief David Brown said in a lengthy interview on CNN's State of the Union on Sunday.

The stand-off ended when police sent in a bomb-carrying robot. Johnson died in the blast. In all, he killed five police officers and wounded nine others and two civilians.

Police later questioned Johnson's mother about whether he hated cops or ever spoke about killing officers, she said. When she learned what had happened she was stunned.

"I was like, you know, you've got to be lying," she said. "Not my son. He got upset when we ran over a squirrel."

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