Statement from State’s Attorney Berlin

April 20, 2017 

“Every case involving the use of deadly force by a police officer must be carefully and thoroughly investigated. Such scrutiny is required to ensure the protection of the civil rights of those involved and to maintain the public’s confidence in law enforcement.

After a thorough and extensive investigation surrounding the shooting of Trevon Johnson by a DuPage County Deputy Sheriff, it is my determination that the officer, Deputy Scott Kuschell, who discharged his weapon five times, striking Mr. Johnson four times, was completely justified in his actions and that no criminal charges will be filed against the officer. In reaching this conclusion, my staff and I carefully reviewed the applicable law and thoroughly examined all the evidence, including but not limited to:

  • Police reports
  • 9-1-1 calls
  • Statements from those involved
  • Witness accounts
  • Physical evidence
  • Photographs
  • Autopsy and Toxicology reports
  • Sheriff’s Office radio traffic
  • In car squad videos

On January 1, 2017, at approximately 11:26 p.m., DuPage County Deputy Sheriff Kuschell responded to the first of three 9-1-1 calls of a domestic violence incident in progress at a residence located at 17W747 Standish Lane in unincorporated Villa Park. The call was placed by Ricquia Jones, Trevon’s sister. On the call, Jones can be heard yelling at the dispatch officer “Please, please, please bring the police now… Oh my God… he needs to go, he needs to go to jail… that’s my brother, he’s destroyed the whole entire house, he’s taking knives, he’s got glass and he’s pulling all the braids out of my hair.” When the dispatch officer asked her to identify the assailant, Jones responded “Trevon Johnson.” Jones also told the dispatch officer “I’m pregnant, he put his hands on me, he punched me in the head…,” and when the dispatch officer asked if Trevon had any weapons, Jones’ response was “Yeah he has a whole bunch of weapons.” Four minutes later, at 11:30 p.m., a second 9-1-1 call was placed regarding the incident at 17W747 Standish. This call was placed by Trevon’s brother, Robert Pelts. In his call, Pelts told the dispatch officer “My brother’s going crazy.” When asked by the dispatch officer if anyone was hurt, Pelts responded “I think so. He threw glass at her, I think she is.” The dispatch officer then asked if Trevon had any knives on him to which Pelts replied “Ah, yeah. He threatened people.” The dispatch officer asked what type of knife, to which Pelts replied, “A house knife, a kitchen knife.” The dispatch officer then asked, “A large kitchen knife? A carving knife?”  Pelts answered, “Yeah. He broke the glass. He’s throwing glass on people.”

Upon his arrival at the home, the Sheriff’s Deputy was wearing full police uniform and driving a fully marked blue Sheriff’s Office squad car. The deputy parked his vehicle and approached the house on foot. When he was approximately 25-30 feet away from the residence, he heard yelling and a loud crash, which he believed to be broken glass, coming from inside. The deputy then drew his service weapon as he continued to approach the house. The deputy was met by another resident of the house, Willie Bradley, who motioned for the deputy to enter. The deputy asked Bradley if Trevon was armed, to which Bradley responded “Yes, upstairs.” Once inside the residence, the deputy encountered Pelts at the top of a stairway. The deputy ordered Pelts to come down and Pelts complied. At the bottom of the stairs, the deputy searched Pelts for weapons. While searching Pelts for weapons, the deputy heard the sounds of footsteps running down the stairs towards him. He pushed Pelts out of the way and saw a man, later identified as Trevon Johnson, leaping toward him. The deputy also noticed that Johnson had a pointy 3-4 inch, ½ to ¾ inch wide dull grey metal knife-like object in his right hand which was raised above his head. The deputy ordered Johnson to “put it down” but Johnson kept coming toward him. Johnson thrusted and then threw the knife-like object toward the deputy at which time, believing that his life and the lives of the others in the residence were in danger of death or great bodily harm, the deputy discharged his weapon at Johnson, striking him four times. The deputy immediately advised the dispatch officer “shots fired.”

Oakbrook Terrace Fire Protection District personnel arrived and administered first aid to Johnson. Johnson was subsequently transported to Elmhurst Hospital where emergency medical personnel were unable to save his life. He was pronounced dead at 12:05 a.m. on January 2, 2017. Subsequent toxicology reports revealed that Mr. Johnson had THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, in his system at the time of his death.

Following the incident, the entire scene was processed by the Illinois State Police Crime Scene Services Command. Through their work, investigators recovered five spent Winchester .40 caliber Smith and Wesson shell casings from the living room floor, several braids of dark colored hair from the living room floor, a marble base of a sports trophy from the living room floor, and a silver decorative top of a trophy recovered from the inside of one of the glass panes of the main entrance door. This portion of the trophy was wedged between a glass pane and a clear plastic covering on the door. It was determined that the knife-like object that Johnson threw at Deputy Kuschell was a sports trophy with a marble base. Investigators also recovered a butter knife from the living room floor, and twelves knives, including eight butter knives; three steak knives; and one butcher knife from the kitchen counter and sink.

The above facts have been evaluated in the context of Illinois law governing the justifiable use of deadly force. In accordance with Illinois law, my staff and I have reviewed the facts and circumstances of the case with special consideration given to the perspective of the officer on the scene. It is important to remember that police officers are often forced to make split-second decisions about the appropriate amount of force necessary to bring a tense, uncertain and rapidly evolving situation under control.

In determining whether the shooting death of Trevon Johnson was a criminal act or justifiable homicide, the fundamental question to be answered is whether the officer reasonably believed that Johnson posed an imminent threat of death or great bodily harm to the officer or others. The Peace Officer’s Use of Force in Making Arrest statute (720 ILCS 5/7-5) states that “a peace officer need not retreat or desist from efforts to make a lawful arrest.” Additionally, “a peace officer is justified in using force likely to cause death or great bodily harm only when he reasonably believes that 1) such force is necessary to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or another person; or 2) when he reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent the arrest from being defeated by resistance or escape and the person to be arrested has committed or attempted a forcible felony which involves the infliction or threatened infliction of great bodily harm, or is attempting to escape by use of a deadly weapon, or otherwise indicates that he will endanger human life or inflict great bodily harm unless arrested without delay.” Thus, the question becomes whether it was objectively reasonable for the officer to believe Mr. Johnson posed an immediate threat of death or great bodily harm to himself or others and was the use of force necessary to contain that threat. When Mr. Johnson refused clear and audible commands to “put it down” by the responding deputy and instead lunged at the deputy with a deadly weapon, a trophy with a marble base, and then threw the trophy at the deputy with such force that the trophy broke into two pieces, the deputy was confronted with an imminent unlawful threat of deadly force by Mr. Johnson. Given the violent actions of Mr. Johnson, his refusal to obey police commands along with his actions of thrusting and then throwing the trophy at the deputy, the deputy acted lawfully and was justified in using deadly force by discharging his weapon in order to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or other residents of the home. Based upon the statements made on the 9-1-1 calls that the dispatch officer relayed to the deputy that Mr. Johnson was armed with a knife, it was reasonable for the deputy to believe that Mr. Johnson was armed with a knife that was capable of causing death or great bodily harm. Accordingly, when the deputy fired his gun at Mr. Johnson it was reasonable for him to believe that the knife-like object that Johnson held in his hand was indeed a knife and that discharging his weapon was necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or the other residents of the home. The officer was also justified in using deadly force to defeat Johnson’s resistance to being arrested for the offense of aggravated battery, a forcible felony which involved the infliction or threatened infliction of great bodily harm, and to defeat Johnson’s resistance to arrest where Johnson’s actions indicated he would endanger human life or inflict great bodily harm unless arrested without delay. 

I would like to thank the Illinois State Police for conducting a thorough and independent investigation, as well as Assistant State’s Attorney Bethany Jackson for her valuable assistance.

It is indeed a tragedy any time a human life is lost. In my opinion, the deputy involved in this unfortunate incident made every attempt to reach a peaceful conclusion under very stressful conditions. His concern for the safety and well-being of the other residents in the home is a testament to the excellent training that the DuPage County Sheriff’s Office provides for their entire force. Unfortunately, Mr. Johnson’s failure to obey the Deputy’s commands and his aggressive, threatening behavior resulted in the deputy discharging his weapon. My thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends as they attempt to come to terms with what happened that evening.”

 

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