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Family of Kevin Johnson, Black man killed by San Antonio Police, wants body cam footage released

Joey Palacios / Texas Public Radio
Kevin Johnson's sister, Jasmine Johnson, is comforted by her step-sister Emily Garcia, along with their mother Arlene Garcia at the spot where family members say Johnson died after being shot by SAPD officers.

San Antonio police officers shot and killed Kevin Johnson, a 28-year-old Black man, on Monday. His family held a vigil for him in his West Side neighborhood on Tuesday night. Family members are calling for release of body cam footage of the incident.

Kevin Johnson’s family, friends and community members gathered along a bridge over Aztlan Creek on Lombrano street. Many attendees held red balloons in the shape of stars and hearts. His sister Jasmine Johnson said Monday's events should have never happened.

“This is where we have to come now to see and have some kind of peace with my brother,” she said. “Because until this very second we can’t see his body, we won’t be able to see his body at all until he’s in a funeral home. That’s not their right to do that to us. That’s wrong.”

The San Antonio Police Department has provided limited information about what took place. Chief William McManus said on Monday that Johnson had two felony warrants — one for assault on a police officer and the other for felony possession of a firearm.

Johnson said her family had not heard anything from SAPD as of Tuesday night’s vigil.

“No one yesterday at all said ‘Sorry. I’m sorry to your family. Calm down. Let me get you some water. Let me tell you what’s going on,’” she said. “No one gave a f—k.”

An SAPD spokeswoman provided a limited synopsis of the incident. It explained that SAPD officers received information about Johnson's location. They attempted to make contact when he left his house. Johnson ran from police, the statement said, and then he reportedly pulled a handgun from his waistband.

Joey Palacios / Texas Public Radio
Friends and family of Kevin Johnson release balloons during his vigil from the bridge overlooking the creek where he was shot by SAPD officers.

Johnson’s family disputes SAPD’s account. SAPD’s version of the event says, “Officers observed the suspect turn and point the firearm in the officer’s direction. Officers then fired at the suspect.”

SAPD did not say how many times officers shot Johnson. It said that he died at the scene after EMS attempted life saving measures. Family members claimed Johnson was shot at least nine times.

“We don’t know what more they did to my brother, that kills me — they’re saying all this whatever, they didn’t mention him getting hit with a car — at all,” Jasmine Johnson said.

SAPD’s statement did not mention a police vehicle making contact with Kevin Johnson.

Joey Palacios / Texas Public Radio
Kevin Johnson's family (from left to right: Jasmine Johnson, Emily Garcia, Jose Garcia, Arlene Garcia, and Amy Garcia) speak to the press during his vigil Tuesday.

After the shooting, the scene grew tense between officers and community members. There was a scuffle between officers and those who were present Monday afternoon.
“They came pushing, the lines, the ropes, the yellow tape was there they kept pushing and pushing and pushing us further into the other end of the street that’s what they wanted, they did what they wanted,” Johnson said referencing law enforcement officers.

Her mother, who is also Kevin Johnson’s mother, Arlene Garcia, said she suffered bruising from her interaction with police officers.

“For asking questions, this happened to me yesterday because I wanted answers,” Garcia said, pointing to a bruise on her chest. “And someone, one of them officers, put their hand on me and they pepper sprayed me as well.”

In recent months and years, SAPD and Bexar County Sheriff’s deputies — as well as law enforcement across the country — have come under scrutiny for the number of Black men killed during encounters with police.

Joey Palacios / Texas Public Radio
Kevin Johnson's step-father holds a photo of him at Tuesday night's vigil.

Ananda Thomas, executive director of Act 4 SA, a local police accountability group, is calling for the release of the body cam footage ahead of SAPD’s 60-day release policy.

“Sixty days is way too long,” Thomas said. “It doesn’t give any relief to the family, the community is asking for answers, for accountability, for transparency.”

SAPD Chief William McManus is the deciding factor on if body cam footage is released. SAPD's release policy as of late 2020 is to release footage within 60 days. If the chief decides not to release the footage, he must give an explanation why.

Releasing the body cam video is what Johnson’s family wants as well.

“If they feel that they’re strongly right, then release it, what is there to hide?” Johnson said.

SAPD said the investigation into Johnson’s death is in its preliminary stage. On Wednesday, the department released the names of the officers involved in the shooting: Adam Rule who has six years of service; Gus Vallas who has four years of service; and James Quintanilla with 13 years of service.

The officers who fired their weapons have been placed on administrative duty.

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Joey Palacios can be reached atJoey@TPR.org and on Twitter at @Joeycules