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Kansas City Police officers will not face charges for killing Malcolm Johnson

Security camera footage shows Kansas City police confronting Malcolm Johnson in the BP gas station at 63rd Street and Prospect Avenue in March.
Security camera footage shows Kansas City police confronting Malcolm Johnson in the BP gas station at 63rd Street and Prospect Avenue in March.

A special prosecutor in St. Louis said there is insufficient evidence to file any charges against the officers who shot Johnson at a convenience store in March 2021.

A special prosecutor won't charge Kansas City Police officers for shooting and killing 31-year-old Malcolm Johnson in a convenience store two years ago. The prosecutor determined that the officer who killed Johnson and the other officers on the scene were acting in self-defense, according to a report released on Monday.

The St. Louis prosecutor's office, who took the case at the request of Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker, said there was insufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the officers did not follow Missouri law.

"The physical evidence, the audio evidence and the statements of evidence do not support filing charges against the officers involved with the arrest or the fatal shooting of Malcolm Johnson," a statement from the prosecutor's office said.

Johnson, 31, was killed in a BP gas station at 63rd Street and Prospect Boulevard on March 25, 2021. Police said they were pursuing him for aggravated assault.

In a statement, KCPD Chief Stacey Graves said the decision to use the outside investigator was “meant to inspire trust in the review of KCPD’s use of force,” and that she recognizes KCPD still needs to work to build that trust.

“No police officer wants to be in a situation where they get injured, nor do they want to have to cause injury to someone else,” Graves wrote. “A loss of life affects everyone in our community, and it matters to us all.”

Activist Khadijah Hardaway, who has been acting as a spokesperson for the Johnson family, said Baker and the St. Louis prosecutor made the wrong decision. She reiterated the family's call for a U.S. Department of Justice investigation.

"They had accountability in their hands and they dropped the ball," she said. "We want more answers. We want more transparency. We have a lot of questions for Jean Peters Baker."

Outrage immediately followed the shooting. Johnson’s family said police entered the station with guns drawn and couldn’t have known it was Johnson. He’d had his hoodie pulled up. A few days later, a group of faith leaders released videos they said showed Johnson's “execution.”

The Missouri Highway Patrol said KCPD shot and killed Johnson after he resisted arrest, drew a gun and opened fire at officers. The patrol has been leading police shooting investigations in Kansas City since June 2020, so KCPD detectives aren't investigating their fellow officers.

The surveillance video did not show the shooting itself, but Johnson can be seen being pulled away from a counter by two officers. A second video, which faith leaders said was from a cellphone, showed five police officers struggling with Johnson for nearly three minutes before three gunshots can be heard.

Emanuel Cleaver III, senior pastor at St. James United Methodist Church, said he was outraged when the video was first released.

"My anger was rooted in the long history of police brutality in the Black community as well as being lied to by the former chief of police," Cleaver said.

But after talking to KCPD, the Missouri Highway Patrol and Baker, he said he believed they used their available resources to examine all the evidence.

"We asked for an investigation and that's what happened," Cleaver said. "I think this case shows that when the community comes together and makes demands, change can take place."

Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker in August 2021 requested a special prosecutor to review whether the shooting was justified. Baker said her office could have a potential conflict because of prior criminal cases involving Johnson. He was charged in a 2014 homicide and pleaded to reduced charges of involuntary manslaughter and armed criminal action.

Most recently, Johnson’s advocates called last month for a U.S. Department of Justice investigation into the shooting.

I’m a veteran investigative reporter who came up through newspapers and moved to public media. I want to give people a better understanding of the criminal justice system by focusing on its deeper issues, like institutional racism, the poverty-to-prison pipeline and police accountability. Today this beat is much different from how reporters worked it in the past. I’m telling stories about people who are building significant civil rights movements and redefining public safety. Email me at lowep@kcur.org.
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