Family to view body camera footage in Jada Johnson fatal Fayetteville police shooting

A still from a doorbell camera video shows an officer with his weapon drawn as he's about to enter a Fayetteville home July 1, 2022, where a woman was shot and killed by police. A judge ordered last month that the family of the woman can view footage from the body cameras worn by the officers involved but that the family cannot discuss the video.
A still from a doorbell camera video shows an officer with his weapon drawn as he's about to enter a Fayetteville home July 1, 2022, where a woman was shot and killed by police. A judge ordered last month that the family of the woman can view footage from the body cameras worn by the officers involved but that the family cannot discuss the video.

The family of a woman fatally shot by a Fayetteville police officer in July will view the body camera footage from the killing next week.

Cumberland County Superior Court Judge Jim Ammons ordered that the family of Jada Johnson could view the body camera footage, but not without restrictions. Johnson, 22, was killed July 1 in her grandfather’s Colgate Drive living room after officers were called to the home on a report of an attempted break-in. A search warrant in the case identified Officer Zacharius Borom as the officer who fired the fatal shots. Johnson’s grandparents, Rick and Maria Iwanski, said their granddaughter was experiencing a mental health crisis at the time and believed her estranged boyfriend was trying to harm her. Fayetteville Police Department officials have maintained Johnson posed a threat to officers at the scene and was armed with a gun when she was shot. Johnson’s autopsy report revealed she was shot 17 times by .40-caliber bullets.

Following a hearing Oct. 12, Ammons ruled the family could view the footage from body cameras worn by Officer Borom and Sgt. Timothy Rugg on the night Johnson was shot. The judge also ordered that only the family's attorney can take notes during the viewing and that no one can speak about what they see afterward.

Rick Iwanski said Wednesday he, his wife and their attorney will view the footage at the Fayetteville Police Department headquarters Dec. 8.

Related: SBI says case of woman killed by Fayetteville police turned over to prosecutors

“Hopefully it won’t be something too terrible to watch, but I think it will,” Iwanski said. “Overall, it’s a plus for justice to get in there and see it and confirm what we already know.”

Iwanski contends that Fayetteville police used excessive force in shooting his granddaughter and violated their own policies on dealing with a person experiencing a mental health crisis.

The requirement to view the footage at police headquarters feels like an additional injustice, Iwanski said.

“It’s as if there was no real consideration that we might have a lot of anxiety about it,” he said. “It’s very uncomfortable for me.”

Related:'They did not have to do this': Fayetteville woman shot 17 times by police, autopsy says

Johnson was the second of three people shot and killed by law enforcement in Cumberland County in 2022. Jason Walker, 37, was killed by off-duty Cumberland County Sheriff's Office Lt. Jeffrey Hash on Jan. 8. A special prosecutor with the North Carolina Conference of District Attorneys declined to charge Hash in the shooting. Seven months later, Justin Livesay, 40, was fatally shot by Fayetteville police Sept. 2 after reportedly approaching officers with a knife and telling his wife he would commit suicide by cop.

Related: Court records: Fayetteville man threatened ‘suicide by cop’ before police shot him

The Fayetteville Police Department asked the State Bureau of Investigation to conduct a probe into Johnson's killing. The SBI said in November it had completed its inquiry. The case was forwarded to the Attorney General's Special Prosecution Division to determine if charges should be filed, according to Cumberland County District Attorney Billy West.

West said he requested the special prosecutor because Johnson was a codefendant in two pending felony cases being prosecuted by his office.

Iwanski said he felt somewhat encouraged by his granddaughter's case being handled by state officials.

“The higher the level, the better,” he said. “Maybe it is a good thing that it’s gone up to the state.”

Related: Fayetteville releases first 3 videos from Jason Walker shooting; more video due later

Legally silenced?

Iwanski said he isn't happy he won't be able to discuss the footage after viewing it next week.

“I don’t like the gag order,” he said.

Jeff Welty, a professor at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill School of Government, said via email Wednesday that gag orders prohibiting people from speaking about body camera video like the one Ammons issued have been upheld in recent years by the North Carolina Court of Appeals. Welty cited a 2019 ruling by the Court of Appeals that upheld a judge’s order prohibiting members of the Greensboro City Council from discussing a video outside of closed council sessions.

Welty said the case has been further appealed to the North Carolina Supreme Court.

“But based on what we have at this point, the court of appeals seems to have broadly endorsed judges’ authority to place conditions on people to whom the judge gives access to a video,” he said.

Public safety reporter Lexi Solomon can be reached at ABSolomon@gannett.com.

This article originally appeared on The Fayetteville Observer: Fayetteville family can view Jada Johnson shooting footage