Police officer who shot man in car is charged with murder

MICHAEL KUNZELMAN
·3 min read

A police officer in Virginia has been indicted on a murder charge in the shooting death of a man in a vehicle near a motel, a prosecutor said Tuesday.

Bristol police Officer Jonathan Brown was released on a $25,000 bond after he turned himself in to the Virginia State Police on Tuesday, said Don Caldwell, Commonwealth’s Attorney for the City of Roanoke.

“That’s the commonwealth’s recommendation,” Caldwell said of Brown's bond. “I do not consider him a flight risk or a danger to the community pending the trial.”

Brown was indicted Monday by a Bristol Circuit Court grand jury on charges of murder, using a firearm in the commission of a felony and shooting into an occupied vehicle in the March 30 shooting death of Jonathen Kohler, 31, of Bristol, Tennessee.

A Virginia State Police news release on Tuesday says Bristol police received a 911 call around 4:30 a.m. on March 30 from a motel occupant reporting shots being fired. Officers who responded to the call encountered Kohler in the driver’s seat of a 1994 Ford Mustang.

“As officers were verbally engaged with Kohler, he backed up and then drove forward in an attempt to exit the parking lot, at which point one of the officers fired at Kohler’s vehicle,” the State Police statement says.

In a news release on the day of the shooting, the State Police had said Koehler refused to exit his vehicle “despite repeated commands by the officers.”

“He then put the Mustang into drive and sped towards one of the officers. The officer fired at the suspect vehicle as it came at him,” the March 30 release said.

Koehler died at the scene. No officers were injured.

Caldwell, who was appointed by a judge to prosecute the case, said declined to discuss the evidence that his office presented to the grand jury.

“I don’t believe in trying cases in the public eye,” he told The Associated Press. “The evidence will be presented during trial, and a trier of fact, either a judge or jury, will make a decision.”

An attorney for Brown, 31, of Piney Flats, Tennessee, didn't immediately return a phone call seeking comment.

The Virginia State Police investigated the shooting at the request of Bristol's police chief and presented its findings to Caldwell's office.

Brown is white, and so was Kohler, according to State Police spokeswoman Corinne Geller.

Brown was suspended without pay on Tuesday pending the outcome of an internal affairs investigation that is expected to be completed in 10 days, according to a statement signed by Bristol Mayor Bill Hartley and City Manager Randall Eads. The officer previously was suspended with pay.

“We do not condone, nor will we tolerate the unnecessary use of force by our police officers,” their statement says. “There is a time and a place for the use of force, and force must be used sparingly and within the bounds of the law.”

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Kunzelman reported from College Park, Maryland.