Fired Orlando Police Department Officer David Johnston received five years probation after pleading guilty Friday to charges of illegally firing 23 shots at a domestic-violence suspect fleeing police in a downtown parking garage.
Circuit Court Judge Wayne Wooten also ordered Johnston to give up his law-enforcement certification, keep his court records unsealed and never work a job that requires a weapon.
“We give law enforcement in our society a great deal of power; we give them the tools to deal with the most dangerous and violent things that can affect public safety,” Wooten said as he addressed Johnston during sentencing. “But that means we entreat law enforcement with an incredible responsibility to only use those tools in a reasonable and justified manner, and you did not in this case.”
In court on Friday, Johnston, 25, sat in the back of the room wearing a suit and tie until the judge called him forward. He pleaded to a felony charge of shooting into an occupied vehicle and a misdemeanor charge of discharging a firearm in a public place.
The state did not offer the plea and was not seeking prison time even if the case went to trial.
In two previous attempts to have the charges dropped, defense attorney David Bigney said the two-year OPD officer feared for his life when he encountered a suspect fleeing police by car on Feb. 24, 2014.
“I would analogize his actions to somebody in a race making a false start who got disqualified in the race for starting just a little bit too soon,” Bigney said during sentencing Friday. “This is a case where we all have the benefit of hindsight.”
Before the shooting, Johnston had been called to City View apartments on West Church Street for a domestic-violence incident.
A woman who had a restraining order against Derrick Lattimore said the man had been making threatening phone calls all night, had banged on her window with a gun and had threatened to kill her and a companion.
Johnston encountered Lattimore on the ground floor of the parking garage and fired his AR-15 rifle 23 times, striking the Pontiac car’s windows, roof and headrests.
Two other OPD officers who opened fire have been cleared of any wrongdoing.
In court Bigney has argued that Johnston made a split-second decision with information he heard over the police radio: Lattimore was armed and had just attempted to run down another officer.
But Johnston’s employer disagreed with his response.
OPD terminated Johnston last week after an internal investigation found that he violated two department regulations by opening fire.
An internal-affairs report stated Johnston did not give Lattimore an appropriate amount of time to surrender.
Lattimore had an opportunity to testify in court but declined, Chief Assistant State Attorney Linda Drane Burdick told the judge.
Cherney, Elyssa, May 8, 2015, “Ex-OPD officer pleads guilty, gets probation in AR-15 shooting”, Orlando Sentinel, http://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/breaking-news/os-david-johnston-guilty-shooting-opd-20150508-story.html