Police are questioning Micah Xavier Johnson’s family members, including his mother, to determine if he had any accomplices in last week’s rampage that left five Dallas police officers dead.
Johnson, a 25-year-old former Army reservist, kept a journal of “combat tactics,” stockpiled bomb-making materials and other weapons, took a self-defense class and was seen by neighbors practicing military exercises in his backyard, officials have said. Records show he lived with his mother.
How could his family not have known? “That’s my question,” Police Chief David Brown said at a Monday briefing in police headquarters. He said Johnson’s relatives have been cooperative and have not been detained.
“I want to make sure there’s nobody else out there who had anything to do with this,” Brown said. Detectives are reviewing more than 300 statements to determine which witnesses and officers need to return for further interviews, he said. In the coming days they plan to release a timeline of the gunman’s movements.
In addition to the dead, the gunman wounded nine officers, including two from El Centro Community College, where the shooting occurred. Brown said he believed Johnson’s goal was to “make us pay for what he sees as law enforcement’s efforts to punish people of color,” including the fatal police shootings last week of black men in Louisiana and Minnesota. It was those deaths, caught on video that went viral online, that led the gunman to “fast track” plans to kill police officers, Brown said.
The chief has also faced questions about how police responded after the shooting to protesters who were armed. A group of black protesters carrying so-called long guns — a practice called “open carry” that is legal in Texas — were detained after the shooting. Police initially released a photo of one of them, Mark Hughes, and identified him as a person of interest in the investigation, but later released him.
“While everybody is singing kumbaya for the chief of police, he put my brother out there,” Hughes’ older brother, Cory Hughes, who helped organize the protest, said at a Black Lives Matter meeting overnight, noting that after the shooting his brother turned his gun in to police to avoid confusion.
After his brother was identified, he said, they received threats.
“We got high security not only because I carry a gun, but because I stood up for Black Lives Matter,” he said.
Some gun-rights advocates have argued that armed citizens, so called “good guys with guns,” can aid police in combating crime. Last year, Texas passed a law allowing the open carrying of handguns, and another law allowing people to carry handguns on college campuses is set to take effect August 1.
But Brown called policing with open carry “difficult at best.”
“It’s increasingly challenging when people have AR-15s slung over their shoulder and they’re in a crowd,” he said. “We don’t know who the good guy is versus the bad guy when everyone starts shooting.”
Brown also noted that following the shooting, police were attacked in other cities. “We’re in a place where we’re concerned for our safety,” he said, “because of people who in my opinion are not stable and could do great damage to us.”
Johnson was killed remotely by police using a robot carrying explosives after a standoff in which he told a negotiator he hated whites, was targeting white officers and planned to kill more.
Brown clarified Monday that the standoff occurred in the community college, not a garage as he had previously said.
This was the first time Dallas police had used a robot, normally used to defuse bombs, in a standoff. The department bought the Mark V-A1 eight years ago for $151,000.
“They improvised this idea in about 15, 20 minutes,” he said. “I asked the question of how much we were using. I said, ‘Don’t bring the building down.’ I said, ‘I trust you; you know what I want done.’ ”
The chief weighed using the robot or a sniper to end the standoff, but said during an interview with CNN on Sunday that the robot was safer.
As it was, 13 officers used force against the gunman, Brown said, with 11 firing their guns. Among them was Dallas Area Rapid Transit Officer Brent Thompson, 34, who was killed in the shootout. Brown didn’t say what type of force the other two officers used, but he told CNN the gunman also fought “hand-to-hand.” Dallas Police Senior Cpl. Lorne Ahrens, 48; Sgt. Michael J. Smith, 55; and Officers Michael Krol, 40, and Patrick Zamarripa, 32, were also killed.
Brown said that using a sniper against Johnson would have exposed police to “great danger.”
“We believe that we saved lives by making this decision,” he said.
The robot was an unusual choice, perhaps the first time a police agency tapped the military-style technology to end a standoff. Brown defended the decision given the gunman’s comments to the police negotiator.
“He said he was going to kill. This wasn’t an ethical dilemma for me,” Brown said. “And I’d do it again, to save our officers.”
Police could even use the same robot again, he said. “There’s partial damage to the extension arm of the robot, but it is still functional if we had to use it for other operations,” he said.
Brown said evidence seized from the gunman’s home indicates he had originally been planning an even bigger attack. Just how big remains unclear.
“There was a large stockpile [of explosives]. One of the bomb techs called me at home to express his concerns about how large a stockpile he had,” Brown said.
He said it also wasn’t clear how Johnson learned about bomb–making.
“We don’t think he learned it in the military. He learned it online I guess,” the chief said.