By Jeff Weiner
ORLANDO — When Officer David Johnston opened fire on a fleeing suspect at a downtown Orlando apartment complex, nearly 90 feet and closed metal gates separated him from his target, according to newly released prosecution documents.
Those are among several new details contained in a report prepared by the Joint Homicide Investigative Team, a multiagency task force, on the Feb. 24 shooting at City View Apartments on West Church Street in Orlando.
Johnston faces charges of shooting into an occupied vehicle and discharging a firearm in public. Investigators say he fired 23 shots from a Bushmaster AR-15 rifle at a car driven by domestic-violence suspect Derrick Lattimore.
Johnston declined to be interviewed by JHIT, records show. But surveillance cameras recorded as Johnston, who was outside the garage, retrieved the assault rifle from his patrol car and opened fire into the garage toward Lattimore.
Lattimore was not wounded by the gunfire, but a fellow officer who drove Johnston to Orlando police headquarters after the shooting told JHIT investigators that Johnston seemed to be under the impression that he had killed him.
The gunfire at City View happened as officers were trying to arrest Lattimore in a domestic-violence incident.
A woman who had a restraining order against Lattimore said that he 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, records show.
Officers found Lattimore sitting in a Pontiac on the fifth floor of the City View garage. When confronted, they said, he sped off toward Officer Anthony Watts, who found himself trapped and opened fire, as did another officer.
According to the JHIT report, Watts and Officer Alexander Kipp fired three shots combined. They cooperated with interviews, and JHIT determined their testimony "was consistent with the physical evidence and overall testimony."
Lattimore encountered Johnston on the ground level, when Watts was no longer in danger, records show. Investigators tried to piece together Johnston's account from the video and statements he made to fellow officers that night.
The officer who drove Johnston to OPD headquarters, Christopher Ehlers, said Johnston "became more talkative" when they arrived at the Police Department and "stated how 'real' the situation was."
Johnston recounted hearing Watts and Kipp firing, and hearing the Pontiac that Lattimore was driving "getting closer and closer." Lattimore crashed near the exit gate, then exited the vehicle, Johnston reportedly told Ehlers.
"According to Officer Ehlers, that's the point where Officer Johnston stopped the description of what happened," the report says. Other officers reported seeing Johnston distraught, "tearing up" or crying after the shooting.
JHIT investigators also interviewed Lattimore, who said he didn't see the officers on the fifth floor or hear their commands. He said he has a 'very loud' car and only began to flee when gunshots began striking it, the report says.
According to the report, Lattimore amended his account in a later encounter with detectives: "I know it looks like I tried to run them over, but all I was trying to do was get away. I wasn't trying to kill any officers."
Meanwhile, another officer, Cpl. Craig Broder, told detectives that Lattimore had said he fled from officers on the fifth floor "because he had been drinking and didn't have a driver's license."
As he approached the exit, Lattimore said he didn't see Johnston's patrol car outside but heard additional shots striking the Pontiac and thought, "Why the [expletive] are they shooting at me? What kind of threat have I shown you?"
Lattimore didn't make it to the exit; he crashed into a wall amid the gunfire, about 24 feet from the closed metal gate. The distance between Johnston and the car was about 88 feet, with three travel lanes separating them.
Investigators who searched the car noted that the Pontiac's driver's side window and rear window were shattered, and bullet holes were found on the left side of the car, its roof area and in the headrest of the driver's-side seat.
Some of the gunfire missed, damaging the parking structure. Video from cameras inside the garage show "small spurts of dust" from bullets hitting the concrete wall as Lattimore drives toward the exit, the JHIT report notes.
McClatchy-Tribune News Service
Lattimore is set for trial next month on several felony charges from the night of the shooting. Johnston, who was indicted by a grand jury, has pleaded not guilty. He is on paid alternative duty, the Orlando Police Department has said.
Copyright 2014 The Orlando Sentinel