Video shows deputy suffered panic attack while armed, paramedic disarmed him
Two suspects spent 42 days in jail on felony charges, accused of causing what was described in court statements as a "panic attack"
By Jamie Satterfield
Knoxville News-Sentinel, Tenn.
SEVIERVILLE, Tenn. — A Sevier County Sheriff’s Office deputy opened fire without warning in a mobile home park, suffered an apparent panic attack four minutes later and was forcibly disarmed by a paramedic, body camera footage shows.
Deputy Justin Johnson did not mention the panic attack in his report on the December 2016 incident, and he remains on active duty, court records show.
Brian Keith Mullinax, 41, and his girlfriend, Tina Carrie Jo Cody, 37, spent 42 days in jail on felony charges, accused of causing what was described in court statements as a "panic attack" and which a detective called "some type of cardiac event." They remain under prosecution on misdemeanor charges, court records show.
A spokesman for Sevier County Sheriff Ron “Hoss” Seals did not return a phone message. It’s not clear from court records whether the sheriff’s office conducted an internal investigation, ordered psychological testing for Johnson, or required him to undergo counseling or additional training.
Cody was unarmed and being held on the ground by Johnson and paramedic Blake Gregg when Johnson fired four shots toward a set of mobile homes, paused and fired three more, the video obtained by the USA TODAY NETWORK - Tennessee showed. He ran away from Cody and Gregg toward Sharp Road.
“Shots fired,” he told dispatchers. “We need help.”
Four minutes later, Johnson was kneeling over Cody, who had remained on the ground, with his gun still in his hand when the video showed he began hyperventilating and running backward away from the mobile homes and Cody.
Paramedic Michael O’Connor ran toward Johnson.
“Pull it together,” O’Connor told Johnson. “Look at me.”
Johnson continued to hyperventilate while pointing his gun toward Cody, Gregg and the mobile homes.
“Give me your gun,” O’Connor repeatedly said. A still hyperventilating Johnson continued to grip the gun. O’Connor eventually wrested it from his hand.
“Let go of it,” O’Connor said.
Johnson continued to hyperventilate.
“Easy, buddy,” O’Connor said as he trained Johnson’s gun toward the mobile homes. “I got it under control. Calm down. It’s OK.”
One minute and 30 seconds after Johnson began hyperventilating, his breathing slowed.
“I’m OK,” he said. “I’m OK.”
O’Connor handed Johnson his gun back. He had hyperventilated so strongly one of his contact lens popped out of his eye, the video showed. He tossed it away as he trained his gun toward the mobile homes, where an unarmed Mullinax was facedown on the ground with his arms extended.
The video showed Mullinax obeyed Johnson when – after Johnson had fired seven shots and ran away – the deputy ordered him to the ground, and he never moved from that position during or after Johnson’s panic attack.
Mullinax is set to stand trial in Sevier County Criminal Court on Tuesday on a charge that he assaulted Johnson. A lower court judge already dropped felony charges against both Cody and Mullinax, and a grand jury refused to indict Cody for causing the panic attack. She remains charged with resisting arrest.
The couple spent 42 days in jail because they were too poor to post bond and did not get a preliminary hearing within 10 business days as the law requires, records showed. It’s not clear why from those court records.
Records and video showed the following:
Johnson was called to the mobile home park at 794 Sharp Road by paramedics. A “morbidly obese female” had fallen inside one of the homes and was complaining about landlord Robin Sutton – Cody’s mother – and Cody, Johnson wrote in his report.
The woman was disoriented, he wrote, and “didn’t know what day or time it was that she had fallen.” Sutton was on the front porch, the video showed. Cody was in the yard. She and Mullinax lived in a neighboring mobile home.
Among the woman’s claims was that Sutton and Cody had stolen her purse. As the woman was still talking, Cody walked to a fence and climbed through it into a field. Johnson drew his gun but ran away from the field, around a mobile home and onto Sharp Road. Cody was standing in the field facing Sharp Road.
“Don’t move,” Johnson yelled.
Cody turned and ran, pulling off her jacket. Johnson, gun in his right hand, used his left hand to pull her onto the ground, and paramedic Gregg helped Johnson hold her down.
'I heard a male voice'
Mullinax walked onto his porch with a cell phone in his hand. The porch was facing Johnson. But Johnson wrote in his report he heard a noise behind him.
“I heard a male voice coming from a short distance behind me shout, ‘I’ve got a gun, (expletive),’” Johnson wrote. “I turned to notice (a suspect) pacing wildly on the porch of a nearby mobile home and then squat while aiming an object at me that appeared to be a firearm in his hand. I immediately discharged my weapon.”
Johnson issued no warning and fired over Gregg’s head.
Mullinax, records show, did not say he had a gun or threaten to harm Johnson. He had a cell phone and yelled at Johnson that he was filming the deputy’s handling of girlfriend Cody.
Johnson immediately ran away after firing the shots. When he returned to the location in the field where Gregg still had Cody on the ground, he yelled at Mullinax, “You drop that (expletive) thing. Do it now.”
Mullinax dropped the phone and got on the ground. He yelled a complaint but did not threaten violence.
“You shut the (expletive) up,” Johnson said.
The deputy told dispatchers everything was fine.
“I’ve got him on the ground,” he said, adding Mullinax was unarmed. “I don’t know what he did with it (the object in his hand).”
A short time later, Johnson’s panic attack began.
Court battle brewing
Johnson wrote in his report that he opened fire “in defense for my life” and the safety of the paramedics.
SCSO Detective Johnny Bohanan later added notes to Johnson’s report about the panic attack. They were brief.
“Because of the assault on Johnson and the fact that he was taken to the hospital with injuries and may have suffered some type of cardiac event as the result of this assault by both the male and female and all the statements and evidence, I charged” Mullinax and Cody with aggravated assault, Bohanan wrote.
Prosecutor Ron Newcomb has declined comment. It’s not clear if the trial will take place Tuesday. Several are set. Defense attorneys were not immediately available for comment.
Attorneys John S. “Stan” Young III and Cameron Bell confirmed this week they are investigating the incident to determine if there are grounds to file a lawsuit on behalf of Mullinax and Cody.
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