SEVIERVILLE – A Sevier County deputy who opened fire without warning in a neighborhood and suffered a panic attack four minutes later was forced to resign as a Johnson City law enforcer in 2013 after “fanning” a fellow officer with his gun, lying to his chief about an affair and getting in a shoving match with his wife, records show.
Deputy Justin M. Johnson did not include any mention of his short stint at the Johnson City Police Department in his application to work at the Sevier County Sheriff’s Office nor did Sevier County’s background check reveal his prior post and the problems documented in that agency’s file.
SCSO did not respond to a written list of questions sent Tuesday about Johnson’s employment history, why the agency did not conduct an investigation of the December 2016 shooting incident on Sharp Road, whether his omission of the Johnson City job was grounds for termination and Johnson’s current status with the agency.
Former cop job missing
Brian Mullinax, 41, is charged with assault in Sevier County Circuit Court for causing Johnson to suffer a panic attack four minutes after Johnson opened fire in a neighborhood of mobile homes. Johnson fired without warning over the head of Mullinax’s girlfriend, Tina Cody, and a paramedic.
Mullinax was unarmed and was face-down on the ground several yards from Johnson when Johnson suffered the panic attack.
The incident was captured on Johnson’s body camera. Johnson wrote in a report that he fired seven shots after turning toward a noise behind him. His body camera showed he remained forward, facing Mullinax as Mullinax walked onto a porch with a cell phone, telling Johnson he was filming the arrest of his girlfriend.
He never mentioned the panic attack in his report, but a SCSO detective later charged Mullinax with causing it.
The only prior law enforcement experience Johnson listed in his application filed in June 2016 at SCSO was a stint as a jailer in Cocke County and 18 months as a patrol officer at the Newport Police Department. The dates of those two jobs were redacted by SCSO. The agency did not provide a reason for the redaction.
Preacher turned police officer
Documents obtained by USA TODAY NETWORK – Tennessee show Johnson is a preacher licensed by the Appalachian Association of Free Will Baptists who worked as a cashier in Nashville in 2010 while studying to be a preacher but moved back to Johnson City, where he graduated high school in 2008, after dropping out of the Free Will Baptist Bible College.
He worked briefly as a jailer for the Washington County Sheriff’s Office before being hired as a police officer with the Johnson City Police Department in June 2013.
By September 2013, he was in trouble with field training officers, who documented weekly remedial training and worries about his unsafe handling of guns and suspects, records show.
In one incident, a supervisor wrote that Johnson “fanned” a fellow officer with the muzzle of his gun and tried to fight a suspect using the same hand that he was using to hold his gun.
A month later, he was accused of lying to Johnson City Police Chief Mark Sirois in an email warning the chief that a “lunatic” woman with a “fatal attraction” for Johnson, a married father of three, would be filing a complaint against him that he denied in advance.
The woman did file a complaint, saying she had been having an affair with Johnson for years. When his wife found out, Johnson sent her a text, advising her to “kill herself” and called the state Department of Children’s Services with an anonymous complaint that the woman was neglecting her child, according to records.
“She also felt the fact that he was a preacher made his behavior even more inappropriate,” the investigating officer wrote.
Johnson was found guilty in an internal affairs investigation of lying to the chief and “unbecoming conduct.”
“The facts are clear that Officer Johnson intentionally misled Chief Sirois,” the file stated.
Johnson was also accused of shoving and slapping his wife in a fight over her smoking of cigarettes, and she admitted slapping and shoving him over his “adultery,” a report stated. He was allowed to resign in lieu of termination in November 2013.
Seven shots, one panic attack
Johnson was summoned to a mobile home park on Sharp Road by paramedics after an overweight woman who had fallen inside a camper-style trailer began making complaints about Robin Sutton, her landlord, and accusing Sutton and Cody of stealing her purse, records showed.
When Cody walked from the yard of the trailer and climbed through a fence into a field, Johnson drew his gun but instead of walking toward her or issuing commands, he ran around another mobile home, blocking his view of her, walked onto Sharp Road and then headed toward the field, the video showed.
Johnson, with help from a paramedic, was trying to handcuff Cody, who was on the ground, when Mullinax, her boyfriend, walked out of a trailer in front of Johnson and, according to testimony, began yelling that he was filming Johnson with his cell phone.
Johnson wrote in his report that he heard a sound behind him and then turned to see an armed suspect on the porch of a mobile home behind him. The video showed Mullinax was on a porch of a trailer facing Johnson.
Johnson issued no warning and fired over the paramedic’s head.
Johnson immediately ran away after firing the shots. When he returned to the location in the field where a paramedic 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.
Mullinax and Cody spent 42 days in jail on felony aggravated assault charges filed against them by SCSO and directly accusing them of causing Johnson’s panic attack.
The couple were held without a preliminary hearing for weeks. The law requires such a hearing for jailed suspects within 10 business days of arrest. A judge in March tossed out the felony charges, but sent the case to a Sevier County grand jury review.
The grand jury rejected charges Cody caused Johnson’s panic attack, instead indicting her for resisting arrest. The grand jury indicted Mullinax on a misdemeanor assault charge.
Attorneys Stan Young and Cameron Bell have filed a lawsuit on behalf of Cody and Mullinax in U.S. District Court. It seeks $750,000 in damages.