Tennessee Deputy Who Suffered Panic Attack After Firing At Unarmed Man Had Track Record of Lying and Incompetence at Previous Police Department

Deputy Justin M. Johnson should never have been given a badge and a gun.


Screenshot via Knoxville News-Tribune

How unqualified does an aspiring deputy have to be before the Sevier County Sheriff's Department won't hire him?

In October Reason covered the story of Justin M. Johnson, a deputy in Sevier County, Tennessee, whose bodycam caught him firing wildly and without warning at an unarmed man who had been filming him. The footage then shows Johnson suffering a severe panic attack. The man doing the filming has since been charged with assault for causing the deputy's panic.

The footage and subsequent fallout, first reported by the Knoxville News-Sentinel, is disturbing enough. What makes the tale even more upsetting is Johnson's previous poor performance as a police officer, a track record that should have prevented him from being hired in the first place.

According to a new story in the Knoxville News-Sentinel, Johnson worked for a brief stint at the Johnson City Police Department (JCPD) in eastern Tennessee before he was hired as a Sevier deputy. He lasted five months before being fired for repeated unsafe handling of his firearm and for lying to his boss about the legal fallout stemming from an extramarital affair.

The JCPD hired Johnson in June 2013, and he almost immediately started causing problems. The News-Sentinel reports that his superiors had to provide him with weekly remedial training and that they cited him for "unsafe handling of guns and suspects."

At one point, Johnson reportedly "fanned" fellow officers with his weapon.

Johnson then lied to his superiors about an extramarital affair he was having. In October 2013, he reportedly emailed Johnson City Police Chief Mark Sirois to tell him that a "'lunatic' woman with a 'fatal attraction'" would be filing a fallacious complaint against him.

A complaint was then filed by a former lover of Johnson's alleging that he had told her to kill herself over text after his wife discovered their affair. Johnson had also called the Children's Services anonymously to complain that his former lover was neglecting her children.

After his deception was uncovered, Johnson was reportedly allowed to resign instead of being terminated.

In June he applied for a job with the Sevier County Sheriff's Office. His application tactfully left off his time at the JCPD, and he was promptly hired. In December 2016, Johnson had his fateful panic attack.

Sadly, it's all too common for problem officers to be picked up by other departments. As Reason has covered, the lack of a national database on fired or decertified police officers affords bad cops the opportunity to start over in another police department.

How much Sevier County knew of Johnson's past misdeeds when he was hired is hard to say. The department has been inexcusably tight-lipped in the wake of revelations about Johnson's past, refusing to answer basic questions from the News-Sentinel, including whether Johnson was still employed as a sheriff's deputy.

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  1. The man doing the filming has since been charged with assault for causing the deputy’s panic.

    The hell??

    1. Yeah, go read the original posts… it’s a doosey.

  2. For the love of God please tell me they at least dropped the charges against the man filming.

    1. Doubt it. It is typical policy to charge someone, anyone for a crime against the State or one of its agents.

    2. Negative. Apparently he did 42 days for it, although I found this in a comment on the previous reason article and didn’t attempt to verify it.

      Film a police officer and don’t come within 15m? Clearly assault. The prosecution straight-up lied.

      Qualified and especially absolute immunity are terrifying weapons when wielded by some.

      1. The 42 days is from the Original Knox News story, it is not in the Reason article. The 42 days was pre-trial detention because he couldn’t afford bail. The trial on the panic attack assult hadn’t even started yet when the original Reason article was posted.

  3. Holy fucking shit – what the hell?

    1. The FUCKING hell

  4. Huh. That was a pretty low-key call for an extensive national database tracking millions of Americans.

    1. Actually, a bit less than one million sworn LEOs nationwide. I’d be satisfied with a “do not hire this person” list.

  5. You can’t make this stuff up. Seriously, a panic attack for someone filming?

  6. That is one disturbing body cam video. The deputy’s panic is downright contagious. I don’t think I’ve had nightmares that bad!

    Sure glad they do psych screens to keep people like that away from jobs that trigger such attacks! Oh, wait….

  7. A spokesman for Sevier County Sheriff Ron “Hoss” Seals did not return a phone message.

    Ol Hoss was too busy chopping hickory to fire the still.

    1. Calling it your job ol Hoss sure don’t make it right
      But if you want me to I’ll say a prayer for your soul tonight

  8. If you remember something similar has made National news before. In 2014 Cleveland officer who shot and killed Tamir Rice resigned from his previous position as a police officer in Independence, Mo., to avoid being fired for insubordination, emotional immaturity, dishonesty and mishandling his gun.There was a letter in Loehmann’s personnel file Independence that says he was emotionally immature and had “an inability to emotionally function.” The letter also cites an emotional breakdown Loehmann had on the gun range in Independence. Loehmann was supposed to disclose that information when he was applying for the job in Cleveland, but he didn’t and apparently Cleveland PD didn’t do a proper background check.There needs to be a national database of these people.

  9. The Sheriff of Sevier County will hire any warm body especially if they have previous law enforcement training/ P.O.S.T. certification. What that translates into is saving money for his pocket. If you were to watch the video footage from Dep Johnson’s vest cam you would see that he is nuts. no other way to put it just plain NUCKIN FUTZ!!!!!

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