DA won't seek charges in fatal officer-involved shooting after 'ambush' at police HQ

DA won't seek charges in fatal officer-involved shooting after 'ambush' at police HQ
Bennett (Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police)
Bennett (Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police)

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - The District Attorney's Office confirmed Monday that no charges would be filed in the fatal officer-involved shooting of a man accused of "ambushing" police at CMPD headquarters in January.

Johnathan Bennett, 23, was wanted in the death of 24-year-old Brittany White, his girlfriend and the mother of his 2-month-old daughter. Police said they were holding a press briefing on Jan. 11 in the parking lot between the law enforcement center and CMPD parking deck when Bennett shot at them multiple times.

Several officers, including officer Jeffrey Zederbaum and officer Jared Decker, returned fire, police said.

Bennett was shot and taken to Carolinas Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead, police say. Autopsy results show Bennett had 14 gunshot wounds and two bullet grazes. His cause of death was ruled "multiple gunshot wounds."

The DA said Monday that the officers were justified in the shooting and that no charges would be sought against them.

There is no dispute that Probation Officers Johnson and Dzierzynski and CMPD Officers Decker and Zederbaum fired their weapons and killed Bennett. Therefore, the central issue in this review is whether or not the officers were justified under North Carolina law in using deadly force. A police officer – or any other person – is justified in using deadly force if he in fact believed that he or another person was in imminent danger of great bodily harm or death from the actions of the person who was shot and if his belief was reasonable. The evidence clearly supports the conclusion that when Officers Johnson, Dzierzynski, Decker, and Zederbaum fired their weapons at Bennett, they and numerous other unsuspecting officers were under fire from Bennett. As such, they faced an imminent threat of great bodily harm or death and were justified in returning fire. Consequently, I will not be seeking charges related to the death of Jonathan Bennett.

"He ambushed us, he shot at us," CMPD Police Chief Kerr Putney said in January after the incident.

Officer Casey Shue was shot in the leg and taken to the hospital with minor injuries. "Two CMPD officers and two probation officers fired their weapons during this incident," CMPD said.

Sources tell WBTV Bennett drove into an empty spot in the parking lot next to officers, got out of his vehicle, walked behind the vehicle and started shooting.

WBTV's Amanda Foster was in a news vehicle in the parking lot when the shots rang out. She was able to get video of the immediate aftermath.

Investigators believe Bennett shot and killed White and then took his 2-month-old daughter with him when he left the scene in west Charlotte.

That incident happened in the 4100 block of Carlyle Drive, which is off of Alleghany Street near Wilkinson Boulevard. Officers said White was found dead with a gunshot wound.

A source close to the investigation said that Bennett changed the license plate on his vehicle before going to the law enforcement center.

On March 6, autopsy and toxicology reports were released that showed Bennett consumed drugs and alcohol prior to the fatal uptown incident. The autopsy revealed Bennett had a .04 BAC at the time of the shooting. Bennett had also recently used marijuana and cocaine, according to the toxicology results.

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Officer Shue has been with CMPD since July 2014. Officer Zederbaum was hired in January 2009 and officer Decker has been with the department since July 2014.

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