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Administrative Office
101 W. Pine St. - Room 1
Sheridan, AR 72150

Hours:  M-F  8am - 4:30pm
     
08/20/2009

Little Rock Shooting Suspect's chase ends in Grant County

SHERIDAN POLICE OFFICER Shane Green tapes off the scene of a shooting at the intersection of Little Creek Cutoff Road and State Highway 46 North in Grant County. The suspect in the shooting earlier shot and killed Democratic Party Chairman Bill Gwatney in Little Rock before fleeing into Grant County. Additional photographs are included on page 6. Photo by Millie McClain

Man sought in shooting death
killed by officers near Sheridan
By Millie McClain

The shooting of Democratic Party Chairman Bill Gwatney and the high-speed chase of the suspected gunman engaged local police officers, along with the Arkansas State Police and Little Rock officers, in a an armed confrontation resulting in the death of the suspect at the intersection of Little Creek Cutoff Road and State Highway 46 North in Grant County.

The ordeal that shut down traffic at the intersection of Little Creek Cuttoff and Hwy. 46 N. from 12:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. began just before noon last Wednesday, Aug. 13, at the Arkansas Democratic Party Headquarters in Little Rock near the state capitol. A gunman entered the office, asked to speak to Gwatney, and after being denied admission into Gwatney's office, proceeded on toward Gwatney when he allegedly fired multiple shots at Gwatney, who later died from his injuries.

It has been reported that a man matching the same description entered the Arkansas State Baptist Convention just seven blocks away from the Democratic headquarters office where he brandished a gun and allegedly pointed it at someone there, but never fired and ran out of the building a short time later.

A description of the suspect's vehicle was given to law enforcement agencies, and Arkansas State Police troopers from Troop A located a vehicle matching the description of the suspect's vehicle around the Dixon Road Exit of Interstate 530 just after noon, according to Arkansas State Police spokespersons.

Bill Sadler with the ASP said, during a press conference held at the Grant County Sheriff's Office later that afternoon, that troopers then engaged in a pursuit with the suspect at 12:06 p.m., which led into Grant County.

Grant County Sheriff Lance Huey spoke during that press conference saying that they received radio communications of the pursuit heading into Grant County and reacted immediately to assist in stopping the vehicle. He said at approximately 12:10 p.m. about five miles north of Sheridan on U.S. Hwy. 167 North that Grant County deputies attempted to stop the vehicle with spike strips, however, the suspect evaded the strips and continued toward Sheridan. Huey explained at that time officers then received confirmation that the suspect was indeed the person involved in the shooting of Gwatney. The suspect was later identified as Timothy Dale Johnson, 50, of Searcy.

When asked why the vehicle was allowed to get so far into Grant County Sheriff Huey explained, "We needed confirmation that the person being chased was the same person who did the shooting in Little Rock. Once we received confirmation, we acted immediately."

Grant County sheriff's deputies then joined the pursuit in an attempt to stop the vehicle.

Sheridan Police Chief Bob Adams said the SPD received information that the pursuit was heading toward the city, and acted immediately to assist with a roadblock at Little Creek Cutoff Road. He explained that the suspect took the ditch crossing through the Winston Clinic parking lot in an attempt to evade the roadblock. Adams confirmed during this time a Sheridan officer fired his weapon at the vehicle in an attempt to disable the vehicle.

Chief Adams said, "In an attempt to stop the vehicle, a Sheridan officer shot at the vehicle striking it and causing damage, which helped to slow the vehicle down. I think the officers acted properly and in the best interest of the safety of our residents."

Grant County Sheriff's deputies then took lead of the pursuit due to their knowledge of the side roads and general area. Sheriff Huey explained that the decision to not "pit the vehicle" (a tactical maneuver to try and stop a vehicle) at that time was made by supervisors and was due to the close proximity of the daycare on Little Creek Cutoff Road. Once past the daycare Sheriff Huey gave a "direct order to take the vehicle out." Shortly thereafter, Grant County Deputy Pete Roberts rammed the vehicle. The vehicle spun and stopped facing westbound partially in the ditch area and partially in the roadway just south of the stop sign at the intersection of Little Creek Cutoff Road and Hwy. 46 N. as the suspect vehicle began to turn onto Hwy. 46.

Johnson then exited the blue Dodge pickup with a gun in hand and shots were fired, according to local authorities. Huey said officers then fired at Johnson, who was struck several times. Three ASP officers were placed on administrative leave with pay pending investigation as is deemed necessary per ASP policy with any officer involved in a shooting. No local officers have been placed on leave or reprimanded.

Chief Adams said," We are conducting a critical incident review of our involvement in the incident. That is just my policy in any critical incident. From everything I've seen, heard and looked at, at this point, I think our officers acted properly and did an excellent job, as well as the county's officers. I do not see any reason to think otherwise. I think our officers should be commended for their efforts and their professionalism."

Sheriff Huey agreed saying, "This is an example of training being put to the test. Critical decisions were made within seconds by supervisors and officers, which caused this pursuit to end. Many of those decisions were made while traveling over 100 miles per hour. Sheridan Police did a great job of keeping the suspect vehicle from getting into the city. Grant County Sheriff's Office deputies did a great job of immobilizing the vehicle in a spot away from a crowded area. When the suspect appeared with gun in hand - the officers had no choice."

The Grant County patrol unit that pitted Johnson's vehicle received damage from both the vehicle contact and from gunfire. The unit received two bullet holes in the rear area. No officers were hurt during the gunfire.

Johnson was treated at the scene by Grant County Rescue and MEMS ambulance. He was airlifted by MedFlight to Baptist Health Medical Center in Little Rock a short time later where he was pronounced dead.

Huey said the investigation into the shooting of Johnson and activities leading up to the shooting were turned over to Arkansas State Police. He said numerous ASP investigators were on the scene Wednesday evening and conducted an investigation at the scene to collect evidence, which included the discovery of three firearms on the ground near Johnson and a large amount of ammunition and additional guns in the vehicle.

As to a motive for why Johnson shot Gwatney, there are still no certain answers, although reports have stated that Johnson had been in conflict with his place of employment, the Target store in Conway, earlier in the morning over graffiti that he allegedly wrote on the building walls including profanity and negative remarks against the store and employees, and that he left his job voluntarily. Later that evening, police conducted a search of Johnson's home in Searcy where they found 14 firearms, anti-depressants, his will and a post-it note bearing the name Gwatney, a phone number and two sets of keys for vehicles from Gwatney car lots. Gwatney owned three car dealerships in the Little Rock area.

Authorities did confirm Johnson has some connections to Grant County, including relatives, but they do not believe he was enroute to that residence. The family members have also been cooperative with police, according to local authorities.

Johnson's sisters released the following statement late last week in response to the incident, "The family of Tim Johnson would like to express our deepest, sincere sympathy to Mr. Gwatney's family. Our hearts are heavy with grief for your loss. We ask the media for time and privacy as we seek to deal with this tragedy, which is beyond our understanding."

He was also known to have been in Leola the weekend before at a Forestry School reunion with former classmates.

It has also been learned that Johnson was a student at Arkansas State University-Beebe where he was studying computer technology. "As Sheriff, I appreciate everyone who helped bring this to an end. From the dispatchers to the police to the rescue/MEMS personnel - everyone performed according to training," said Sheriff Huey. "As a supervisor, I don't see how this could have ended any better. I feel very bad that Mr. Johnson chose to take the actions that he did and I feel for the Gwatney family, but once these events began to unfold, our job was to ensure the safety of the citizens of this area and we did that!"

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