Case Acquitted: ‘I Was Trying To Make Life or Death Decisions’ Says Defendant in Funeral Shooting

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This case was acquitted on Dec. 1, 2023.

On Nov. 29, a non-fatal shooting defendant took the stand before DC Superior Court Judge Jason Park

Saphire Johnson, 24, is charged with aggravated assault while armed and assault with a dangerous weapon, among other charges, for her alleged involvement in a non-fatal shooting on Sept. 28 at the 4000 block of Alabama Avenue, SE. 

The shooting occurred outside of Johnson’s grandmother’s church funeral after multiple family members got into an altercation. Johnson, along with one other person, were injured by gunshots. 

Defense attorneys, Christen Romero Philips and Varsha Govindaraju, asked Johnson to tell what happened.

Explaining why she brought a gun to the funeral, Johnson remarked on her safety as an African American woman explaining many of her family members had suffered from gun violence. She said, “I’m not as strong as a male. In my experience, it can get deadly”. 

During the verbal altercation between her and her family member, Johnson recalled the family member stated, “I should’ve killed your ass a long time ago,” while patting a bag he had on his chest. Johnson believed this bag contained a gun and felt threatened.

As a result, Johnson jumped a nearby fence and ran out into the street in an attempt to get away.

Then she felt a hard hit from behind and to her shock when she turned discovered another relative had hit her. She stated, “I was terrified. It wasn’t just a verbal disagreement”. 

Johnson saw a third family member running towards her with a hand on his waistband. Johnson believed he was reaching for a gun, and pulled out her own gun in hopes of scaring him off. 

She only shot when the first family member reached for his bag, which she thought contained a gun. She stated, “I was trying to make life or death decisions in 30 seconds”. 

During cross-examination, prosecution alleged Johnson impeded the investigation by informing officers she did not know why she was shot. Johnson rebutted that she did not want to provide any names to the police as she didn’t trust them and wanted to keep her family safe. Johnson stated she was not afraid of other people naming her as the shooter and did not try to intervene with witnesses talking to police. 

Based on surveillance footage, prosecution alleged one of Johnson’s family members picked up the gun after she dropped it, reasoning this may have been one of the reasons police weren’t able to collect the weapon. Johnson firmly denied the allegation. 

Parties are expected to reconvene Nov 30. to present their closing arguments. 

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