Police Detective Shoots Man He Mistakenly Thought Was Armed Robber, Police Say

The officer initially believed the man was armed but police say they have not found a weapon.

A Philadelphia police detective driving an unmarked car shot and critically wounded a man in Kensington who he mistakenly thought had a weapon and was trying to rob him.

The detective was stopped in traffic around 8:50 p.m. Monday in the 3400 block of G Street when he saw a man walking toward the driver's side of the vehicle. The 7-½ year veteran was in plain clothes and headed to police headquarters after processing a scene.

Surveillance video obtained by NBC10 from a nearby store showed the man, later identified as Joel Johnson, walking by several cars before nearing the detective's vehicle. 

Editor’s note: This video could be disturbing to some viewers. Surveillance video from a business shows the moments leading up to and after the shooting of a man. Police say a detective in a car mistook the man as armed. The video has been paused to not show the actual shooting.

Suddenly, gunshots burst through the detective's car, according to the video. Johnson dropped to the ground and then stood back up with his hands over his head.

Johnson said something to the detective, but his window was rolled up and he couldn't hear. according to police. The detective, who has not been identified, thought he saw a firearm in Johnson's hand and believed he was trying to rob him, investigators said.

The detective fired four shots through his car window, striking the man once in the torso.

The Philadelphia Police Advisory Commission said in a statement that it was "disheartened" to learn about the incident.

"It’s difficult to believe that the Detective acted reasonably or with any regard for the sanctity of a human life," the Police Advisory Commission said in a statement. "We look forward to reviewing the entire investigation and working with the Police Department to determine the appropriate response."

The Fraternal Order of Police initally declined to comment and then released the following statement:

“We are confident that investigators will do a thorough and transparent investigation of the incident, and we urge the public to reserve judgment until the investigation is completed,” FOP president John McNesby said.

Residents said Johnson is a known panhandler in the neighborhood. His family told NBC10 that he is a good person who wouldn't hurt anyone.

"He doesn't approach anyone aggressively," local resident Dwayne Canady said. "I've never seen him be disrespectful."

Responding officers took Johnson to Temple University Hospital. He was listed in critical but stable condition as of Tuesday morning and is expected to survive, Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross said.

Ross said police did not recover a weapon and he doesn't expect them to find one.

Chester Police Detective Jamison Rogers analyzed the video of the shooting.

"It's a grainy video but you do see this individual approaching the car," Detective Rogers said. "It looked to me at a walking pace, but not like he was running toward the car."

Rogers told NBC10 the officer was justified in shooting Johnson if he believed he was armed.

"If you feel an imminent threat to yourself or the safety of the public, the officer does have the right to take an action that will stop that threat," he said.

Other residents believe, however, that Johnson never posed a threat and the detective was never in danger.

"He'll just walk up to your car with quarters, and if you say, 'No,' he'll just go to the next car," Khalif Bolling, a neighbor, told NBC10. "He never was violent towards nobody. There's no need for him to pull out a gun and shoot him. I'm quite sure he wasn't fearing for his life."

The detective involved is currently on paid leave as police continue to investigate.

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