BRISTOL, Va. (WJHL) – On the fifth day of the murder trial, the man standing directly to the right of Bristol, Virginia Police Officer Johnathan Brown when he shot and killed Jonathen Kohler testified on Tuesday he would have fired his weapon also.
In the early hours of March 30, 2021, BVPD Officer John Carty was standing with all five other officers on patrol that night shift at the Sheetz gas station on Exit 5 along Interstate 81 when a call from dispatch became audible, alerting officers that two people had dialed 911 to report “shots fired.”
Carty explained to the 14-member jury Tuesday that patrol officers receive “slivers of information” from dispatch that they have to weave together. He used the example of Wheel of Fortune, as more information becomes available to officers, more letters appear on the screen and the clearer the phrase, or in this case, the clearer the situation becomes.
“I felt 100% confident that there was a shooting ongoing,” Carty said, adding that by the time he and his fellow officers arrived at their rendezvous point across a narrow street from the reported shots fired, the Roadway Inn, four calls had reported shots in total.
“Cheap hotels are a hotbed for criminal activity, this motel is by far the worst,” he said.
He explained, however, that getting a call for “shots fired” during night shift was nothing out of the ordinary in Bristol, Virginia. It was odd and “scary” that four separate people had called about hearing gunshots in the same area, near the Roadway Inn. That meant it wasn’t your usual fireworks or car backfiring, but the chances of four people reporting the same thing not leading to actual gunfire were slim, he said.
Carty believed he was walking into an active shooting situation, because he had no idea whether all four people had called regarding the same shots fired, or if there was continuous gunfire. Video evidence later showed the deceased, Kohler, has shot five rounds into the air from the window of his Ford Mustang sitting in the rear parking lot of the Roadway Inn.
For seven hours, Carty told the jury of his training, and he had prepared for situations such as this. Not only himself, but Carty is qualified to train other officers to prepare for situations such as this.
“An active shooter situation is the scariest call a police officer can get,” he said.
Carty confirmed what the other two officers, Timothy Sizemore and Christopher Stine, had testified to the day before – officers staged across the street and walked to the Roadway Inn.
They encountered a white male walking down a breezeway of the motel but cleared him as a suspect after searching his person.
The four officers made their way in groups of two to the back parking lot of the Roadway Inn.
“I felt certain there was criminal activity afoot in this parking lot involving a firearm or somebody shooting,” Carty said.
Carty was partnered with Brown. The pair came across a white male sitting in a 1994 red Ford Mustang and Carty immediately asked the man for his driver’s license, which he got.
“I didn’t see a single soul in this parking lot except the individual sitting behind the steering wheel,” he said. “I was going to confirm or dispel that he was the shooter.”
As Carty looked at Kohler, the man sitting in the Mustang in the parking lot, he noticed that Kohler was drenched in sweat even though it was a freezing March morning.
“He was as high as a Georgia pine,” Carty told the jury. “I think before he even talked, I had a feeling. I was like, ‘this guy is really high.'”
Carty felt the man, identified later as Kohler, was extremely high on methamphetamine. He did not know Kohler at all, he said.
He said he knew Kohler was guilty of some sort of crime, almost certain they had found their shooter, he told the jury.
“The guilty mind speaks very clearly most times,” Carty explained, saying that Kohler kept saying “it wasn’t me,” when asked if he heard any gunshots.
No evidence of Kohler’s words are available as neither of the two officers present had their body-worn cameras operational at the time.
Once all four officers surrounded Kohler’s Mustang, Carty walked to the back of the car to call in the driver’s license number to dispatch.
Officer Stine had taken Carty’s place standing at the driver’s window of the vehicle, giving Kohler commands to keep his hands on the steering wheel.
All three officers who had testified as of Tuesday who were on the scene that morning said they saw Kohler taking his hands off the steering wheel and reaching to the floorboard many times.
“My spidey senses were tingling as much as they could,” Carty said. “I felt the urge coming over me that we were getting ready to have a shootout.”
Carty said he grew emotional and testified that he regretted calling Kohler an expletive that morning when he commanded him to get out of his vehicle.
He said he knew Kohler had a weapon by that point and assumed he meant to kill the officers, so he attempted to remove Kohler from the vehicle and search his person, but when officers started yelling at him to get out of the car, Kohler yelled back that he wished to leave and started backing out of his parking spot.
The rest of the incident happened “as quick as you can snap your fingers or blink your eyes,” Carty said.
“I could see [Brown] out of my peripheral to my left and he wasn’t that far away,” he explained. “It was chaos, the way [Kohler] backed up and shot out of there.”
When Kohler accelerated his vehicle attempting to leave the Roadway Inn parking lot, Carty said it sounded like Thunder Valley.
He was told after the incident that Kohler’s vehicle had been modified, which Commonwealth’s Attorney Don Caldwell pointed out made its way into Carty’s testimony.
“I see the front lift up like a boat,” Carty said.
He testified that he saw Brown standing right in front of the Mustang when Kohler put the gearshift into drive.
“[Kohler] was a lethal threat to Officer Brown,” maybe even himself, Carty told the jury.
“In my mind at that point, we crossed the threshold of lethal force,” he explained that only when one’s life or the lives of others is threatened can an officer use lethal force. “I was going to use my patrol rifle to stop the threat.”
But ultimately, Brown beat him to the punch.
Carty a week later found Kohler’s ID in his uniform while he was washing laundry. It was never turned over as evidence.
After Kohler was killed, officers were seen talking among themselves.
Caldwell pointed out later that nearly 50 witnesses had been called in this case.
The last one of the day was Mark Johnson, the president of Visual Law Group.
His firm was hired by the defense attorney Heather Howard to construct a 3D visual version of the scene in a software program so the jury is able to see the scope of time and distance throughout the events of the incident.