JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — With Ja Mika Beard jailed and charged in two recent shootings, Johnson City police hope to find and arrest a second person they believe fired shots outside a downtown bar April 30. Police also believe Beard — who has also been charged in a May 4 shooting outside Carver apartments — is linked to four additional shootings that occurred in April, including three in one night.
“There were at least two different types of shell casings found at the scene,” Johnson City Police Department (JCPD) Capt. Kevin Peters told News Channel 11 Tuesday regarding a 1 a.m. shooting near the corner of Tipton and Spring streets downtown. When asked, Peters said police believe Beard was firing only one weapon that night.
“If we are able to obtain probable cause to arrest the person, we will definitely arrest him,” Peters said of the second shooter. An affidavit supporting the warrant to arrest Beard mentions Beard being “one of the shooters” and notes two people were crouched behind a parked car as a white Kia Soul drove by on Spring Street just before the shooting.
Peters said police are working to find that person, and at the same time, they try to build more evidence in order to charge Beard in the other shootings. One occurred at Monarch Apartments near East Tennessee State University on April 16. The three others happened early the morning of April 19, one in the Keystone apartment complex and two in other parts of south Johnson City.
“Right now, we feel that all the shootings are somewhat intertwined, and we feel like that he might be involved in all the shootings – whether it be that he’s the one that actually pulled the trigger or he had some knowledge of them,” Peters said. “We are investigating him in all the shootings.”
He said police hope Beard’s arrest might bring some witnesses forward who might have been scared for their safety.
“We’re hoping that now that he’s in custody, that maybe they’ll come forward and give us the information that’ll help us solve some additional shootings.”
Video stills from the April 19 Keystone shooting show two people outside an apartment building. Peters said whoever was involved in that, “there’ll definitely be charges if we’re able to identify them.”
Shootings not thought to be gang-related; downtown no less safe
When asked whether the shootings were not believed to be gang-related, Peters said there was no evidence pointing in that direction.
“We don’t know the actual motive behind the shootings, but you know, right now we don’t have much gang activity here inside Johnson City,” he said.
As for other criminal activity such as drug trafficking playing a role, Peters said he wouldn’t comment due to the ongoing investigation. He also said the JCPD doesn’t consider downtown or areas of south Johnson City more dangerous than anywhere else.
“This, we hope is an isolated incident,” Peters said. “We don’t have many incidents like this in downtown. We have had one homicide downtown this year, but again, we feel like it was an isolated incident.”
He advised anyone going places where a large number of people gather to make sure they’re aware of their surroundings and be vigilant about what’s going on around them. And he said the victims of the downtown shooting — one was inside a bar and another outside a different bar waiting to get in — were not shot by someone firing indiscriminately.
“We don’t feel that he was really a danger to the general public, even though some innocent victims got hit. It seems like he was targeting a specific group of people.”
Peters said the last string of related shootings he can recall in Johnson City occurred in the 1990s when a gang centered in Burlington, N.C. was involved. He said he hopes Beard’s arrest will make things quieter on the streets.
“We’re still continuing the investigation, but hopefully people seeing that an arrest has been made and knowing that we are working hard on this and we are looking for more people, then maybe things will stay quiet for a little while.”
Police had questioned Beard the night of the April 30 shooting and cited him for marijuana possession after finding him about half a mile from the scene and matching a description witnesses gave of one of the shooters.
Peters said despite the pot charge and their knowledge that Beard already faced attempted murder charges on yet another shooting, Dec. 1, 2021 in Johnson City, officers didn’t have cause to hold him. Four days later, Beard allegedly shot three more people in Carver, an event for which he faces three attempted second-degree murder charges.
“The description we had at that time was very vague,” Peters said of the April 30 interview at JCPD headquarters.
“We didn’t have a lot of the detailed descriptions that we were able to get later on. Once we were able to pull some video from some downtown merchants, we were able to corroborate that Mr. Beard was involved in the shootings, at which point we were able to obtain a warrant for his arrest.”
Police knew about Beard’s past charges. They had investigated that case and filed them, in fact.
“It’s a totally separate incident,” Peters said. “He had already been arrested on that; he had made bond. It’s just a requirement for somebody to show up for their court date, and so we don’t use bond as a punishment and the police department itself, we have no jurisdiction over the bond.”
While their work is not done, Peters lauded investigators for the hours they have put into the shooting investigations.
“They’ve been very diligent, they’ve done an excellent job, and it’s something that they’ve taken personally as far as wanting to ensure the safety of the citizens of Johnson City.”
Beard was arraigned Monday. His next court appearance is scheduled for May 19.