Bristol, Virginia police officer charged with murder out on bond

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BRISTOL, Va. (WJHL) — A Bristol, Virginia police officer who has been charged with murder is out on bond, according to court records.

A grand jury on Monday indicted officer Johnathan Brown on charges of murder, use of a firearm in the commission of a murder, and malicious shooting into an occupied vehicle.

Johnathan Brown (Photo: Bristol, Virginia Police Dept.)

The charges are in connection to the March 30 death of Jonathen Kohler, 31 of Bristol, Tennessee. Kohler was shot and killed near a motel at the intersection of Euclid Avenue and Gate City Highway.

Court records show that Brown’s attorney signed off on a $25,000 bond agreement after a warrant was issued for his arrest.

“He doesn’t have a criminal…a violent criminal record of any sort and he did turn himself in,” said Dana Schrad, the executive director for the Virginia Chiefs of Police Association. “So, there are a lot of factors to take into consideration. Bond is set to ensure that someone returns to court. It’s not in and of itself a punishment. So, I think the special prosecutor here must feel very certain that he will appear in court when his day comes.”

The Bristol, Virginia Sheriff’s Office confirmed that Brown turned himself in Tuesday and immediately bonded out of jail without having to submit a mugshot.

“Mug shots are typically taken and distributed to the press on there I have been instances where I have seen the mugshots have not been disclosed and the two incidents that I can think of did involve police officers,” said Megan Rhyne, the executive director for the Virginia Coalition for Open Government.

News Channel 11 submitted a Freedom of Information Act Request for body camera footage but it was denied by Virginia State Police.

“It is being withheld under an exemption in FOIA and all the exemptions in FOIA for the most part are discretionary,” Rhyne said. “So, when a law enforcement agency is not releasing body camera footage because of an ongoing investigation they’re making a choice not to release it. I’m not saying it’s the wrong choice but it’s the choice there’s no prohibition about releasing that footage.”

The case against Brown is being handled by the commonwealth’s attorney in Roanoke after local prosecutors recused themselves to avoid a conflict.

“In 2018 nationally, there were 61.5 million police-public contacts. In 2018 there were 10 officers convicted of either murder or manslaughter. Even though every case is important, every loss of life is critically important, the number of cases in which an officer is found guilty of using excessive force and is actually charged and convicted of murder is very rare,” Schrad said. “I cannot think of a case in Virginia where a law enforcement officer was convicted of murder. But, we’d have to check the databases on that. Obviously, it’s a very rare occurrence. We do not have that kind of history in Virginia with our law enforcement community.”

News Channel 11 reached out to Brown’s attorney and Don Caldwell, the commonwealth attorney handling the case, for comment and have not yet received a response.

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