BRISTOL, Va. (WJHL) — Bristol, Virginia Police Officer Johnathan Brown and three others were nearing the end of a shift with a cup of coffee when three calls reported an active shooting at the Roadway Inn on March 30, 2021.
The incident left one man, Jonathen Kohler, dead. Less than two months later, Officer Brown was arrested and charged with murder, among other charges, in Kohler’s death. Brown has since pleaded not guilty to all of his charges.
The first day of trial proceedings revealed circumstances that unraveled over a year ago — details not yet released to the public. On Wednesday, Brown’s attorney described the fatal shooting and what led to his decision to use fatal force, which police are trained to use in certain situations, according to the defense.
Brown’s attorney said four Bristol, Virginia officers responded to the Roadway Inn on March 30, 2021 after three calls to dispatch — beginning at 3:14 a.m. — reported an active shooting. When police arrived, they found Kohler sitting in his running car.
Officers surrounded Kohler as he sat in a modified Mustang, according to the defense, with Brown near the passenger window. Kohler, who was later determined to be 10 times over Virginia’s legal limit of methamphetamine to drive, put the car in reverse before allegedly switching to drive and pressing his foot to the accelerator.
“[Kohler] floored it,” Brown’s defense attorney said. “It shot forward like a speeding bullet.”
The defense claimed that as Kohler’s vehicle moved toward Brown, the officer allegedly “had half a second to shoot or get run over.” Brown then fired his weapon six times. One of the bullets hit Kohler in the head, killing him almost instantly.
The car, still in drive as Kohler died behind the wheel, crashed into another vehicle in the motel parking lot before coming to a stop. At 6:24 a.m., special agents with Virginia State Police arrived at the scene to investigate the aftermath of an incident that left one man dead, clearing the scene by 11:13 a.m. later that day.
911 calls from the morning of the shooting were used in court Wednesday. Callers described lying on the floor after hearing shots fired along with their fear as the noise rang out.
The investigation revealed that prior to the deadly officer-involved shooting, Kohler was allegedly involved in a shooting that elicited police response early that morning. Brown’s defense stated that a text from Kohler to a woman inside the motel threatened to “put 18 rounds through [her] window and shoot up the motel.”
Following Kohler’s shooting death, police found five casings in the parking lot that matched a 9mm gun in his vehicle. Also discovered in the Mustang were a baseball bat and a locked safe stowed away in the trunk. It is unclear what the safe carried.
The fatal March 2021 incident was not a first for Brown, however. In 2018, he responded to a welfare check that left a man dead, but an investigation into the shooting determined the officer had not violated Bristol, Virginia Police Department policy.
The trial will continue on Thursday and is expected to last two weeks.
This is a developing story as the trial remains ongoing, and cameras are not allowed in the courtroom. News Channel 11 will provide updates as we receive them on-air and online at WJHL.com.