BRISTOL, Va. (WJHL) – Representatives of the Commonwealth of Virginia and the attorneys of Johnathan Brown presented new evidence as the trial of the Bristol, Virginia Police (BVPD) officer approaches. Brown is currently facing several charges, including murder, after a fatal March 2021 shooting at a Bristol motel.
A motion hearing for Brown’s murder trial began around 1:40 p.m. Friday, with Commonwealth’s Attorney Don Caldwell arguing that a prior shooting in 2018 indicates a mindset and pattern with Brown. Caldwell is a commonwealth’s attorney from Roanoke, who was appointed as a special prosecutor due to a conflict of interest with local prosecutors.
According to an eyewitness, who testified under oath in the hearing, officers were called for a welfare check on July 23, 2018, after an elderly man made suicidal statements and obtained a firearm within his home. When officers arrived, the witness said she tried to explain the situation to officers but was asked to stay away from the area.
Prosecutors said Brown was the lead officer in the building, and when they entered, the witness said she heard yelling before a “barrage of bullets” were fired. She said officers were informed that the man owned several firearms, including a shotgun, and that she had seen him with two pistols before leaving his home.
Brown’s attorneys then called a retired BVPD lieutenant to the stand. When asked, the former lieutenant said it is expected of officers to make contact with the subject of a welfare check and that he believed the officers were reasonable to enter the home.
Brown’s attorneys asked the judge to consider the evidence surrounding the event inadmissible, saying that the shooting was lawful and justified. The defense said their main concern was turning the incident into a trial inside a trial and that the evidence – if admitted – would cause an emotional reaction within jurors.
The defense also noted that Brown was not found to violate BVPD policy in the incident and was not charged after a Commonwealth investigation.
Prosecutors said the 2018 incident served to prove a pattern of behavior with Brown, in which he escalated conflict with non-compliant suspects to justify the use of force. Brown’s attorneys argued that the incident itself was irrelevant and that jurors should consider the March 2021 incident on its own. The court, Judge Sage Johnson presiding, will take the arguments, prior cases and evidence presented by both sides and issue an opinion on the matter within the next two weeks.
Brown’s murder charge stems from a shooting on March 30, 2021, during which prosecutors say Brown shot and killed Jonathen Kohler, a Bristol, Tennessee man. In May 2021, city leaders announced that a grand jury had indicted Brown on charges of murder, use of a firearm in the commission of murder and malicious shooting into an occupied vehicle.
Brown allegedly shot Kohler after he refused to get out of his vehicle in the motel parking lot and drove toward Brown. The BVPD suspended Brown without pay pending the outcome of the investigation.