On Christmas Eve, 2017, Loudoun deputies Katherine Fischer, Tim Iversen, and Justin Nyce responded to a domestic dispute between a father and daughter at a Sterling home. An hour later, two were being treated for gunshot wounds and a 41-year-old Iraq War veteran was in custody, in tears, and facing the possibility of spending his life in prison.
On Tuesday, a Loudoun Circuit Court jury began hearing testimony in the two-week trial of Douglas Johnson, who is charged with two counts of attempted capital murder, two counts of aggravated malicious assault, four counts of use of a firearm in committing a felony and three counts of discharging a firearm inside a building.
According to opening statements by the lawyers in the case, the jurors will be asked to determine whether Johnson was an angry, controlling man who sought to prevent his arrest by shooting the deputies or was a suicidal PTSD victim whom deputies failed to protect during a high-stress situation. With the deputies equipped with recording equipment and body cameras, the jurors were expected to see and hear the incident just as it played out.
Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Amy McMullen told the jury that they would see deputies dealing with Johnson’s anger and hostilities in a calm and professional manner, but “in the moments that followed, the lives of all these deputies changed forever.”
Defense attorney, Lisa Caruso, said attempts to portray Johnson as an “angry, controlling cop-killer” were based on “faulty logic.” Instead, she said Johnson, who had a history of suicidal behavior, was trying to take his own life. “They are protecting their own; that’s their job,” she said of the prosecution’s case.
The domestic confrontation began Dec. 23, as Johnson fought with his then 19-year-old daughter, repeatedly trying to make her leave the home during a series of altercations that got physical at times. Around 4 p.m. Dec. 24, Johnson’s daughter made a 911 call to report the trouble. Johnson also called dispatchers to provide his side of the story.
Deputies arrived on the scene knowing there was a domestic dispute involving a military veteran and his daughter with weapons in the home. After talking to the parties separately, deputies decided to arrest Johnson. When they informed Johnson of that decision, he was already in an upstairs bedroom. He shouted at his daughter and former wife asking why they were having him arrested. He then lunged for a 1911 .45-caliber handgun in the closet. One deputy deployed a TASER and two jumped on top of him. Johnson fire three shots, striking two deputies. He then asked deputies to “just kill me.”
Nyce, now a former Loudoun County Sheriff’s deputy, was one of the first to take to the witness stand following opening statements on Tuesday. Nyce testified that he perceived Johnson to be a threat as soon as he arrived at the home because of the nature of the call—a domestic dispute—and because of Johnson’s large size.
Nyce said it wasn’t long before he, Fischer and Iversen identified Johnson as the primary aggressor in the situation and told Johnson they were going to arrest him on a domestic violence charge, considering the evidence of his daughter’s ripped coat.
“So my daughter and ex-wife are getting me arrested,” Johnson was heard saying in a recording of the event from the deputies’ police gear. “I’m being arrested because I want my disrespectful daughter out of the house.”
Johnson was then heard shouting at his daughter and former wife and, just before he fired the three rounds, was heard telling them that “I’d do anything for y’all” and once again that they were getting him arrested. Incoherent screams were heard throughout the next few minutes following the gunshots, along with groans of Fischer in agony from the pain of being shot.
Nyce testified that before the shootings, Johnson asked Nyce to kill him and then began to cry.
Iversen, who had four injuries, including two on his left forearm, one on his left thigh, and one on his right, handcuffed Johnson. Nyce tied a tourniquet on Fischer’s bleeding leg, where a round just missed her femoral artery.
After Nyce listened to the recording and was asked by McMullen about his recollection of tending to Fischer, Nyce said he later “was covered in blood all over my uniform and my hands and I was upset.”
Testimony in the trial is scheduled to continue into next week.
If convicted, Johnson could face up to two life terms in prison for twice attempting capital murder; two life terms for two counts of aggravated malicious assault; 13 years for an initial count and two subsequent counts of using a firearm in committing a felony; and up to 30 years for three counts of maliciously discharging a firearm indoors.