A U.S. Army combat veteran who shot two Loudoun deputies during a December 2017 domestic dispute in Sterling will spend the rest of his life behind bars.
A 12-member Circuit Court jury Tuesday evening sentenced Douglas Johnson, 41, to 74 years in prison, the minimum sentence for the 11 felonies of which he was convicted earlier that day. The jury handed him 40 years for two counts of attempted capital murder; 10 years for two counts of malicious wounding; 18 years for two counts of use of a firearm in the commission of attempted capital murder and two counts of use of a firearm in the commission of malicious wounding; and six years for three counts of maliciously discharging a firearm within an occupied building. He faced a maximum sentence of two life sentences plus an additional 88 years.
On Christmas Eve 2017, Loudoun deputies Katherine Fischer, Tim Iversen, and Justin Nyce responded to a domestic dispute call at a residence on Augusta Drive in Sterling. That dispute involved Johnson, who at the time had a top-secret security clearance and worked as a deputy senior operations officer at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and his then-19-year-old daughter, Anise. After determining that Johnson was the primary aggressor, the deputies resolved to arrest him. That decision upset Johnson, prompting him to jump into his closet, grab a 1911 .45-caliber handgun and fire it three times, hitting Iversen in his arm and both legs and Fischer in her leg. The entire alteration was captured in audio and video recordings that were played for the jury.
While Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Sean Morgan and Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Amy McMullen argued that Johnson intended to kill the deputies, Johnson’s defense attorney, Lisa Caruso, argued that Johnson was suicidal and never intended to harm the deputies, only himself.
Following six days of witness testimony, the jury on Monday evening deliberated for less than five hours before convicting Johnson on the 11 charges. But Tuesday morning, Judge James P. Fisher informed Caruso, McMullen and Morgan that he had been informed of a communication from one juror who was experiencing a level of “discomfort” in the initial unanimous verdict. Fisher gave the jury a bit of clarification on the original instructions and sent its members back to deliberate. About four hours later, the jury was back in the courtroom and reasserted its verdicts.
According to Johnson, the Dec. 24, 2017 dispute began a day prior when he and his former wife, Latifah, began an argument that ended with Johnson breaking a glass. Johnson said that when Anise came to help him sweep the glass up, he told her to leave because he didn’t want any “drama.” Johnson said that when he pulled the broom from Anise, she grabbed it back, which then struck her in the face and broke her glasses.
Johnson said the next day, he went to a bar and ordered four shots of gin before returning home and falling asleep. He said that when he woke up, Anise was on the phone near him, which irritated him. The calls to the Sheriff’s Office came after Johnson attempted several times to get Anise out of the house.
While Johnson said he “begged [Anise] to leave,” Iversen testified that Anise told him that Johnson put his hands around her neck and ripped her jacket. Johnson said those claims were “very surprising” to hear. The evidence led the deputies to inform Johnson that they were going to arrest him on a domestic violence charge.
Johnson said that surprised him because he thought that any focus of criminal activity would have been on Anise. “I was total in shock that they said I had to go with them,” he said.
After questioning the deputies several times as to why they were arresting him and making it clear that he was being arrested because he wanted his “disrespectful daughter out of the house,” Johnson shouted for Anise and Latifah in an attempt to get a response from them. “I’d do anything for y’all. Ya’ll having me arrested,” he shouted before diving into his master bedroom closet and grabbing the .45-caliber handgun.
At that point, Iversen armed his TASER and Fischer jumped on top of Johnson. Iversen then fired the TASER and hit Johnson in the torso from about 4-6 feet away. Nyce testified that during the brief few seconds that followed, Johnson said, “just kill me” before proceeding to cry.
Iversen testified that he heard and saw the flash of a single gunshot. Of the three shots that were fired, one was found lodged in Iversen’s vest, while the other two hit Iverson in his left arm and both legs and Fischer in her leg.
Johnson said he was attempting to commit suicide and that “it was never a thought in [his] mind” to harm the deputies. He described how he visualized his “brains dripping down the back of [his] back” from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.
“I just didn’t want to live anymore at that time … I was ready for it to just be over,” he said. “That bullet was for me.”
Johnson said that just before the gun went off, he felt an explosion in his right forearm, which Caruso argued was a third point of contact from the TASER that Iversen administered after realizing the probes were too close together to effectively incapacitate Johnson.
Johnson said that when the gun went off, the world around him went dark, which led him to believe he had died. “I was happy about that—everything completely stopped,” he said.
McMullen and Morgan described Johnson as a controlling individual who couldn’t stand Anise not listening to him. They said Johnson knew what he was doing when shooting the gun.
“This man was used to being in control,” McMullen said. “It was never an option for him to be a father, it was never an option for him to be an adult because he was too busy being in charge.”
As McMullen noted that Johnson owned the handgun for more than a decade and knew how to use it, Morgan pointed out that it takes 5.5 pounds of force to pull the trigger, which, he argued, would require a willing user to fire, rather than a user stricken by the shock of a TASER sting. “He knew exactly what he was doing,” McMullen said.
McMullen and Morgan told the jury that Johnson intended to kill the deputies, not himself. “It only takes one bullet to kill. He fired three,” McMullen said.
Morgan said the only way jury members could determine that Johnson didn’t intend to kill the deputies would be for them to believe Johnson’s words. He said that Johnson had a year and a half in jail to decide that he’d use suicide as an excuse in court. “There really isn’t anything else you can say,” Morgan said.
But Caruso said the commonwealth presented nearly 170 exhibits in the trial to “drown out” the fact that Johnson had no intent to kill or harm the officers, noting that the Sheriff’s Office’s investigation of the incident was biased because it was conducted internally, rather than by the Virginia State Police.
Caruso labelled Johnson a “patriot” who was not an “angry, controlling cop killer.” She argued that Johnson was suicidal and that he dove toward the back of his closet to grab the handgun “because he was trying to take his own life.”
She argued that Johnson was suicidal because of the events he had been through in life, which included seeing his fellow servicemen die in combat while deployed several times in Iraq and dealing with the death of both of his parents within a three-month span while on his second deployment in 2006.
Following the jury’s guilty verdicts, 10 witnesses took to the stand to tell the jury their thoughts of Johnson and how the events on Dec. 24, 2017 affected their lives.
Fischer said that she used to be a certified personal trainer and was forced to take leave from work for four and a half months and go through physical therapy for nearly a year. She said she still has pain in her knee and plans to go back to physical therapy.
While Iversen described his injuries and how they affected him, he also addressed Johnson directly. “I forgive you—I forgave you in the ambulance on the way to the hospital,” he said.
Choked up, Johnson thanked Iversen and Fischer for saving his life and apologized for “what occurred.” He said that mental health is “very important” and that, for reasons he chose not to make public, never prioritized maintenance of his own mental health. “I should have never grabbed my weapon,” he said.
When Johnson’s family and friends spoke to the jury, they described Johnson as “kind,” “giving,” “loving,” “inspirational,” “selfless” and “humble.” “He’s always been good and he still has good in him,” said Wendy Moody, Johnson’s fiancée.
Stephen Lally, a psychologist who evaluated Johnson in May, told the jury that Johnson “fully meets the criteria for PTSD” and depression, noting that his time spent in combat abroad led him to feel uneasy in crowded situations and to feel at times as if there was no future for him.
Caruso asked the jury to remember who Johnson was and who he still is.
Morgan said that while Johnson’s sister said that Johnson’s life was on the line on Tuesday, the deputies’ lives were on the line on Dec. 24, 2017. He told the jury that “something more than the minimum is fully merited.”
But the jury imposed the minimum sentence, sending Johnson away until his 115thbirthday.