12.17.2007

TS - 09/12/2006 The last inquest

The last inquest
Moore shooting circumstances far more complicated

The last Humboldt County Coroner's inquest conducted into a police-involved shooting was in 2000, months after Eureka Police officer Mark Victors killed parolee Harold Hans “Joey” Johanssen Jr. with a handgun in a fight during an apprehension. That case was far less complicated than the one that will be aired beginning today.
The Victors-Johanssen situation involved one officer, one parolee, one handgun, one bullet. Johanssen was an immediate threat to the much smaller Victors once a brawl began.

In contrast, the inquest into the shooting of Cheri Lyn Moore is more complex. The April day she was shot, there was an hours-long standoff at her G Street apartment. She was known by mental health workers.

While she held a flare gun at times, which officials said could set off a blaze in the apartment building, most residents had been evacuated.

Physically, the 48-year-old Moore probably posed no threat. Hypothetically, a round from a flare gun, if it struck a gap in body armor, could be deadly or cause serious injury. When officers stormed the building carrying shotguns and rifles, they fired repeatedly, striking Moore nine times.

There were no living witnesses other than police to the actual shooting, and some of the witnesses stuck in an adjacent apartment are missing, and could not be located by the coroner.

The jury in the Moore case could decide whether or not all that force was justified.

The Johanssen case

The day after Christmas 1999, Eureka Police Officer Mark Victors stopped Hans Harold “Joey” Johanssen in the WinCo parking lot.

Johanssen looked familiar to Victors, then a seven-year veteran of the force. When the officer asked the man for identification, he couldn't produce any. Victors grabbed Johannsen's arm, preparing to detain him.

Johanssen ran. In fact, he had been on the run for several weeks.

Believed responsible for several burglaries and one or more car thefts, he had evaded a manhunt earlier that month. He may have been behind a residential burglary that night. He was initially on parole for shooting out windows at the Eureka Police Department.

As Johanssen fled, Victors pulled out a pair of nunchucks two sticks joined by a rope and gave chase. He hit Johanssen, who turned on Victors. The 28-year-old parolee was substantially larger than Victors, and he quickly began getting the best of the officer.

Victors dropped the nunchucks, and would later say he could not get hold of his mace, baton or radio. He drew his service weapon and shot Johanssen in the abdomen at point-blank range.

A few hours later, at 11:20 p.m., Johanssen died on an operating room table at St. Joseph Hospital.

Unknown to Victors at the time, Johanssen was carrying a loaded pistol and extra ammunition. When his home was searched, several other weapons were found.

Then-District Attorney Terry Farmer and Eureka police were tight-lipped about the shooting. A coroner's inquest was called, to take place in March.

An 11-member jury listened to several witnesses describe the scene, stories that largely gybed with the account Victors would give.

Taking the stand instead of exercising his Fifth Amendment right, Victors said it was a shoot-or-die confrontation that December night. He testified that Johanssen turned during the foot chase, facing Victors, and began punching him in the face, while saying he would kill the officer.

“I felt that if I did not stop the assault he was going to kill me,” Victors told the courtroom.

Ten of the 11 jurors believed him, and after a 45-minute deliberation decided that Victors was acting in self-defense when he shot Johanssen.

The facts were not much consolation to some. His aunt, Christine Johanssen, who had said she felt the police were out to get her nephew, said she'd been afraid Johanssen would be shot.

“He is not the monster they're saying he is,” she said at the time.

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John Driscoll - The Times-Standard
Article Launched: 09/12/2006 07:17:00 AM PDT

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