Man charged with murder in fatal shooting of Rochester police officer

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WIVB) – Three shots were fired Wednesday night after a traffic stop in Rochester and one claimed the life of Officer Daryl R. Pierson.

Police say Pierson and his 41-year-old partner, Michael DiPaola, were providing backup for a unit attempting to stop 38-year-old Thomas Johnson III on Hudson Avenue around 9:25 p.m. on Wednesday. The suspect and another person fled on foot and police say Johnson fired once, hitting Pierson. Police say Pierson never had the opportunity to draw his weapon.

Pierson’s partner shot at and hit Johnson, who he then took into custody. As Johnson was falling to the ground, he accidentally discharged a second round, hitting an innocent bystander. The .25-caliber gun was later found on Hudson Avenue.

A witness, who did not want to be identified, said her 23-year-old nephew was walking his dog at the time and was shot in the leg. She said he will recover. The situation unfolded directly in front of her home.

She says Pierson yelled at the suspect to stop and Johnson “seemed like he slowed down on purpose, like he was waiting for the officer.” When Pierson got close, the witness said Johnson “almost ran right into the cop car.”

When Pierson grabbed Johnson, the witness said Johnson “just turned around and shot him, and he fell and hit the ground.”

After Pierson was hit, the witness said DiPaolo ordered Johnson to drop the gun, and when he refused, “the officer shot him.” As Johnson fell, his gun discharged, hitting her nephew, who at first didn’t realize he was shot.

“After we set the baby down, he touched his leg and said oh my God, I was shot,” the witness said.

The witness and her nephew were in the home along with his wife and 2-year-old daughter. Only her nephew was struck by the round.

Pierson, an 8-year veteran of the force, later died at Rochester General Hospital. The U.S. Army National Guard veteran was 32-years-old and leaves behind his wife, a 4-month-old baby and a child that just started kindergarten the day he was killed.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said flags on state government buildings will be flown at half-staff Friday in Pierson’s honor.

“The moment that this crime occurred last night, right after 9 o’clock, every member of law enforcement throughout Monroe County was there to support the Rochester Police Department and provide whatever aid they could,” said Sandra Doorley, the Monroe County District Attorney.

Doorley traveled to Rochester General Hospital Thursday night to officially charge Johnson with eight felony counts, including aggravated murder, attempted aggravated murder, three counts of assault and three counts of criminal possession of a weapon. He is expected to survive his wounds.

The DA explained that though Johnson is eligible for first degree murder, a charge reserved for the killing of a police officer, it would give him the opportunity for parole after 25 years in prison. However, if convicted of aggravated murder, Johnson could be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Johnson, a convicted felon, is barred from owning or possessing a firearm. In 2011, he was convicted of second degree attempted robbery. He served three years in prison and was just recently released on five years probation.

Before the shooting, police say Johnson violated his parole and was returned to their custody. But he was re-released.

“Thre was a warrant out for his arrest as being a parole absconder, which means he wasn’t reporting to parole and wasn’t where he should have been,” Doorley said.

The DA says prosecution will be swift and plans to hand this case over to a grand jury as soon as possible.

If convicted, Johnson could spend the rest of his life in prison.

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