2021 | Police & Fire

UPDATED: Off-duty officer who killed two in Takoma Park shot at vehicle after it passed him, police say

Police chief says officer was a civilian, had no law enforcement authority in Maryland

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Takoma Park Police Chief Antonio DeVaul speaks to reporters on Friday.

Photo by Dan Schere

This story was updated at 8:32 p.m. on April 9, 2021, to include additional comments from State’s Attorney John McCarthy, the family of James Johnson, County Executive Marc Elrich and U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin

Takoma Park police say an off-duty Pentagon police officer who fatally shot two men following a vehicle break-in attempt on Wednesday fired multiple shots after their fleeing Lexus passed him and he was not in danger.

However, the officer — who has been charged with murder — gave a different account, telling authorities that the people in the vehicle were trying to run him over.

During a press conference on Friday, Takoma Park’s police chief told reporters that the off-duty officer was a civilian when he shot the men and had no law enforcement authority there.

The off-duty Pentagon officer, David Hall Dixon, was charged on Thursday in a warrant with killing 32-year-old Dominique Williams of Hyattsville and James Lionel Johnson, 38, of District Heights. Dixon was arrested Friday.

Police also said Friday evening that they plan to file additional criminal charges against Dixon after seeing a video from May 2020 in which he points a shotgun at a female, according to a press release. Police said that at the time, Dixon only told officers that he pepper-sprayed her.

Takoma Park police said officers heard shots fired in the parking lot of the Takoma Overlook Condominiums at 7333 New Hampshire Ave. early Wednesday morning.

According to court documents, Dixon told Takoma Park officers that he was leaving for work and saw a Lexus with missing headlights driving through the parking lot.

Dixon told officers that there were multiple people in the Lexus. One of the people in the group was trying to break into another vehicle.

Dixon said he confronted the people in the Lexus and the driver “gassed it” and tried to run him over. Dixon then said he fired multiple shots, documents state.

An initial press release from police reported that Dixon told police that he fired his service weapon after he saw what appeared to be people breaking into a vehicle. He shot them when they “failed to follow his direction,” police said previously.

Williams and Johnson were taken to a hospital, where they later died from gunshot wounds, police said.

Police said the parking lot where the shooting happened has video surveillance, and investigators saw a recording of it. The video shows Dixon confronting people, then firing “several rounds” toward the Lexus while standing behind it as it was leaving the parking lot, according to documents.

Police said in charging documents that Dixon fired his weapon multiple times after the Lexus passed him and the vehicle “no longer presented an immediate threat that would have justified the use of deadly force.”

Police did not show the video during Friday’s press conference.

On Friday, Takoma Park Police Chief Antonio DeVaul said Dixon is not authorized to use his law enforcement powers in Maryland.

“He was a civilian who acted as a civilian, who happened to be a law enforcement officer in another jurisdiction,” DeVaul said.

DeVaul said the investigation remains active, but “Mr. Dixon had no lawful or justifiable reason to shoot and kill Mr. Williams and Mr. Johnson.”

“There were inconsistencies in the overview Mr. Dixon provided and what we determined in our investigation. And that’s all I’m at liberty to say at this point,” he said.

Dixon is charged with two counts of second-degree murder, as well as one count each of use of a handgun in the commission of a felony and reckless endangerment related to the killings of Williams and Johnson.

Dixon is also charged with attempted second-degree murder and use of a handgun in the commission of a felony against the driver of the Lexus, 36-year-old Michael Thomas of Washington, D.C.

Thomas, who later fled from the hospital and was interviewed by police, will not be charged, DeVaul said on Friday.

Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy said on Friday that Dixon is being held without bond, and is scheduled to appear before a Montgomery County District Court judge at 1 p.m. on Monday.

“At that time, there will be an analysis of whether Mr. Dixon should remain incarcerated or will be free on bond,” he said.

McCarthy said the State’s Attorney’s Office must take action within 30 days of Monday’s hearing in approaching a grand jury for an indictment against Dixon.

McCarthy, in an interview after the press conference, said the charges against Dixon combined carry a maximum penalty of up to 145 years in prison. But the charges could change between now and when the matter goes to the grand jury, he said.

“We still have the opportunity, between now and then, to add or subtract to the charging documents before we go to the grand jury,” he said.

Victim’s family, elected officials react

During a virtual call with reporters following Friday’s press conference, Marcus Kornegay, a cousin of Johnson, said he was shocked when he found out about his death on Wednesday.

“James was a father, a brother, an uncle, a cousin and a friend to many. And he treated everyone who crossed his path with love and respect. Like they were family,” he said. “We’re just, as a family, really struggling with this. Trying to put logic around why he was taken away from us.”

David Haynes, an attorney who represents the Johnson family, said during Friday’s call that he plans to conduct his own investigation of the shooting.

“This is a tragic, senseless act, but yet another act of gun violence in our city and has taken from our families and our communities two wonderful individuals,” he said.

Haynes said he doesn’t accept the police “theory” that Dixon was acting as a private citizen.

“We consider that this was a shooting by a police officer. Officers under their general orders and their directives and their training are never off duty,” he said.

County Executive Marc Elrich said during a weekly media briefing on Thursday that the shooting “should not have happened.”

“You can’t shoot people for property crimes. You can’t do that. And so, it’s really disturbing,” he said. “I mean, if people were trying to break into a car and they try to get away, you can’t shoot them.”

Elrich said a “more appropriate response” would have been for the off-duty officer to call the police.

U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin, a Takoma Park Democrat who represents most of Montgomery County, posted on Twitter Friday in response to the shooting that “gun violence is a continuing public health and safety crisis in America.”

“It affects every community, including Takoma Park. This incident happened two miles from my home,” he wrote. “We must stop the epidemic of gun violence and ensure justice is served when our safety laws are violated.”

In one tweet, Raskin wrote: “Our hearts are heavy with the senseless, shocking murder of Marylanders James Lionel Johnson and Dominique Williams. May their memories be a blessing to their families during this time of immense grief.”

Dan Schere can be reached at daniel.schere@bethesdamagazine.com