Caldwell County, TX – A Caldwell County deputy was heralded as a hero after being shot in the line of duty.
But a year later, the prosecutor dropped the charges against the people who shot him and blamed the incident on the deputy instead.
The incident occurred shortly after midnight on Feb. 2, 2018, when Caldwell County Sheriff’s Deputy Jay Johnson responded to a call about the theft of a tool chest on Hidden Oak Road in Dale, KVUE reported.
The victim told Deputy Johnson that he suspected his neighbor, with whom he had an ongoing dispute, had stolen the tools, according to KVUE.
So the deputy headed over to the property of Kimberley Moore on foot, and without his police car.
He walked through a gate that bore “private property” and “no trespassing” signs and up the driveway toward the house.
“I hear a woman call out ‘I hope you’re ready to die’ and then I feel the pain in my shoulder. And then I realized I had just been shot,” Deputy Johnson told KVUE.
Moore, 54, and her 33-year-old boyfriend Eduardo Padilla told police they thought it was the angry neighbor coming to get them, and they were just defending themselves.
“I didn’t see any police lights, not coming in or not pulling up to our fence. He didn’t say anything as he was coming down the driveway. So I had no idea who he was,” Padilla told police.
Moore said there was nothing to tell them law enforcement was anywhere near her property.
“There wasn’t even a patrol car out front, and it wasn’t until we shot that he started screaming ‘I’m a cop, I’m a cop,” she explained to deputies at the scene.
It was Moore and Padilla who called 911 and reported that the deputy had been shot and needed help immediately. And they cooperated with law enforcement at the scene and were taken into custody without incident, KVUE reported.
Both were charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and deadly conduct discharge of firearm.
Bond was set at $50,000 for each charge, according to KVUE.
But in March, Caldwell County District Attorney Fred Weber announced he was dropping the charges against Moore and Padilla “in the best interest of justice.”
Weber said that Moore and Padilla had believed they were shooting at someone who had been threatening them and had no idea they were shooting at a law enforcement officer, KVUE reported.
He said they had the legal right to protect their property from someone they believed was an intruder, according to KVUE.
“This decision is based on a set of facts unique to this case and does not diminish my support of our local law enforcement personnel nor discount the dangers they encounter on a daily basis," the district attorney said in a statement.
Although Caldwell County Sheriff Daniel Law has refused to comment on the recent developments, the sheriff’s office released a statement that said he supported Weber’s decision to dismiss the charges against Moore and Padilla, according to KVUE.
Deputy Johnson, who had been a member of the Caldwell County Sheriff’s Office for less than a year before he was shot, was devastated by the news.
“It went from me being the victim to me being a defendant basically. I had to defend why I was shot,” he said. “I was just hoping for justice. I mean, how can you shoot a cop and get away with it without even a ticket?”
The deputy said he hadn’t arrived lights and sirens at the house because had been hoping to handle the situation with the least possible police involvement.
Multiple law enforcement sources advised Blue Lives Matter that it would be unheard of to respond to such a call with lights and sirens on.
"Who the heck responds to a cold theft with their lights on?" one officer asked rhetorically.
The wounded deputy explained he was trying to handle the situation in the most reasonable manner he could.
“I was trying to handle this on the lowest level possible so that these people could go to bed, and these people could collect their belongings and move on with their lives,” he said.
Further complicating matters, the battery was dead on Deputy Johnson’s bodycam the night he was shot, KVUE reported.
“Had he displayed some common sense about how he dealt with this, I have no doubt this would not have happened,” the district attorney said after he dropped the charges against Moore and Padilla, planting responsibility squarely at the feet of the wounded deputy.
The Texas Municipal Police Association, the union to which Deputy Johnson belongs, is standing behind the young deputy.
"The DA's action here represents a grave injustice to Deputy Johnson, Texas law enforcement and the law abiding citizens of Caldwell County,” the union said in a statement.