Demonstrators call for more police action in cases of Jada Johnson, Justin Livesay

ByMonique John via WTVD logo
Thursday, September 8, 2022
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Demonstrators gathered Wednesday at the Fayetteville Market House to protest the deaths of civilians at the hands of local police.

FAYETTEVILLE. N.C. (WTVD) -- Demonstrators gathered Wednesday at the Fayetteville Market House to protest the deaths of civilians at the hands of local police.

The rally specifically highlighted the death of Jada Johnson, a woman who was shot by the police during a mental health episode in July. It also highlighted the death of Justin Livesay, a suicidal man who was also fatally shot by police after they were called to his home on Friday.

Demonstrators and relatives of the victims in the rally organized by Fayetteville Police Accountability Community Taskforce (PACT), called on the Fayetteville Police Department to take more action in Johnson and Livesay's cases. They also demanded more accountability and transparency from officials.

Rick Iwanski, Johnson's grandfather, said the police have resorted to telling his family to fill out paperwork and endure red tape whenever they follow up to get meaningful updates on her case.

"They have not been aggressive in seeking us out," Iwanski said. "But we're trying to communicate with them."

April Brandhorst and her husband, Livesay, recently got married in May. She said the past five days since her husband was killed have been a "nightmare," and condemned the department for hastily escalating from tasing her husband to shooting him.

"Why not use mace?" Brandhorst said, also noting that rubber bullets were not used. "I know adrenaline's high...It's unacceptable. You can do a non-lethal shot, you know? But you don't need to unload into a 250 pound person."

Iwanski and Brandhorst said their families have been suffering since Livesay and Johnson's deaths. Iwanski said he and his wife have been suffering from PTSD after witnessing Johnson's death. He also said Johnson's daughter, who will soon be turning three, has been overwhelmed with anger and does not understand that her mother is gone. Instead, the small child still thinks her mother is at the hospital, and screams in the middle of the night for her to be at her side.

"I'm very sad for her because she has no mother, no father. She'll have no brother, no sister. She has cousins and aunts and nephews and my wife and myself. But she's going to be kind of alone in her life, and going to have to really work hard on strengthening herself and stealing her resolve to get a fair shake, I think," Iwanski said

Brandhorst said she wants people to know her husband was a real person with a full life, and was surrounded by people who loved him.

"Justin was a kind person. He had a child. He had parents. And he had me," she said

"As people on this planet, we are different in that we have compassion. We are not animals that don't care about others. We care about each other in ways that some of us don't even know right now that we can do and accomplish. And all I'm saying about the police is that they need to think about this differently in compassion and respect for individuals," Iwanski said.

Shaun McMillan, an activist with Fayetteville PACT, argued that their frustrations with the issues surrounding Johnson and Livesay's cases have popped up in several other previous cases of civilian deaths at the hands of the police in Fayetteville in years past.

McMillan says the police reported the deaths in ways that are biased and that criminalize the dead. He cited findings from Police Scorecard, a website that publicly evaluates the nation's police departments, saying that the Fayetteville police department has a rate of civilian deaths that is 81% higher than that of other police departments in the country.

"It's unacceptable that both the sheriff's department and the police have failed to make any policy change that seriously addresses mental health crisis and how we respond. We believe that mental health professionals should be a part of the equation," McMillan said.

ABC11 contacted Fayetteville police for a response to the demands and criticisms voiced by the activists. The department has not issued a response.