Lufkin police identify parties in officer-involved shooting

Lufkin, Texas (KETK) - On Thursday, the Lufkin Police Department released the names of those involved in an early Wednesday morning officer-involved shooting in the 600 block of Kurth Drive.

The deceased has been identified as Epthen Lamont Johnson, 40, of Lufkin.

Police say Johnson was on top of his victim, Jose Isabel Rodriguez Jr., 32, attempting to cut his throat when Officer Robert Blake Witherspoon discharged his duty pistol, resulting in Johnson’s death.

The officer loudly attempted to get Johnson’s attention and told him “let me see your hands” multiple times before taking lethal action.

Johnson died at a Lufkin hospital following the incident.

Rodriguez was taken to a local hospital where he was treated for multiple injuries.

Per Department policy, the Texas Rangers are handling the investigation and have taken custody of all related evidence including the 911 audio, dash and body cam videos, scene photos and witness statements.

BACKSTORY

The Lufkin Police Department responded to the 600 block of Kurth Drive around 1:20 a.m., Wednesday, following a call of a man “being knifed to death.”

Police say Rodriguez’s screams can be heard in the background of the 911 audio as the caller urges the dispatcher to get a medical unit and officer en route quickly.

The officer’s body cam shows him arrive to see Johnson on top of Rodriguez, stabbing toward Rodriguez’s throat and face.

The officer shouts at Johnson “let me see your hands” multiple times, but Johnson fails to acknowledge the officer’s presence and continues the stabbing attempts.

The officer then fires three shots and pauses to see if Johnson stops his assault.

Police say Johnson was unfazed by being shot and the officer’s additional attempts to get his attention and continued stabbing at the screaming man.

The officer then fired a fourth time, stopping the assault.

In the moments following the shooting, the officer tells Rodriguez “hang on man, hang on,” several times to calm him.

The officer then begins a combat breathing technique to lower his heart rate while waiting for additional officers to arrive.

The scene is then secured and a medical unit arrives.

Rodriguez later told officers that he prevented Johnson from fatally stabbing or cutting him by gripping the blade of Johnson’s knife, evidenced by several lacerations to his hand. He said just before the officer arrived, he began to tire from the fight and doubted his survival. He suffered a shallow stab wound near his belly button, a deep laceration above his left eye, defensive wounds to his hands, scratches on his neck and abrasions all over his body. He is out of the hospital and is expected to make a full recovery.

Witherspoon has been with the Department since July of 2011. He is currently on administrative leave, per Department policy.

On Wednesday, the police department reviewed the body cam video with city officials, including the mayor, city council and the three department chaplains – Randy Brown, Ray Vann and M.E. Lyons.

This incident is only the department’s fourth police-involved shooting in the last 30 years – an armed white male in 1992, an armed white male in 2000, an armed African-American male in 2010 and then the incident this week involving an armed African-American male. 


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