WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — A New Hanover County judge has found a Wilmington Police officer not guilty of assault charges.
James Coley Johnson was on trial for charges including assault in an incident involving a teenager from a few years ago. Being a bench trial, the judge, Ebern T. Watson, decided the verdict this afternoon.
This morning, defense attorneys argued the case was “much ado about nothing” and Johnson was using appropriate methods of force in dealing with Tyrell Rivers. Prosecutors said, however, video shows the officer “clearly choking” the teen. The prosecution also argued the defense called Rivers things like “drug dealer” and “gang member” so the judge wouldn’t like him.
A WPD spokeswoman said Johnson has worked for the agency for 26 years. He has been on unpaid leave since the incident, and a spokeswoman said he remains on administrative leave (with pay) pending the outcome of the internal affairs investigation.
“These investigations are never easy,” Chief Ralph Evangelous said. “They impact the agency, they affect our relationship with the community and they challenge the public’s trust. However, I am committed to conducting a thorough investigation and will take the appropriate action if necessary.”