Suspected Kentucky Cop Killer Defended Police During Ferguson Riots

Before allegedly gunning down a Kentucky state trooper, Joseph Thomas Johnson-Shanks advocated for non-violence and defended cops who shot a knife-wielding man

Sep 14, 2015 at 2:36 PM ET

A man suspected of fatally shooting a Kentucky state trooper over the weekend appears to have been an active protestor at several demonstrations following the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and advocated a non-violent approach to protesting police violence. He also used social media to defend police officers who fatally shot a man who was carrying a knife shortly after Brown’s shooting.

Joseph Thomas Johnson-Shanks, 25, is suspected of fatally shooting Kentucky State Trooper Joseph Cameron Ponder on Sunday evening after Ponder conducted a traffic stop on the vehicle he was driving and Johnson-Shanks fled. According to authorities, Johnson-Shanks led Ponder on a nine-mile pursuit before slamming on his brakes, causing Ponder to crash into his vehicle. After the collision, authorities say Johnson-Shanks got out of his vehicle and started firing a gun at Ponder, killing him.

After running from the scene of the crash, Johnson-Shanks was found early Monday morning in a wooded area, authorities say. They say he refused to comply with police orders to lower his weapon, at which point troopers opened fire. He was taken to nearby hospital where he was pronounced dead about 80 minutes later.

Johnson-Shanks appears to have used the Facebook handle “Jay Milehigh,” based on identity records. That handle also has been cited in “RIP” social media posts on the Facebook pages of Johnson-Shanks’ brothers and on those of friends of “Jay Milehigh.”

According to his posts on Facebook, in August 2014, following Brown’s shooting, Johnson-Shanks was attending “hands up, don’t shoot” demonstrations in Ferguson, which shares a border with Johnson-Shanks’ hometown of Florissant. In his posts, Johnson-Shanks discouraged protestors in Ferguson from engaging in violence as protestors began rioting throughout the city.

“Some of y’all don’t understand the more violence that occurs is less justice for Mike Brown the focus should be on him,” Johnson-Shanks posted on the “Justice For Mike Brown” Facebook page on Aug. 14, 2014. The comment was in response to a post in which the page’s administrator said he or she was declining to publish the home address of Darren Wilson, the former Ferguson police officer who killed Brown.

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In another post, on Aug. 21, Johnson-Shanks appears to be defending the actions of St. Louis police officers who fatally shot a man with a knife. The shooting was caught on camera (warning: this video contains graphic footage) and led to people questioning whether the knife-wielding man needed to be killed.

“Come on y’all shooting at legs A RISK Tasers DONT WORK ON EVERYBODY AND EVERY COP DOESN’T HAVE A TASER pepper spray CROWD CONTROL come on now let’s be REAL someone walks up on YOU with a knife what are you going to DO… MACE TASE OR SHOOT.”

When a commenter on his post questioned why an officer fired additional shots at the man, identified as 25-year-old Kajieme Powell, or why they didn’t just try to wound him, Johnson-Shanks defended the police further. “[Sic] Agree on the shots because one officer shot two more times when he was down,” he wrote, “now as far as I know from police friends and the officers I spoke with yesterday on w.flo their trained to shoot only at center mass to stop a threat ppl asked about the leg and arm its a risk of missing and having other victims.” Johnson-Shanks seems to be explaining that most law enforcement agencies don’t train their officers to shoot to wound—rather, they train officers that if they need to use their firearm they should shoot to kill.

Ponder was a Navy veteran who only started working for the Kentucky State Police in January. “He was very proud to be a Kentucky State Police trooper,” Trooper Jay Thomas told a local media outlet. “He was new and he was eager. He absolutely loved his job.”