Mother pleads for answers in son’s death following police chase, officials ask for patience

MADISON, Wis. – As the State Department of Justice’s Division of Criminal Investigation investigates the death of a man following a Monona Police chase, his grieving family is demanding answers.

The death of 24-year-old Elliot Johnson has led to protests, but the state’s largest police union maintains that evidence will show officers did nothing wrong.

The DOJ said in a statement that Johnson, the only one in his vehicle, got out after crashing on Moorland Road in Madison Thursday and was told by law enforcement to cooperate.

“A Taser was deployed once without effect. The individual continued to persist. Mr. Johnson, as we now know, continued to persist to retrieve something from the vehicle, and there was a shot from inside the vehicle,” said Jim Palmer, executive director of the Wisconsin Professional Police Association. The group represents about 300 law enforcement agencies, including Monona Police Department.

According to the DOJ, no responding officer fired their weapon and “the death is not known at this time to have directly resulted from an officer’s actions or omissions.”

“Every indication at this point is very clear that Mr. Johnson died as the result of a self-inflicted gunshot,” Palmer said, adding that body camera footage will refute any claims otherwise once it’s released. “It certainly will help ultimately in the end for everyone in the community to understand what transpired.”

Johnson’s family asks for more transparency

Johnson’s mother, Sarah Johnson, has a hard time believing her son would kill himself.

“He left behind all these beautiful kids that he loved to death and his fiancé,” Johnson said. “It’s tearing our family apart.”

She describes the father-of-six as outgoing with an abundance of friends and four siblings who are torn apart.

“It’s so many people that feel like their heart has been taken away,” she said. “I know a big piece of mine has been taken away.”

Johnson said investigators have only provided her bits and pieces of information, and wishes they could provide the whole picture.

“I want to know what happened to him so I can put him to rest. That’s all, and they’re making it so difficult,” she said. “It makes me feel in my heart they did something to my child.”

In a statement Tuesday, the DOJ said that DCI’s investigation includes collecting evidence, interviewing witnesses and awaiting analysis from assisting agencies, stating that, “These investigations take time, but it is important to allow for the investigators to thoroughly conduct their work to ensure a just outcome.”

“There’s always a valid investigative reason why some records aren’t immediately released,” Palmer said.

Monona Police Chief Walter Ostrenga said in a press release Tuesday afternoon that he acknowledges the community’s concern and frustration as they wait for questions to be answered.

“These cases take a lot of time to process thoroughly,” Ostrenga said. “We ask the community to please be patient as we all await a complete accounting from independent investigators.

Johnson said while nothing can bring back her son, investigators being more open with her could go a long way.

“They can actually take away some of the pain if they’re just open about what happened to my baby,” she said.