Truck driver recounts shooting

Long Beach tow truck driver George Hill explains to prosecutors Monday that he used this small video camera to capture almost 15 minutes of footage immediately after State Patrol Trooper Scott Johnson was shot in the head along Highway 103 last February.

TACOMA - Under the dimmed lights of the courtroom, jurors watched shaky video footage Monday of the first frantic minutes after former State Patrol trooper Scott Johnson was shot along a Pacific County highway last February.

The camera swung wildly across a dark street. A flashlight beam darted over the asphalt as Johnson's pained voice sounded from beyond the frame.

"Please get help," the trooper said. "I'm shot. I'm shot in the head."

Johnson, a veteran trooper recently elected Pacific County Sheriff, desperately requested an ambulance as he fought to stay conscious in the wake of the Feb. 13 shooting along Highway 103 in Long Beach.

Martin A. Jones, a 46-year-old heavy equipment operator from Seaview, has been charged with attempted first-degree murder for allegedly shooting Johnson in the back of the head during a late-night vehicle impound. Jones has pleaded not guilty, denying any involvement in the shooting. Monday opened the second week of the jury trial.

The camera swept across the base of Johnson's head where he kept his hand pressed against the bullet wound. The trooper swore.

"I knew something was wrong with that guy," he said as he scanned the streets for any sign of the shooter.

Long Beach tow truck driver George Hill, 59, bald with a goatee and glasses, testified he watched the shooting and then turned on his video camera to capture the aftermath. Prosecutors with the state Attorney General's Office played the 15-minute video for the court Monday.

Hill told the jury he joined Johnson along Highway 103 at about 12:40 a.m. to help impound a minivan after the driver - the defendant's wife - was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence.

The tow truck driver said he first saw the shooter under a nearby streetlight. As Hill continued to set up his truck for the tow, the unidentified man asked him what he was doing.

"DUI impound," Hill answered as the man walked off. "I didn't really pay any attention to him. I went back to doing my job."

Moments later, he watched the man wrap his left arm around Johnson from behind and put a gun to the base of his skull. The man fired one shot and fled.

"From out of nowhere this guy was standing behind Scott," he said. "It happened so fast."

Hill said he caught an upward view of the shooter's face. He noted the man's mouth was curled into a "sort of smirk."

"I heard like a popping noise and I could smell gunpowder," Hill said, adding, "I took off chasing him, ... He spun around. ... I heard a second pop noise."

Hill said he watched the injured Johnson take aim with his sidearm and fire two shots, missing the suspect. As Hill rushed to call emergency dispatchers on his cell phone, he turned on his pocket-sized Flip video camera.

The video captured Johnson calling for help as they nervously waited to see if the shooter would return. Hill frantically swept his flashlight up and down the street.

"Where is that son of a bitch?" he asked.

Hill testified, and the video audio confirmed, Johnson quickly grabbed the shotgun from his patrol vehicle and handed it to Hill as they stood alone on the highway.

"I was afraid Scott was going to pass out," he said.

In the video, Johnson called in a brief description of the shooter while sirens started to sound in the background. A patrol car pulled up and quickly loaded Johnson into the back seat before speeding away toward the hospital.

As more officers arrived, Hill tried to explain what happened. He circled around the tow truck and the minivan. The camera swept across a car window shattered by a bullet.

Hill pointed out bullet shells on the street. He explained where Johnson was standing when he was shot. He told officers which direction the shooter ran.

"That son of a bitch," Hill told an officer. "He stuck it right in the back of his fricking head."

Hill has never been able to identify the defendant, Jones, as the shooter. He described the attacker as between 35 and 45 years old with dark hair, light stubble and dark clothes. He could not remember if the man wore a hat.

Defense attorney David Allen challenged Hill's descriptions in court Monday, saying Hill provided several different descriptions in the days following the shooting. His descriptions included olive skin and a cleft chin, which do not match Jones.

Allen also pointed out that Hill told officers several times that he believed he could identify the shooter if he saw him again. Hill testified he could not remember many important details of the shooter.

At one point, Allen played a recording of Hill telling officers he was sure Jones was not the shooter.

"I know that guy," Hill said. "It's not him. ... I can guarantee that."

Allen also challenged Hill's testimony that he smelled gunpowder in the air after the shooting. The defense has argued Johnson may have been shot with a high-powered air pistol instead of a .22 caliber handgun.

Hill said he was sure he smelled "faint" gunpowder after Johnson was shot, but before the trooper returned fire.

Assistant Attorney General Melanie Tratnik also asked Hill about his suspect descriptions, pointing out that many features are consistent. She argued the conditions made it difficult to see the shooter and asked about problems with the identification process.

"Did you do the best you could?" she asked.

"Yes," Hill answered.

Johnson has said he is "100 percent" certain Jones is the shooter. He is expected to testify later in the trial. The defense plans to call witnesses providing Jones with an alibi during the shooting.

The trial continues today and is expected to last about three more weeks.

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