A Cleveland Police Officer's Heroic Attempt to Save a Black Life

Body cameras have significant benefits when cops behave admirably, not just when they do something wrong.

Reuters / Aaron Josefczyk

In Cleveland, Ohio, police officer David Muniz displayed extraordinary courage under fire, presence of mind, and respect for the sanctity of human life in a confrontation with a 64-year-old criminal who shot him in the chest and begged to be killed.

This is indisputable thanks to the body camera he wore.

“Juliette Johnson went to the Fourth District police station that night to report that her husband had been drinking and was waving a gun around, threatening her and their landlady,” the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported. “Police went to the couple's home on Ottawa Avenue and were let into the Johnson's upstairs unit by the landlady.”

As they shouted “police,” Theodore Johnson jumped out of his apartment with a gun, fired at Officer Munoz, and hit him in the chest. Thankfully, Munoz was wearing a bullet proof vest. What happened next truly went above and beyond the call of duty:

“We don’t want to kill you—drop the gun!” Munoz shouted. “You need some help. I know you shot me but we’re not going to shoot you.” Theodore Johnson had every opportunity to save his own life. Instead, he raised his gun again and four police officers shot him dead, having already placed more value on the man’s life than he did himself.

Several aspects of this incident are noteworthy.

For the police officers involved this was a nightmare: The job required them to enter the apartment of an unstable, armed man with a domestic abuse conviction, putting them in mortal danger. To avoid their own deaths, they had to shoot another human, an experience statistically likely to traumatize at least some of them. Having done nothing wrong—after deescalation attempts that exceeded what anyone could reasonably expect—they then had to await an inquiry that at least could’ve led to them being disciplined, fired, or even criminally charged, a necessary process that is nevertheless trying for innocents who go through it.

For Cleveland, this is a reminder that a police department can contain multitudes. One team of cops in that city shot 12-year-old Tamir Rice in an instant  without so much as a warning. Another team of cops did its utmost to spare the life of a 64-year-old man who was determined to die and willing to kill on the way out.

And body cameras allow the public to know which of these Cleveland police officers should be stripped of their badges and which ought to be lauded for selfless acts of heroism. The footage in this case benefited the officers involved in the shooting; the family of the dead man, who won’t have to wonder if he was killed unjustly; and the people of Cleveland, who know something with more certainty than they otherwise could: Some of their police officers believe that black lives matter a great deal.