IDAHO FALLS, Idaho—The Idaho man fatally shot in his backyard Monday morning after a cop mistook him for an armed suspect has been identified as Joseph Johnson, a married father of four who was “adored” by his children and “a really good friend,” according to neighbors.
The Idaho Falls Police Department said a Bonneville County sheriff’s deputy pulled over a car for a broken tail light just after midnight on Monday. The suspect, identified Tuesday as 22-year-old Tanner Shoesmith, jumped out and fled into a backyard. Police say a witness told them Shoesmith, who was wanted on several warrants, was possibly armed and running through several yards. After using Shoesmith’s GPS coordinates to zero in on one backyard, police say they encountered a man with a gun—prompting an officer to fire one shot that killed him.
In reality, the victim was not Shoesmith—who was eventually found hiding in a shed—but the homeowner, police said. Two neighbors told The Daily Beast that Johnson, known as Joe, was the victim, and property records list him as the owner of the home where the shooting occurred.
“I never once thought there was a crisis going on like what happened. He’s my friend. He’s a really good friend,” one neighbor, who did not wish to be identified, told The Daily Beast on Tuesday. “He was very loving. His children and wife adored him, and he adored them. He was a great dad. I taught him last summer how to grow tomatoes in pots. He absolutely loved it. He said he was going to do it every year.”
“He was really nice and friendly. Always waving at people,” the neighbor added.
Rachel Williams, a relative, told The Daily Beast that Johnson, who moved to Idaho in 2016, was a “loving husband and father to 4 beautiful little children.” The whole family is “in a state of shock and disbelief,” she said.
“We really hope the Idaho Falls community rallies around this little family as they process the lifetime of grief they must endure. We are all broken-hearted, and hurting so much for his wife and children,” she said.
A spokesperson for the Idaho Falls Police Department declined to confirm Johnson’s identity on Tuesday at the family’s request. The spokesperson, however, said the victim is white and the officer who fired his weapon is Latino.
While Johnson’s family did not immediately respond to The Daily Beast’s requests for comment, his mother appeared to acknowledge the tragedy in a Tuesday Facebook comment. After a friend wished her a happy birthday, Tammy Johnson responded: “Not a good Birthday loss my sweet son.”
“This situation is devastatingly tragic for the family, for the officer, and those that love and care about them. We all feel the weight of what has occurred today,” Idaho Falls Police Chief Bryce Johnson said Monday night. “Our sincere sympathies are with the family and friends of those involved, most especially the family of the deceased.”
When Shoesmith fled the passenger side door, the female driver remained in the car and identified the escapee as Shoesmith, who deputies learned had three active warrants for his arrest, including one for felony battery on an officer.
The Idaho Falls Police said they were called in to help the Bonneville County sheriff’s deputies search for Shoesmith. They used GPS information from a text Shoesmith, who was wearing a black shirt at the time, sent the female driver.
During their search, police said a resident told them Shoesmith ran “through their yard and that they believed the suspect had a gun.” When the GPS eventually showed Shoesmith in a backyard, authorities surrounded the residence to prevent Shoesmith from fleeing.
“Due to the information that the suspect may be armed, and a prior history of violence when interacting with police officers, law enforcement personnel entered the location with their service weapons drawn,” police said.
Suddenly, police said they heard yelling and approached the backyard to find a man “wearing a black shirt armed with a firearm” and gave him instructions to drop the weapon.
“We do not currently have the answers as to what exactly occurred during these moments,” Johnson said Monday. “We do know that during this interaction, an Idaho Falls Police Officer discharged his service weapon, firing one shot which struck the man. Officers attempted lifesaving measures but they were unsuccessful. Emergency medical personnel from the Idaho Falls Fire Department also responded and were also unable to provide any lifesaving aide to the man.”
Police also said another officer had spoken with the homeowner earlier in the pursuit for Shoesmith. Shortly after officers determined the shot man was not Shoesmith, the 22-year-old was seen running through the area and was eventually apprehended.
“I just want to make it clear that the person who was shot was not a suspect of any crime,” Johnson said. “It was the homeowner, the resident that was in the house that had been talked to earlier. He had gone out to the backyard with that gun and that's where the officers met him in that backyard.”
Dawn Follett, one of Joe’s neighbors who was awake during the incident, told The Daily Beast she heard “one pop” at around 3:30 a.m. and looked out her door to see “police lights and everyone rushing into the backyard.”
“It was a crazy early morning for sure, all I can say is I am glad I wasn’t asleep,” she said, adding that she is heartbroken about her neighbor’s death because “his kids [play] with my grandkids quite a bit.” Social media accounts associated with Johnson’s family show that he had four children.
The other neighbor said that, when she woke up at 2:30 a.m. to “all these lights,” she initially thought it was workers outside.
“This doesn’t happen in Idaho Falls. And the poor police officer and his family now. It just ruined lives,” she said.
The unidentified officer involved in the shooting has been put on administrative leave pending an independent investigation by the Eastern Idaho Critical Incident Task Force. The investigation’s findings will then be turned over to the Bonneville County prosecutor to determine any possible charges.
The Idaho Falls Police Department is conducting its own investigation to determine if proper protocols were followed. Body camera footage of the incident has not yet been released.