A San Jose cop lawfully killed a suicidal man who shot to death Officer Michael Johnson, according to a new report from the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office.
On March 24, 2015, Scott Dunham, a 57-year-old mentally ill janitor, ambushed Johnson and continued to aim his hunting rifle at police when Officer Douglas Potwora, positioned next to his slain colleague, fired the fatal round. The bullet struck the shooter in the head.
“Dunham then fell from view and did not reappear,” prosecutor Carolyn Powell wrote in the 47-page summary of the shooting.
The report includes new details about the night Johnson became the 12th San Jose police officer to die in the line of duty since the department’s founding in 1849.
“Dunham appeared not only determined to die at the hands of the police that evening, but equally determined to first take as many police officers’ lives as he could,” Powell concluded.
The DA investigates all fatal police encounters to see whether lethal force was justified. Powell determined that it was, as police can use deadly force in the face of imminent danger. Officer Potwora’s kill shot, she said, prevented further fatalities.
Johnson and Potwora, both veteran officers, responded to Dunham’s condo complex on a report that an intoxicated man threatened to kill himself and his wife. Johnson ducked behind a car for cover and pointed his AR-15 at the balcony to provide cover for his colleagues. Potwora joined him.
When police ordered Dunham to show his hands, he ignored them and instead ducked down. Seconds later, Dunham fired his rifle and fatally struck Johnson. Dunham kept ducking and reappearing with his weapon in hand. Potwora fired and missed twice before that third lethal strike.
Hours later, when police deemed the condo safe to enter, they found Dunham’s lifeless body by a loaded and cocked .30-30 rifle. Civilian videos corroborated police accounts of the shooting, Powell said.
Dunham’s co-workers and family told police that the man battled bipolar disorder, possible schizophrenia and suicidal urges. He also had a history of domestic violence and serious physical ailments, including Hepatitis-C.
In addition to prescribed Valium, Dunham self-medicated with liquor and weed. An autopsy found a toxic mix of meds and booze in his system.
Dunham openly spoke about his love of guns, according to people who worked alongside him on the DeAnza and Foothill College janitorial staff. After the shooting, police found two other guns and hundreds of bullets in his apartment.
Dunham's wife of 14 years, Altheia Dunham, said her husband was upset that night after finding out that an ex-girlfriend died some years earlier. He wanted to talk about it, but she wasn't interested.
“Mrs. Dunham walked away from Dunham and into the bathroom to take a bath,” per Powell’s report. “He continued to follow her and told her that he could cut off her head and no one would ever know. She said, ‘Dude, you're not ISIS ... snap out of it.’ She said that Dunham was obsessed with ISIS and would talk about joining the army to fight against them.”
While Dunham’s wife was in the bath, she heard a gun click and scrambled out in a panic. When she got to the bedroom, he swung a black gun around and leveled it in her direction, she said.
“Get out of here before I shoot you," Dunham reportedly told her before threatening to shoot himself.
She told him not to do it on her brand new bed, that if he wanted to go through with it he should kill himself outside. Infuriated, he struck his wife with a back kick. She threw her towel at Dunham, who told her to call the police to see what happens.
The wife got dressed, picked up her purse and left the apartment. When she got to her car, she called her daughter, who called the police.
Click here to read the entire DA report.