District Attorney Clears San Jose Officer Who Shot Cop Killer

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.

Officer Michael Johnson, a 14-year SJPD veteran, was fatally shot in the line of duty. (Photo via SJPD)

Officer Michael Johnson, a 14-year SJPD veteran, was fatally shot in the line of duty. (Photo via SJPD)

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.

Scott Dunham wanted to kill himself and as many others as he could, according to a new report.

Scott Dunham wanted to kill himself and as many others as he could, according to a new report.

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.

The rifle Dunham used to kill Officer Johnson.

The rifle Dunham used to kill Officer Johnson.

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.

Jennifer Wadsworth is the former news editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.


  1. I would like the Police to shoot to death many more criminals as the one they so rightfully dispatched as referenced in this article thereby decreasing the criminal element population.

    Tonight’s unfortunate distructive acts, flowing from the Cinco de Mayo melee, scheduled for the Downtown tonight, should give Police Sharpshooters some additional justifiable targets.

    “Aim small, Miss small.”

    Good hunting SJPD!

    David S. Wall

  2. Year after year the News reports on how SJPD is called for the mentally ill and instead of helping they rush in and kill. I will not list all the killings in the last 15 years. If you haven’t kept count then your stupid. Imagine a drug addict and mentally man whose wife has threatened to call police and say he is armed and stoned. She calls him and says they are going to “Get You”. Now he has heard on the news of the drunk shot to pieces in the stair well and the girl with the drill and the old lady with the bat to defend herself when she opened the door to police etc. etc. etc. They were coming for him and in fear for his life he fired first. You have to review the dispatch tapes that have disappeared to see the piss poor response and the killing of the officer. Set the example and become one! SJPD will never understand how they caused this death.

    • This was a no brainer, why is this a story. I forgot it is for the idiots like Jake who hate SJPD can post. So why did you get fired from SJPD?

    • Mr. Jaeger,

      I find it very interesting how you are always so quick to reference situations which you know nearly nothing about and spin them into your signature tin foil hat allegations of misconduct. You haven’t been a cop for a very long time, no one from the department talks to you, yet you reference these major events as though you were first on scene.

      I bet you’re thankful you were a cop during an era long ago where the tools and resources to investigate all of your misconduct didn’t exist yet. I know you never really made it in Hollywood.. But come on.. The original “Rogue Cop” probably has a lot of skeletons hidden in his closet!

      You should be ashamed of yourself for even having the audacity to comment on this article. Unlike you, these officers didn’t join the profession as a back up plan cause they were bad actors or mediocre musicians.

  3. Wow Jack, I suppose the best thing to do is shut down the PD and let the nuts run wild, there will be peace in our time!

  4. He has reached an all time low. Making excuses for a deranged lunatic that executed a cop at close range with a long gun. Slade you must be from the same gene pool as Chuck Reed and Pete Constant. Cant go any lower….

  5. It took over a year of DA investigation to come to the obvious conclusion?
    It also took the DA about a year to even notify Dana Stubblefield he was under investigation for an alleged rape. Do the DA’s investigators work only one day a month?

    • I suspect its all part of the PC circus that rules our society. Rosen is beyond weak and feeble. He is just another politician who is more worried about his own skin than justice or the truth.

    • Agree. The report seems like a gross misuse of Rosen’s budget, and it’s long overdue. Less than 1 page / week between incident and report release 13 months later. It consists of witness statements, photos, etc. I would expect that SJPD would prepare this type of report for any shooting involving an officer – not the DA. The DA would then decide if the preponderance of evidence warranted bringing charges.

      I feel sorry for the SJPD officers that had this hanging over their heads for the past 13 months. Glad it’s finally resolved in their favor.

  6. Another mentally ill man who — apparently legally — owned guns.
    If it takes a judge’s ruling to block gun ownership for the mentally ill, the Brady bill background check is woefully inadequate.

    • Suggest you read the DA’s report – pages 40-42. Dismissing Dunham is just another mentally ill person is unhelpful. If mental illness is defined as anyone taking meds for depression, insomnia, or anxiety (Dunham did for all + weed & booze), then that’s about 65% of the US adult population. Add the number of alcoholics (8%) and we can get up to almost 3 out of every 4 adults. Few studies, but one places the lower bound at 17%

      Dunham’s wife described him as a “mean drunk” in 1996, but declined to press charges. His BAC at time of death was .177 – over 2X the DUI threshold. Dunham was last seen by his MD 3 months before the shooting and claimed he was “more or less” OK. He was once diagnosed as bipolar, but subsequent psych evals failed to confirm it.

      Presumably Dunham’s wife or daughter could have sought a GVRO to have his firearms seized, but failed to do so. Reading the DA’s report, seems doubtful a judge would have granted it. Note the report fails to address any Kaiser culpability or negligence. Presumably Kaiser would have been cited if so.

      Nothing in Brady or any other proposed legislation (e.g., Newsom initiative) could be reasonably expected to have prevented officer Johnson or Mr. Dunham’s deaths. Even de facto firearm bans haven’t proven effective – Chicago & Oakland are shining examples.

      • Sorry, the “Dunham was no more mentally ill than 65% of the population” argument fails to persuade, because the fraction of the population that shoots law enforcement officers is a lot smaller.

        • Thankfully the percentage of homicidal mentally ill people is very small. But the DA’s report does not claim Dunham was mentally ill. That’s an invention of SJI. Or that Dunham was ineligible to legally acquire or possess firearms.

          The report speculates Dunham was motivated by a desire to kill police officers and death by cop. DSM-5 notes that suicidal ideation or attempts are independent of a mental illness diagnosis – i.e., one can be suicidal and sane. Neither homicidal or suicidal ideation was included in Dunham’s medical history.

          The DA’s report raises no Brady aspects. Dunham was not convicted of domestic violence, adjudicated as a mental defective, or that his marijuana use was unlawful – see ATF 4473 criteria. Dunham would be prohibited from legally obtaining firearms were any met.

          I’m baffled how this tragedy could have been prevented by a judge, more stringent firearms regulation, or stricter enforcement. Please explain your original comment.

          • So, you counter my original assertion that the Brady background check is inadequate by saying that Dunham did not meet the Brady criteria.
            Yes, that pretty much explains why I think the Brady background check is inadequate.

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