Johnson trial hits temporary snag

Steven Johnson

ST. JOSEPH — The trial of former Benton Harbor police officer Steven Johnson did not wrap up Friday as expected, due to an argument between lawyers over a witness.

Berrien County Trial Court Judge Arthur Cotter will finish hearing the case when it resumes at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday. Meanwhile, Berrien County Prosecutor Michael Sepic will be reviewing the qualifications of a proposed expert witness being called by Johnson’s lawyer, Marc Curtis.

Johnson, 52, is on trial accused of intentionally running down a Benton Harbor man with his squad car as the man was running from police. The man, Ronald Glover Jr., 25, now is serving time in the Berrien County jail and was called Thursday as a witness for the prosecution. The event in question happened at about 1:45 a.m. May 10, 2018.

Police first confronted Glover because he was riding a bicycle in the dark with no light on it. He sped off on the bike, but a short time later ditched it and started to flee on foot. That is when Johnson’s patrol vehicle smacked into him. Glover, who was on parole at the time, had ditched a bag of marijuana while running and was jailed after his injuries were checked at the hospital.

Sepic rested his case Thursday and Curtis began calling witnesses Friday morning. State Police Detective Sgt. Michael Sites, who is an accident reconstructionist, testified about perception/reaction time, which he defined as the time it takes for a person to react after perceiving something.

He said it would take the average driver three-quarters of a second to one and a half seconds to put their foot on a brake petal after seeing something in their path. Curtis asked if that time would be longer if weather conditions were poor and it was dark outside. Sites said, “It could be.”

In-car camera video footage, which has been played in court, shows Johnson’s vehicle striking Glover about two seconds after Glover comes into view and starts running in front of the vehicle. He is knocked to the ground but after a few seconds, gets up and resumes running. At that point, officers leave their vehicles and pursue him on foot, and one tackles him to the ground. 

Friday after Sites’ testimony, Curtis was prepared to call an independent expert in accident reconstruction. But Sepic objected, saying he had just been handed that person’s credentials just that morning, and had not been given a chance to review his report. The law allows a certain amount of time for lawyers to review reports and credentials of an expert witness and to prepare for direct or cross examination questioning.

Curtis argued that Sepic should have asked for the credentials earlier.

“He’s been aware since September that I was going to call (the witness). If he didn’t receive his CV (curriculum vitae) he should have let me know sooner and not sandbag it at the last minute,” Curtis said.

The judge reminded Curtis that the law requires that the CV be provided on a timely basis as part of the discovery period before a trial and, “Opposing council does not have to tell you to comply with court rules.”

Cotter said the prosecutor is entitled to receive the information in a timely manner and have ample time to review it. With that, the judge adjourned court and ordered the parties to return at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday.

Contact: jswidwa@TheHP.com, 932-0359, Twitter: @HPSwidwa