Dion Johnson Benefit Concert to Raise Money for Brother Accused of Murder

Protesters outside the Department of Public Safety headquarters on Sunday, June 7, 2020.
Protesters outside the Department of Public Safety headquarters on Sunday, June 7, 2020. Brendon Kleen
A benefit concert tonight — Tuesday, May 25 — on the one-year anniversary of the police-involved deaths of George Floyd and Dion Johnson will raise money for the legal defense of Johnson's brother, Donovan, who was recently accused of murder.

The Honorary Benefit Concert for Dion Johnson, hosted by Black Lives Matter Phoenix Metro, is scheduled to take place tonight from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. at the Monarch Theatre, 122 East Washington Street. Donations are being encouraged "and we hope to collect an abundant amount to redistribute to Dion Johnson's family," a flyer for the event states. The group hopes to raise enough money to hire a lawyer who can help bring Donovan home to get counseling.

"In one year, the Johnson family has experienced extreme violence from the state, financial instability, homelessness, and Erma (Dion's mother) has lost 2 of her sons to the state," the flyer states, adding that Dion was "murdered" and that the state has now "targeted" Donovan.

Dion Johnson was shot and killed by Arizona Department of Public Safety Trooper George Cervantes on May 25, 2020, the same day that George Floyd was murdered by a police officer in Minneapolis, sparking massive, worldwide demonstrations against police brutality. Demonstrations in Phoenix incorporated Johnson's death in their message, and have marched in his name.

Unlike in Floyd's case, no video exists of the morning freeway fight between Johnson and Cervantes, who told investigators that he shot Johnson out of fear that the disarmed man would grab his service pistol or push him into freeway traffic. Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel cleared Cervantes of criminal charges last September.

Only Cervantes knows if he was justified in shooting Johnson. His grieving sister and mother have said at press conferences that Dion was a gentle person who was unlikely to fight a police officer. But records show that resisting arrest wasn't actually out of character for him: Dion had a history of violence and had recently served prison time for severely beating a woman. Both he and Donovan had rough upbringings that included witnessing domestic violence in their home and being taken away from their parents for a time by the state. Both were gang members with mental health issues, police and court records show; their rap sheets include at least two robberies they committed together.

Screenshot of event flyer
Donovan Johnson was arrested in April for killing John Weeks of AZ Metro Towing in Phoenix. As Phoenix New Times reported last month, a witness allegedly heard Donovan threaten Weeks at the Phoenix tow yard the day before the murder. The witness also saw someone who looked like Donovan leaving the yard minutes before she found Weeks' body. Police believe that Erma Johnson's car was used to drive Donovan to the murder scene, according to court records, though there's no indication she was driving or knew anything about Donovan's dealings with Weeks. Phoenix police told New Times their investigation remains ongoing.

Donovan reportedly confessed to the crime during an interview after his arrest, stating that he "snapped" when Weeks disrespected him, records say. But Donovan later denied any involvement in the murder. He pleaded not guilty and is awaiting trial in the Maricopa County Jail on the aforementioned $2 million bond.

"This family has been through hell and back over this past year," the Black Lives Matter event flyer states. "Erma's youngest son Donovan was incredibly close to Dion and has been struggling mentally and emotionally to cope with the loss of his older brother. To make matters worse, a couple months ago the state targeted Donovan who is now being held in jail on a 2 million dollar bond.

"While we know we will not be able to support the family with posting his bond, we are trying to raise enough money to assist with paying for a lawyer that can help bring Erma's youngest son home and potentially get him some much-needed counseling services so he can begin to heal from all of the trauma the state has inflicted on this family."

Black Lives Matter Phoenix Metro didn't return a call or email seeking comment about the flyer. The Maricopa County Attorney's Office declined to comment.

A preliminary state budget now being considered by lawmakers would add $6.9 million to provide all state troopers with bodycams, but the bill that sets the money aside also makes it optional for the DPS to release bodycam videos, a feature that doesn't meet the wishes of anti-police-brutality advocates.
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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.
Contact: Ray Stern