Assault requires someone “intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly” either cause bodily harm to someone or “reasonably fear imminent bodily injury.” Brian Mullinax arguably didn’t intend to or know telling Deputy Justin Johnson filming the arrest of his girlfriend would cause a panic attack, with Johnson firing seven shots at a trailer park. Remarkably, Mullinax is on trial for assault by anxiety attack.
Brian Keith Mullinax, 41, and his girlfriend, Tina Carrie Jo Cody, 37, spent 42 days in jail on felony charges, accused of causing what was described in court statements as a “panic attack” and which a detective called “some type of cardiac event.” They remain under prosecution on misdemeanor charges, court records show.
The charges started as felonies, because Deputy Johnson went to a hospital after the assault.
“Because of the assault on Johnson and the fact that he was taken to the hospital with injuries and may have suffered some type of cardiac event as the result of this assault by both the male and female and all the statements and evidence, I charged” Mullinax and Cody with aggravated assault, [Sevier County Sheriff’s Office Detetctive Johnny] Bohanan wrote.
And they might have gotten away with it too, if it wasn’t for that damn body cam video. You can watch it here. It’s disturbing, but not “Daniel Shaver Shooting” disturbing.
Johnson arrived at a Sevier County trailer park after paramedics attending to a woman who’d fallen complained Mullinax and Cody stole her purse. At the start of the video, Johnson is chasing after Cody, eventually catches her, and with the help of an EMT, handcuffs Cody.
Very shortly after Cody is secure, a male voice is heard on the video. It’s hard to make out who the voice is or what is being said, but it’s arguably Mullinax. He claims he was holding a cell phone and told Johnson he was recording his girlfriend’s arrest.
Johnson responds by drawing his service firearm and firing off four rounds in Mullinax’s direction, then an additional three. No warning is given, and no concern for Cody or the paramedic who covers Cody’s prone body once Johnson begins firing near his head.
After discharging his firearm, Johnson begins to flee the trailer park and heads toward the road. He radios for backup, saying “Help me! Shots fired!” Johnson tells dispatchers someone fired at him as he returns to the scene where paramedics tend to Cody.
Johnson continues screaming commands at Mullinax to drop any objects in his hands and get on the ground. He keeps his firearm drawn and ready to shoot the entire time. It’s not long after the shouting begins that Johnson starts hyperventilating, a telltale symptom of panic attacks.
Fortunately, one of the EMTs on scene catches this and figures out what’s happening to Johnson. This guy walks up to Johnson, calmly tells him everything’s fine, and takes the gun from Johnson’s hands. If anyone in this situation is a hero, it’s the medical pro who realized a cop suffering from a panic attack with a gun was a danger to a lot of people.
As more people arrive on scene, Johnson tells them to look for the gun because “[Mullinax] must’ve done something with it.” There’s no video of Johnson’s hospital ride, but one can infer the EMT who saw a panic attack so severe it popped out a contact lens needed extra observation.
Release of the body cam footage dropped the charges on Mullinax and Cody from aggravated assault to simple assault for Mullinax and resisting arrest for Cody.
Let’s get things clear: Mullinax did not assault Deputy Justin Johnson. Not once did he display an intent to cause Johnson bodily harm. At best one can accuse Mullinax of scaring Johnson with the thought of the press potentially seeing him manhandle Ms. Cody.
This is a bad case and a bad trial for prosecutors. Anxiety attacks aren’t something other people can intentionally or knowingly trigger, unless that person knows you very well and is despicable. Experiencing one hardly meets the elements of assault.
Worse for prosecutors is Deputy Johnson’s credibility, which is now very much in question. The body cam footage doesn’t help. Neither does a new report stating Deputy Johnson was forced to resign from a prior law enforcement gig in Washington County after, among other things, lying to his chief about an affair.
Cop life is arguably stressful. Following the First Rule of Policing means you’ll be in high-pressure situations on occasion. That a stressful situation escalating into an anxiety attack by a man with a badge, gun, and state sanctioned license to kill didn’t result in death is tragically, in our time, a miracle.