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LAWTON, Okla. – Family members and witnesses are demanding answers and disagree with the official story after police officers shot and killed a Black man celebrating his 24th birthday outside an event venue early Sunday morning.
Zonterius “Zon” Johnson was one of the last guests leaving the Lavish Lounge “social club” around 4 a.m. Sunday morning at the same time police officers say they were preparing to implement a bar check. Officers ultimately shot Zon, and he later died at the hospital.
“No one with the Lawton Police Department has shown no type of condolence to me for them murdering my son and I just think that’s so wrong,” Johnson’s mother said. She and Johnson’s grandmother said Zon was a good kid enjoying his birthday and wasn’t looking for any trouble. They also said they want justice and accountability as they demanded the officer who fired the fatal shot to step forward.
Family members held a candlelight vigil Sunday night and expressed their grief as they asked the community to support them.
Police Department Hands Investigation To State Authorities
Lawton’s Black Police Chief James Smith immediately handed the investigation over to the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, which found in its initial report that LPD was conducting a bar check inside Lavish Lounge when a shot was fired from outside the club, with one hitting the building, according to KSWO. Officers then responded by chasing and firing at least one fatal shot at Zon, who was outside in the parking lot.
Officers claim a handgun was retrieved from the scene but did not indicate whether it belonged to anyone who was inside the club.
Yet, the owner of Lavish Lounge and several employees on-scene that morning say they believe an officer accidentally discharged his weapon from inside the club, leading Zon, who was outside, to respond in fear for his life.
Witnesses Dispute OSBI Report
Seth Fleming is the owner of Lavish Lounge and says he believes the police officers wanted to cause trouble at the newly opened Black-owned establishment.
“The cops came here twice. I kicked them out the first time,” Fleming said. “Second time they came, they came back on a mission because they were mad that I kicked them out the first time.”
Fleming said he’s only been open for three weeks and hadn’t had any issues with police until late Saturday night and early Sunday morning. Fleming said Lavish Lounge is BYOB only and doesn’t have a bar. Yet, Lawton police officers stormed in twice that night claiming to be doing a bar check.
Fleming said everyone at the venue was enjoying themselves and there had been no fights the entire night. The last time officers came to check the place was just before 4 a.m., when guests were leaving and the only ones left in the building were employees.
“So they came with guns this time, to check my permit. I don’t understand why we need guns, rifles, or non-lethal guns for a closed business,” Fleming said. “So they came here on a mission to cause mayhem. They were in here smiling, waving their guns around. And from what we heard, one accidentally discharged, went through the window and caused hell outside.”
Fleming pointed to a large bullet hole in the glass window of his business as he explained the shot had come from an officer inside the building.
Fleming and his employees say that it was understandable if Zon had been startled from the gunshot. It remains unclear whether Zon returned fire at officers or whether officers responded to gun fire from Zon. But employees of Lavish Lounge say it was clear that the officers had come looking for trouble.
Jordan Cole is an employee at the social club who says everyone was having a good night. He said that most guests had left the parking lot and employees were 20 minutes into cleaning up for the night when officers stormed in unannounced.
“15 to 20 cops with guns drawn force their way in. Don’t say they have a warrant, don’t announce what they’re there for,” Cole said. “So they start going through our belongings. In the process of that, a gunshot rings out.”
Cole said the reports claiming the shots came from the outside into the building are wrong. “Whatever happened outside, we don’t know. We couldn’t witness that. We know that the first shot that started the whole entire incident came from an officer in our building,” Cole said.
D’Undre is head of security for Lavish Lounge. He says everything happened so fast after the cops stormed in that he had no time to do anything but drop to the floor.
“The first thing I said was who shootin in here? Who shootin in here,” D’Undre said. “There was no music going. It was very quiet. A cop looked at me and rolled his eyes.”
D’Undre said there wasn’t much else to say after seeing that reaction. “I was just shocked. Scared at the moment. Glass was bouncing off my eye as I’m hearing the gunshot,” D’Undre said.
D’Undre said after the shot rang out, some officers went outside, while the remaining officers began to kick things around and loiter in the establishment. D’Undre said he felt they were there to harass the employees.
“They was acting like they was searching for something. But the shot came from in here. If you was searching for something you’d be outside searching for it,” D’Undre said.
Community Calls For Answers
Jacobi Crowley is a well-known community organizer in Lawton. He said he met with Zon’s mother to comfort her and explain the process that goes into police investigations.
“The most important thing is figuring out what happened. The investigation may take a long time,” Crowley said. “Video evidence in general will be important.”
Crowley said he hopes that residents and family members allow the truth to come out so that justice can be served.
Despite the bullet hole in his window, Lavish Lounge owner Seth Fleming said he is refusing to let law enforcement gun down his business. ‘We are staying open,” Fleming said.
In the meantime, a community is torn as they wait for answers. Lavish Lounge employee Jordan Close said Zon was enjoying himself surrounded by friends as he danced and partied on his 24th birthday, smiling all night.
“We feel as though Lawton PD is trying to cover their own tracks because of a chain of events that they created,” Close said.
Why is it important for the readers to know that the chief of police (LAPD) is BLACK? If he or she was WHITE, would the race of the chief of police be disclosed? We already know that answer! A classic case of double standards.
Yes, if the chief had been white, the race would have still been disclosed. Thank you for your comment. Police shootings disproportionately affect black folks, so the race of those in authority, and the actions they choose, are relevant to this case.
Thank you for documenting this absolutely tragic event. It is beyond unfortunate to have lost Zon, another black son, like this. Appreciate the facts here. Please keep us updated of any developments.
President, Black Legacy Advancement Coalition
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