The trooper was trying to help suspect Joseph Johnson-Shanks find lodging

By Maria Coder
Updated September 17, 2015 11:10 AM
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Credit: Kentucky State Police (3)

Joseph Johnson-Shanks, the 25-year-old St. Louis man who allegedly shot and killed Kentucky Trooper Joseph Cameron Ponder on Sunday and was later killed by police, had a criminal record and allegedly had an eerily similar encounter with cops in 2014 in which he placed his hand near a gun in his glove compartment after being pulled over, according to a police report obtained by PEOPLE.

On Christmas Day of 2014, Chris Hampton, a sheriff’s deputy in Franklin County, Illinois, pulled over Johnson-Shanks and a female passenger for speeding, according to a police report obtained by PEOPLE. The report states that Hampton approached the car and saw Johnson-Shanks with his hand in the glove compartment, with his hand “positioned with the handle of the firearm towards the driver, providing instant access.” (The report also alleges that Johnson-Shanks had several bags of marijuana and was driving with a revoked license.)

Hampton wrote: “I asked him if he had any intention of using the firearm on me when I approached the vehicle, as he had the glove box open at that time with his right hand in the glove box and he stated no he did not.”

Hampton then arrested Johnson-Shanks without incident. Johnson-Shanks was indicted on weapons and guns charges and ultimately pleaded guilty. He was placed on a conditional discharge for 30 months, a time period that encompassed Sunday’s shooting of Trooper Ponder.

In an interview with PEOPLE on Wednesday, Franklin County Sheriff Don Jones expressed relief that the situation didn’t end tragically.

“My deputy, for whatever reason, was not involved in a shootout and possibly murdered by the grace of the good Lord – or maybe the way he handled the situation, I’m not sure,” Jones said.

Of the shooting of Trooper Ponder, Jones said, “This is a tragic incident and our hearts go out to the trooper and his family.”

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that Johnson-Shanks received a summons in 2013 for allegedly driving away from police after a traffic stop and having marijuana in his car.

The paper also reported that he was wanted at the time of his death for questioning in a May 18 theft of $900 in lottery tickets from a gas station, with police claiming they saw Johnson-Shanks on surveillance video at other gas stations claiming winnings on some of the stolen tickets.

Cops: Ponder Was Trying Find Hotel Room for Johnson-Shanks When He Was Shot

Ponder pulled Johnson-Shanks over on the highway Sunday night during a routine stop. But Johnson-Shanks allegedly fled during the stop, causing a police chase, according to a police statement released on Facebook.

About 10 miles later, Johnson-Shanks allegedly stopped his car abruptly, causing Ponder’s car to make contact with it. At that point, Johnson-Shanks fired several shots into Ponder’s vehicle, hitting him several times, before fleeing on foot, the statement says. Cops said Johnson-Shanks had four passengers in the car at the time: two adult women and two young children.

After a massive overnight manhunt, cops eventually found Johnson-Shanks in a wooded area next to the highway, according to a police statement released on Facebook. Johnson-Shanks allegedly pointed a gun at cops and refused to put it down, at which point cops fatally shot him, the statement says.

In an interview with PEOPLE on Tuesday, Kentucky State Police spokesman Jay Thomas said that during the initial stop, Ponder was trying to help Johnson-Shanks and his four passengers. Johnson Shanks was driving with a suspended license and nobody else had a license, so Ponder was trying to find lodging for the group.

“He was cutting him a break, if you will,” Thomas said. “I don’t know what was going on in that guy’s mind. We see a lot of things happen over very minor offenses. To us, maybe they seem minor, but to the bad guy, maybe this is something major. [He] probably didn’t know that Trooper Ponder was trying to arrange a hotel room for him. He probably thought he was going to jail. But again, I don’t know.”

“Our troopers do that from time to time,” Thomas says of troopers finding lodging for drivers with suspended licenses. “We don’t always take people to jail.”

Ambrea R.J. Shanks of Florissant, Missouri, 18, a niece of Johnson-Shanks and a passenger in the car, was charged with Hindering Prosecution or Apprehension 1st Degree (Class D Felony) and taken to the county jail. (She has not yet entered a plea, Caldwell County Jail confirmed to PEOPLE.)

Discussing the prevailing mood among troopers, Thomas told PEOPLE, “It’s a very sad day, everybody is pretty somber.”

Ponder joined the state police after graduating from the Kentucky State Police Training Academy in January. He was a Navy veteran.

The state police has launched an investigation into Ponder’s death and into the use of force in Johnson-Shanks’ death as well, Thomas said.

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