Boyfriend sorts through confusion of shooting
Appeal Staff Writer
“What were you thinking?” Shaun Peart quietly asked his girlfriend Friday as he sat in his Marian Avenue living room.
Cherise Johnson couldn’t answer him. Eight days earlier, on Feb. 22, at 10:36 p.m., she was shot and killed by a deputy after pointing a handgun at officers she’d called to her home.
In the 10 minutes preceding her death, Cherise was incoherent on the phone with an emergency dispatcher. She was crying, intoxicated and claiming she was suicidal.
A transcript of the dispatch log indicated Cherise was fearful and believed her ex-boyfriend was going to kill her.
Before dispatchers could sort it out, the 36-year-old woman grabbed an allegedly unloaded 40-caliber handgun and confronted officers, who then retreated from the home.
Six minutes later Cherise, still holding the gun with its laser sight shining, began to walk outside toward deputies. She was struck by a shotgun blast, piercing her heart.
Met through friends
Cherise Johnson and Shaun Peart met through friends in 2004. Though he lived in Carson City and she in Vegas, the two kept in contact over the next year. Then around Thanksgiving of 2005, Peart went to Vegas to see her.
“We met up at the Stratosphere,” Peart said, a slight smile growing across his drawn face, “and I just fell for her right there.”
Peart, 26, and Cherise struck up a bond.
“There was just something about her I couldn’t ever let go. And I know she loves me very much,” he said.
Cherise was amazing, in Peart’s eyes. Beautiful and well mannered. Spunky. Sparkly. Vulnerable.
“When I first met her she carried her mother’s ashes with her. After she met me, I guess she felt safe enough to let them go,” he said. “She was an incredible, wonderful, loving human being.”
The following spring, Peart and Cherise, now an item, decided to move to Lake Havasu City, Ariz. The move lasted only eight months, he said.
Finding work in the resort town was hard for the cabinet maker, and he longed to return to Carson City to take part in his father’s business.
Cherise was resistant to moving, Peart recalled, but she took the chance.
In August, the couple moved into a home Peart’s father owns on Marian Avenue. A month later, they argued and she moved out.
Peart said that in their time apart she was working as a cocktail waitress at the Nugget and had begun dating someone else whom she eventually moved in with.
What happened next had a profound effect on Cherise, Peart said. And the circumstances surrounding it caused confusion on the night she died.
About two months after breaking up and on the anniversary of Peart and Cherise’s meeting at the Stratosphere, she called Peart. She told him her new boyfriend was beating her, he said.
Peart urged her to get away, and Cherise moved back in with him on Marian Avenue.
On Jan. 21, Cherise went to the ex-boyfriend’s house after he called and asked her to collect her mail. According to Sheriff’s Department records, officers were called about 6:30 p.m. to the 600 block of North Nevada Street by Cherise.
“Once on scene I made contact with the victim who was crying and holding her head from the injuries she sustained,” the deputy wrote.
According to the police report, Cherise told officers her ex-boyfriend Daniel Lahair was intoxicated, and when she tried to leave after collecting her things, he stopped her from opening the door.
She stated he threw her across the room and started yelling and punching her in the face and on top of the head. She also told police he choked her with a sweatshirt and told her, “You are not worthy to be alive. You are a bad human and don’t deserve to live.
“(He) continued to punch her over and over again on her head,” the deputy wrote.
Cherise told the officer she ran for the door at her first opportunity and was able to escape.
The deputy photographed Cherise’s injuries and Lahair was arrested on suspicion of misdemeanor domestic battery and gross misdemeanor false imprisonment. He eventually pleaded guilty to domestic battery, and the imprisonment charge was dropped, according to court records.
Cherise then got a temporary protective order against Lahair on Feb. 5, alleging in the document that he had stated, “I told you if you ever left I’d kill you.”
She said he had slapped her in the face before and once he “just snapped. Punched me in the face numerous times blackening my eye. He hit me with closed fists, split my ear open and strangled me.”
In the document, she said she moved out that night and called Advocates to End Domestic Violence, but didn’t follow through with a restraining order.
Lahair attempted to get his own restraining order against Cherise, alleging she was still trying to contact him even after she was granted an order against him. His request was denied on Feb. 15.
On Feb. 22 – the day she died – Johnson and Peart had been out having drinks and listening to a band at a downtown casino.
Peart said they’d argued, and Cherise had said he hadn’t protected her from Lahair.
Peart had enough, he said. Since that relationship with Lahair, Cherise hadn’t been the same.
“That Dan guy really messed her up. She was so afraid of him,” he said. “Since that happened she’d just been really depressed.”
Peart said he decided to walk home, leaving Cherise with his truck. She called him several times, but he would let the calls go to voice mail then check them as he walked. In at least one of the calls she was frantic, begging him to answer the phone so she could find him.
He never did answer.
A half hour after he set off, Peart said, he arrived home and found two of his roommates in the living room.
“I sat down and talked to them a while,” he recalled. “They had the fireplace going. Everything was kosher.”
But when Peart went back into his bedroom, he found his girlfriend on the phone with dispatchers, crying inconsolably on the bed. He asked her what she was doing, and he could be heard by dispatchers saying that Cherise was just intoxicated and everything is fine.
Peart said he knew if she was on the phone to police, they’d be arriving any moment, so after unsuccessfully trying to convince Cherise to hang up, he went outside. About five deputies were already there talking with his roommate.
Peart told them everything was OK, he said. When officers began to go into the house, he demanded to know why.
“They put me in handcuffs right away,” he said. “Then they come in here and they go back (to the bedroom) and say ‘She’s got a gun!’ And they take everybody out of here.”
Peart said he tried to tell them there was no ammunition for the gun. That it wasn’t even his, just collateral for some cash he’d loaned a friend.
“I told every one of those cops there were no bullets. I knew what gun she grabbed.”
Things were just escalating too quickly, he said. Dispatchers were trying to find Lahair because he was who Cherise said was threatening her, dispatch logs indicate. There was confusion about how many people were inside the home, the logs reveal. A police sergeant outside asked dispatchers who had the gun. Cherise was telling 911 “he” had a gun.
Lahair was located by phone at his job, blocks away.
Officers immediately began calling through a bullhorn for whomever was in the house to come out with their hands up.
Peart, seeing his three roommates outside, told officers the only one left was his girlfriend.
“I was willing to go in there and resolve the situation. I know I could have. I just wish they had let me,” he said.
Officers rushed Peart into the back of a patrol car, and he could not see the doorway anymore. He could hear the racket at the house though and remembers hearing officers shouting for Cherise to drop a gun. Peart remembers shouting too.
“I yelled, ‘Put down the gun, Cherise!'”
Then he heard the gunshot.
Peart said from his vantage point in the patrol car, he saw deputies carrying Cherise’s body.
“Four guys picked her up and just dropped her in the street,” he said.
Paramedics staged around the corner were unable to save her.
Police haven’t confirmed whether the gun was loaded.
‘She really meant everything to me’
“She’s never done anything like that, ever,” Peart said Friday, wiping away tears and unable to look at Cherise’s picture on his laptop. “What was she thinking?”
The Department of Public Safety is investigating the shooting, and Peart said he isn’t angry at police about what happened. He understands they were faced with a chaotic situation.
“When someone points a gun with a laser sight at you, you do what you’ve got to do,” he said.
Still, he wonders if officers could have tried another tactic, or let him talk to Cherise.
Or he thinks if he had answered the phone as he walked home, Cherise would have picked him up and they would have just gone home to bed.
He can barely stand to be inside the house now. After she was shot, Cherise fell inside the foyer.
When Peart was allowed to return home, a pool of Cherise’s blood stained the wood floor. He had to hire someone to clean it, he said. Now, there’s no evidence it was there, yet Peart can’t help but walk around the spot where her body had fallen.
He said he only stays because that’s what Cherise would have wanted.
“She wouldn’t want me to run away,” he said.
Her clothes still hang in the closet, her hairbrush is on the night stand. Her hair clip is hooked to the headboard of their king-size bed. Her truck still sits in the driveway.
And Peart still weeps. For the love he lost, for the love he still feels.
“She really meant everything to me. I miss her so much,” he whispered.
Dispatch log of Feb. 22 shooting of Cherise Johnson
10:23.24 p.m. – Carson City emergency 911 dispatcher gets a call from Cherise Johnson requesting an ambulance at her home at 1813 Marian Avenue because she is suicidal.
10:24.12 p.m. – Johnson tells dispatcher there are weapons in the house and her boyfriend is mad at her.
10:25.19 p.m. – Johnson states she does not want to cause a problem and she just got a restraining order on her ex-boyfriend.
10:26:22 p.m. – The call is disconnected and on call back, dispatcher gets no answer.
10:28:08 p.m. – Dispatcher is able to contact Johnson again and states “female is not cooperative.”
10:29:07 p.m. – A man can be heard in the background asking for deputies to come to the house and Johnson is saying “everything is going to be fine and that boyfriend is mad because she called police.”
10:30:07 p.m. – Johnson is yelling “No.”
10:30:15 p.m. – Dispatcher reports hearing struggling.
10:30:30 p.m. – Deputies report someone is at gunpoint.
10:31:41 p.m. – Deputies report one subject has a gun.
10:32:07 p.m. – Johnson states there is a male inside with a gun.
10:35:04 p.m. – Johnson reports she has the gun in her hands.
10:35:57 p.m. – Johnson reports her gun is loaded.
10:35:58 p.m. – Another call comes in from a different address stating Johnson called and said a “male is threatening to blow her head off with a shotgun.”
10:36:19 p.m. – Johnson states she is coming outside.
10:36:22 p.m. – Shots fired.