KSP closes investigation into slain trooper after two years - WSMV News 4

KSP closes investigation into slain trooper after two years

Trooper Joseph Cameron Ponder (Source: KSP) Trooper Joseph Cameron Ponder (Source: KSP)
Trooper Joseph Cameron Ponder posed for a photo with Coach James Webb's sons when he visited North Hardin High in August 2015. (Photo submitted) Trooper Joseph Cameron Ponder posed for a photo with Coach James Webb's sons when he visited North Hardin High in August 2015. (Photo submitted)
Joseph Thomas Johnson-Shanks (Source: KSP) Joseph Thomas Johnson-Shanks (Source: KSP)

The investigation into the murder of a Kentucky State Police trooper is closed.

Trooper Cameron Ponder was killed on Sept. 13, 2015, after making a routine traffic stop in Trigg County, KY.

Joseph Johnson-Shanks led Ponder on a car chase into Lyon County, where he eventually shot the trooper. Police apprehended Johnson-Shanks hours later, shooting and killing him after he refused to drop his weapon.

The News 4 I-Team obtained the complete investigative report into what happened that night.

The case includes interviews with the good Samaritans who tried to help Ponder in his final moments, as well as the people inside the car driven by the killer.

Brenda Tiffany said when her son died, a part of her did, too. She described Ponder as shy, selfless and humble.

“My spirit left me,” Tiffany said, “and I died inside that night.”

Trooper Cameron Ponder pulled over Joseph Johnson-Shanks of Missouri for speeding on I-24 at 10:20 p.m.

Johnson-Shanks, his two nieces and two small children were driving back to Missouri after visiting family in Atlanta.

When Ponder realized Johnson-Shanks’ license was revoked, Ponder offered to put them up in a hotel.

That’s when Johnson-Shanks sped off, confusing his niece, Tyra Shanks.

“I wish he would have listened to me and not did any of the running,” Shanks said in an interview with Kentucky State Police detectives.

Shanks claimed she told her uncle to stop fleeing until she saw his gun.

At that point, she just prayed.

“I held my son, and he was asleep, and I was like, ‘Please God, let us be okay,’” Shanks said.

Chasing behind, Ponder made what would be his final request.

“Permission to pin?” Ponder said over his radio.

“Yeah,” a dispatcher replied.

The pin maneuver was supposed to block the driver.

Instead, Johnson-Shanks shot the trooper before running off into the woods and abandoning his own family.

Hiding, Johnson-Shanks sent out a video via Snapchat.

“If I don’t see anybody, know I love all you all,” he said, “and I did something I didn’t mean to...I’m gonna regret it.”

On the interstate, Ponder was fighting for his life.

While dispatchers could not reach him, two good Samaritans took the radio.

“I don’t really know what to say here,” said Zackery Schaaf, one of the witnesses. “I just pulled over. I heard gunshots. This officer, I don’t think he can breathe well.”

Schaaf and John Shiffer pulled over after spotting the officer’s cruiser.

“I kept saying, ‘Sir, are you all right, can you hear me?’” Schaaf recalled later in an interview with KSP detectives.

A mile away, Johnson-Shanks was still hiding in the woods.

A police report shows, Tyra Shanks suggested she call her uncle and plead for him to surrender peacefully.

Ambrea Shanks, however, yelled to her uncle, “You’re on speakerphone! Don’t say anything ‘cause the police are listening,’” according to the KSP report.

Police then moved in and found Johnson-Shanks hiding in a tree with a gun.

When he refused to drop it, police opened fire.

With a trooper and his killer dead, police searched for answers.

One witness who was not cooperating: Ambrea, the other niece of Johnson-Shanks.

“Why won’t you talk to us?” asked a detective during an interview with Ambrea.

“I really don’t need to,” she said.

Ambrea Shanks ultimately pleaded guilty to hindering prosecution. A judge sentenced her to five years probation.

Investigators did wonder if Johnson-Shanks had been affected by his participation in the Ferguson protests in 2014. Pictures from his Facebook show he appeared to be involved with the protests.

“Did he ever say anything about not liking the police?” a detective asked Tyra Shanks.

“I can’t answer that question for him,” Shanks said. “But I never heard anything about him not liking police.”

Ultimately, nowhere in the investigation does it explain why Johnson-Shanks killed a man who was simply trying to help his family.

“Cameron gave his life trying to help somebody, and for that reason alone, he should be remembered,” Tiffany said.

An autopsy showed Johnson-Shanks had marijuana in his system.

At the time of his death, Ponder had been on the job for just nine months. The 31-year-old Rineyville, KY, native was engaged to be married. Previously, he had served his country as a Navy SEAL.

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