Ex-Harper professor sentenced to 25 years for Iowa shootings

  • Charles Johnston

    Charles Johnston

Updated 6/11/2019 5:40 AM

A former Harper College professor will serve up to 25 years in prison after pleading guilty to charges he opened fire on trucks and later a responding state trooper along an interstate highway last year in Iowa.

Charles Johnston, 61, admitted to four counts of intimidation with a dangerous weapon and one count of assault on a peace officer. As part of a plea deal, prosecutors agreed to drop an attempted murder charge, along with one count of operating while intoxicated.


Johnston, of Belvidere, was sentenced Friday at the Cedar County courthouse in Tipton, Iowa, which is between Iowa City and the Quad Cities.

Authorities say Johnston, a one-time psychology professor at Harper, shot at vehicles and exchanged gunfire with a state trooper at a rest stop and gas station along Interstate 80 on Jan. 11, 2018.

According to a court filing, a semitrailer truck driver told police he was pulling out of the gas station in the town of Atalissa when someone in a black Volkswagen pointed a handgun from the window and fired multiple shots at him. The car circled around the truck, but the semi swerved and struck the car, pinning it under the trailer, authorities said.

The driver -- later identified by authorities as Johnston -- fired several more rounds into the truck's passenger's-side door before exiting onto a nearby road, turning around, parking and again approaching the truck. He fired two shots at a state trooper who arrived at the scene. After an exchange of gunfire and brief standoff, police took him into custody.

Johnston told police he targeted truck drivers after becoming enraged over a truck crash that killed a family, according to court records.

Following his arrest, Johnston was held on $1 million bail. He also was barred from Harper's Palatine campus after college officials learned of his arrest, and he was fired by the board 12 days after the shooting.

A Harper employee since 1996, Johnston was disciplined by the college twice before the 2018 arrest. Records obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request show he was suspended for three days in late 2014 after two female students leveled accusations of sexual harassment.

• The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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