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Investigators Detail How Parking Spot Dispute Led to Fatal Shooting of Ex-CU Buff T.J. Cunningham

February 19, 2019
T.J. Cunningham looks on during the burial services for Rashaan Salaam, former University of Colorado, NFL player and Heisman Trophy winner at the Mountain View Memorial Park on Friday, Dec. 8, 2016.

What began as a dispute via text message between two neighbors over street parking ended in the death of an Aurora assistant principal who had played football for the University of Colorado and the Seattle Seahawks.

A probable cause statement from the Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office released Tuesday sheds light on how this weekend dispute turned deadly.

Anthony “T.J.” Cunningham, an assistant principal at Aurora’s Hinkley High School, and Marcus Johnson lived across the street for each other. They had each other’s phone numbers.

Early on Sunday, the two got into an altercation, sheriff’s spokeswoman Deborah Sherman said.

“They were texting each other that morning back and forth,” she said. “They decided to settle it at the school.”

The probable cause statement said that Cunningham’s brother, Tyrese McClintonel, went with him to nearby Eaglecrest High School in Aurora on Sunday to meet Johnson so the two could “box it out.”

McClintonel told police that in the high school parking lot, Cunningham and Johnson walked toward each other, yelling expletives. Johnson told police that Cunningham carried a bottle.

Johnson then allegedly shot Cunningham three times, according to the sheriff’s probable cause statement, striking the former football player in the head and chest.

Police said Cunningham was unarmed.

While police were responding to the shooting, dispatchers received a call from Johnson, who told them that he had “just shot his neighbor,” the police statement said.

Cunningham was transported to the Parker Adventist Hospital after the shooting, but died Monday afternoon .

Police arrested Johnson at his home after 9:30 a.m. Sunday on suspicion of attempted first-degree murder, finding a black handgun in plain view in his car. The charge is being upgraded to first-degree murder in the wake of Cunningham’s death.

Johnson appeared in Arapahoe County Court on Tuesday morning for an advisement hearing, and he is set to return to court Friday morning for the filing of charges.

Cunningham, an Overland High School standout, played wide receiver and defensive back at the University of Colorado from 1992 to 1995. The Seattle Seahawks selected him 209th overall in the 1996 NFL draft.

During his CU tenure, Cunningham was part of four bowl teams. He finished with 21 career receptions for 239 yards as a receiver, before switching to the defensive backfield in 1995. He played in nine games with Seattle in 1996, recovering one fumble.

CU Athletic Director Rick George called Cunningham a “good family man” who “had a strong passion for working with young people as evidenced by serving as an assistant high school principal.”