Fallen 1997 Johnson Robert

Memorial to Robert L Johnson, Jr.

Officer Killed in the Line of Duty
End of Watch: April 27, 1997
Rank: Officer  Badge No. ___
Age: 31
Years of Service: 7
Location of Death: 4300 block of Benning Road, NE



At approximately 10:30 on the evening of Saturday, April 26, 1997, officers responded to the 4300 block of Benning Road, NE, to investigate the sound of gun shots. Upon arrival, they discovered two male subjects suffering from gunshot wounds.

One of the victims, a 28 year-old Sergeant assigned to the department’s Third District, was shot in the feet. His identity is being withheld because he is a witness in the case. The other victim was identified as off-duty officer Robert L. Johnson, Jr., assigned to the Sixth District. He had been shot in the chest. Both men were taken to DC General, where Officer Johnson was pronounced dead at 1 am, on April 27, 1997. He was 31 years old and a seven-year veteran with the department.

On April 28, 1997, 22-year-old Maurice Antonio Douglas of the 200 block of 43rd Road, NE was charged with Murder I While Armed in connection with the slaying of Officer Johnson.



Officer Robert L. Johnson, married and father of two children, was a seven-year veteran of the department assigned to the Sixth District.


Articles from the Washington Post – transcribed by Dave Richardson, MPD/Ret.




D.C. Police Officer Slain, 2nd Wounded in Shooting; `A Sad, Sad Day’ for Department, Chief Says

An off-duty D.C. police officer was shot and killed last night, and another was wounded near the 6th District police station on Benning Road in Northeast Washington.

The slain officer, Robert L. Johnson Jr., 31, who was assigned to the 6th District, was hit in the chest area in the shooting, which occurred about 10:30 p.m. near 42nd Street and Benning Road NE.

The other officer, a sergeant in the 3rd District, was hit in both feet. Both officers were taken to D.C. General Hospital.

Neither was wearing a uniform at the time of the shooting. Police declined to release the name of the wounded officer, describing him as a witness.

D.C. Police Chief Larry D. Soulsby told reporters at the hospital early this morning that no arrest had been made in the shooting but that police were following up on numerous leads.

Soulsby had broken into tears on announcing that Johnson, the father of two small children, had died at 1 a.m.

“It’s a sad, sad day for the Metropolitan Police Department,” Soulsby said, calling the death tragic. Johnson was the third D.C. police officer shot to death this year.

The events that led to the shooting remained unclear early this morning. Soulsby told reporters that based on information available to him, it appeared that the shooting was unprovoked.

However, investigators also said they were looking into reports that the shooting may have followed an argument between the officers and one or more other people.

According to Soulsby, both officers had just gotten off duty when the shooting occurred. The sergeant, who had just been promoted, was formerly assigned to the 6th District.

He was a friend of the 6th District officer who was shot with him, Soulsby said.

A police spokesman said officers in the 6th District received a report of gunfire and found the two officers near a white automobile in which they might have been sitting earlier.

Detectives and uniformed officers flooded into the neighborhood, which is east of the Anacostia River and a few blocks north of East Capitol Street.

The site of the shooting is one block away from the 6th District station, in the 4100 block of Benning Road NE.

Paramedic Al Rowell, of the D.C. fire department, arrived within two minutes of the discovery of the two wounded men.

Officers were cradling the head of the more seriously wounded officer. Other officers were administering first aid as the wounded officer lay on the pavement.

Rowell said the officer apparently had been hit near the left armpit. He was conscious but having difficulty breathing, Rowell said.

As police investigated the shooting early this morning, some officers said the two off-duty officers, while in the automobile, may have been involved in a verbal confrontation with someone in another automobile.

Although no arrest had been made, there were reports last night that police had stopped an automobile and were questioning its occupants in connection with the shooting.

If no arrest is made overnight, Soulsby said, he planned to begin an intensive canvass of the neighborhood around the shooting, starting at 8 a.m. today.

The shooting come at a time of heightened concern in the city about attacks on police officers. Much of the concern was prompted by the fatal shootings earlier this year of two other D.C. officers.

One of them, Brian T. Gibson, was killed while sitting in his patrol car near a nightclub in Northwest Washington.

The other, Oliver Wendell Smith Jr., was shot during a robbery as he returned to his home in Prince George’s County. Arrests have been made in both cases.

D.C. Mayor Marion Barry recently provoked controversy by declaring that he supported the death penalty in certain killings of police officers.



Barry’s Death Penalty Stand Puzzles Many; While Some Decry Mayor’s Reversal, Others See a Practical Reply to New Attitudes

When the Rev. Daniel Webster Aldridge Jr. heard about the shooting of two D.C. police officers late Saturday, he hoped that neither’s wounds were life-threatening. And when he learned later that one had died, he was saddened, even outraged.

But the slaying has not negated the concern he raised last week as he stood with protesters outside police headquarters: How could Mayor Marion Barry, of all people, forsake the concept of redemption? In calling for the imposition of the death penalty for people convicted of killing D.C. police officers, Aldridge and others argued, Barry had forgotten whence he came — from a prison term on a drug conviction back to the top elected job in the District.

“Here was a person who had committed an act of transgression, who had sought mercy . . . asked to be redeemed, who had received it, but now he was not prepared and willing to offer the same,” said Aldridge, minister of All Souls Unitarian Church.

And just six months ago, Aldridge recalled, he attended an event in which Barry read a proclamation he had signed declaring Oct. 4 as Death Penalty Awareness Day.

“I know it’s a terribly emotional time, and when something like this happens, the question always is raised, do we want to get revenge? The death penalty is not the appropriate behavior for a civilized society,” Aldridge said.

Barry’s decision to ease his long-held opposition to the death penalty was a puzzling move to many across the city, who remember how he railed against the injustice of the system for having snared him in a crack cocaine sting operation in 1990. They recalled that his successful campaign to regain the mayor’s office focused heavily on asking Washington residents to forgive him for his mistakes.

Barry himself had trouble articulating his change of heart. “I really agonized over it,” he said, in long, emotional meetings with members of his staff during the last several weeks. “It was a tough decision.”

The mayor said that he did not believe the death penalty would be a deterrent for people intent on killing and that he did not support extending the penalty beyond those convicted of murdering police officers. He said the goal of his proposal was “punishment. . . . It’s punishment.”

Yesterday, Barry issued a statement denouncing the slaying of Officer Robert L. Johnson Jr. “The politics and speeches must end. We have got to act to show that we mean business in Washington, D.C.,” Barry said. ” . . . Our police officers . . . deserve our support, and they deserve the passage of this legislation.”

Community activist Rahim Jenkins said, “I think the mayor, at this particular point, finds himself representing the frustrations of the 9-to-5, law-abiding people.” Jenkins was among many activists who rallied Washington voters in 1992 to oppose the death penalty in a referendum and works with ex-offenders on the streets of Southeast Washington.

Jenkins said he remains a staunch opponent of the death penalty but thinks fear of crime, particularly in poor, black communities, has hardened attitudes toward violent offenders.

“Since 1992, I’ve been saying, privately and publicly, {that} we were going to lose some support if something was not done in terms of the violence taking place in Washington, D.C.,” Jenkins said, “that people lose confidence in the leadership and the police department because violence had gotten completely out of hand.”

Barry was forced to change his position, Jenkins surmised, because “not having the resources that he needs to do prevention and intervention, he has to appear to be doing something.”

Alvin Thornton, chairman of the Political Science Department at Howard University, suggested that Barry’s spiritual and personal beliefs have clashed with the realities of governing in urban America today.

“Black administrations in major cities and urbanized suburban areas are confronting major governance problems in a growing insensitivity to young black men who commit crimes,” Thornton said. He said the constituencies that traditionally have opposed capital punishment — upper-income, highly educated whites and most blacks — are beginning to change their opinions about the death penalty.

Said Thornton: “The mayor is being mayor now in a city where the governing consensus, represented by a coalition of blacks and whites, have now come to the point where they perceive that authority and government have been beset upon by a defined, small group of unrehabilitable men . . . and that those people need to be isolated from society.”

Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.), chairman of the House Government Oversight subcommittee on the District, applauded Barry’s new position.

“There’s nothing wrong with changing on a issue like this,” Davis said. “Public opinion has been changing and evolving for years, and he’s also faced with the prospect of, if he doesn’t do something, Congress might do something more intense.”

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-Tex.) has introduced a bill in the Senate calling for the death penalty for those who kill D.C. police officers. The Senate’s Governmental Affairs subcommittee on the District is scheduled to hold a hearing on the measure next week.

Eric Ruff, a spokesman for Hutchinson, said the senator “is hopeful the mayor and city council will do the right thing, and at that point we will applaud and gladly step aside.” In the meantime, he said, Hutchinson will allow her bill to move forward.

Barry’s bill on the death penalty has not been embraced on the D.C. Council.

Yesterday, members of the council expressed regrets over Johnson’s death but said they remained unconvinced of the need for the death penalty.

Carol Schwartz (R-At Large), who sponsored the legislation on the council on Barry’s behalf, remains the only solid supporter of the measure on the panel. “How many officers have to die before we realize that we have to do all we can as a society to protect them?” she asked yesterday.

A national survey of African Americans last year by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies found 48 percent in favor of the death penalty and 37.4 percent opposed, said David Bositis, senior policy analyst for the center.

“Are there some black people in Washington, D.C., who would wholeheartedly go along with it? Sure there are,” Bositis said. “But there also will be a significant number of people who will object to it on the grounds of racism in the criminal justice system,” which he said was cited by those respondents who opposed capital punishment.



At Vigil, a Call for Involvement; Candles, Prayers, Tears Mark Memorial for Slain Officer

The playful chatter of children, the relentless bustle of traffic, sounds heard in the near distance — all masked the stillness and the sadness of the small crowd that gathered yesterday evening for a candlelight prayer vigil for slain D.C. police officer Robert L. Johnson Jr.

“These are very difficult times for all of us in Washington,” Mayor Marion Barry said as he moved to the lectern at the top of the steps of the 6th District police station, at 42nd Street and Benning Road NE.

Daylight began to fade. A few tears rolled. And some bowed their heads in the crowd of about 100 friends, supporters and colleagues of Johnson, who was shot to death one block away on what was supposed to be a festive Saturday night with friends.

“We have got to find a way to stop these killings, not only of police officers, but citizens,” Barry continued, urging a crackdown on illegal guns and reiterating his support for the death penalty for those convicted of killing law officers.

“I’ve come to the conclusion we have to send a signal to this community about killing police officers. If it stops one, that’s enough for me. I’m tired of coming to these. Whenever you start attacking police officers, you’re really attacking society.”

And while dignitaries talked, police fanned out through the neighborhood searching for a 17-year-old who is suspected of taking part in the shooting that felled Johnson and wounded Sgt. Paul Shelton. The teenager’s name has not been released by police. But officials said that investigators had received 100 tips yesterday on the suspect, known by the nickname “Domo,” and that they believed he has remained in the area. Another suspect in the killing, Maurice A. Douglas, 22, has been charged with first-degree murder.

One by one, politicians, police officials, civic activists and religious leaders stepped up to offer a prayer or comment, many with a common theme: Stop the killings, get the community more involved and address the problem of misdirected youths.

Many also offered kind words about Johnson, who will again be honored at a prayer vigil this evening at the 6th District station. A bigger crowd is expected, along with some of Johnson’s family members, police said.

D.C. Police Chief Larry D. Soulsby, standing in full uniform, called the killing “another tragic day for the city. Our heart really goes out to the Johnson family.”

Looking out into the crowd and television cameras, he urged the teenage suspect to surrender.
“We have no desire to harm the second suspect,” Soulsby said. “He has a day in court waiting for him.”

Standing in the crowd was Johnson’s longtime friend Bennie Bender, thinking about his pal, about the times they hung out in high school and college and about the laughs they had.
“Everybody loved him. He was just a good guy,” Bender said.

Afterward, the crowd lighted candles and marched a short block along Benning Road to 43rd Road NE, passing children playing and neighbors watching from their porches on an idyllic spring night with a drop of daylight remaining.

Still holding the candles, they gathered in a circle around the spot where Johnson fell, and the Rev. Bernard M. Taylor, of Open Door Baptist Church in Southeast Washington, offered a prayer. Several feet away was the nondescript brick apartment building where Douglas lived.

“As long as we hold up that flame, we’ll always have a chance,” Taylor said. “Maybe one day, we will no longer have to gather in places like this for reasons like this.”



Police Scour Area for 2nd Suspect; Teenager Charged With Murder in Fatal Shooting of D.C. Officer

Dozens of D.C. police officers again swept through a Northeast Washington neighborhood yesterday looking for the second person charged in Saturday’s fatal shooting of an off-duty officer.
Detectives obtained an arrest warrant for Dominic Gibson, 17, whose last known address was his mother’s apartment in the 300 block of 50th Street NE. Gibson, also known by the nickname Domo or Dormo, is charged as an adult with first-degree murder while armed in the shooting death of D.C. police Officer Robert L. Johnson Jr.

Maurice A. Douglas, 22, is charged with first-degree murder in the case and is jailed without bond.
Yesterday afternoon, uniformed and plainclothes officers swarmed over the Lincoln Heights public housing complex, where Gibson lived with his mother. Detectives and officers questioned residents and searched vacant buildings and apartments for any sign of Gibson. The neighborhood is about a half-mile from the scene of the shooting.

“We’re trying to make it warm for him. We’re talking to all his friends and associates,” one investigator said.

Homicide Lt. Alvin Brown said, “We are getting numerous phone calls about possible sightings, and we’re checking each and every one.”

He said Gibson is considered armed and dangerous and asked that anyone with information about Gibson call police investigators at 202-727-4347.

Investigators also are searching for the weapon used in the shooting.

While police scoured the neighborhood, a candlelight prayer vigil was held for the second consecutive day in front of the 6th District police station on 42nd Street and Benning Road NE.
A crowd of about 400 — about four times more than the day before — packed the street in front of the station, as local leaders offered condolences and tough words about crime.

The most emotional moments came when Johnson’s lifetime friend, David Taylor, a detective in the 5th District, stepped up to the lectern, choking on words and fighting off tears that spread through the crowd.

“It was totally senseless,” he said. “I can’t explain why it happens. Something was taken away from all of us. It will never be replaced.”

The vigil ended with the crowd holding lighted candles, standing in the spot Johnson was killed, singing, “We shall overcome.”

Johnson’s father, Robert Johnson Sr., who attended the vigil, said afterward: “He was my heart and my joy. He was my everything.”

Johnson and Sgt. Paul Shelton were attacked about 10:30 p.m. Saturday on a street one block from the 6th District station, where Johnson was assigned.

The two were about to go out to celebrate Shelton’s 29th birthday and were waiting for a third officer to join them, police said. Shelton was shot in both feet in the attack.

According to affidavits filed in D.C. Superior Court, Johnson and Shelton were sitting in a car on 43rd Road NE, chatting with someone in a second vehicle, when Douglas pulled up. Unable to pass, Douglas “began blowing his horn and yelling,” the affidavit said. As he pulled up next to the officers he warned that he would be back.

According to a witness, Douglas returned on foot toward the officers, carrying a handgun and voicing threats, the affidavit said. Douglas was accompanied by a second man. Douglas later told investigators the second man fired the weapon.

Johnson was the third D.C. police officer shot to death this year.



A Police Officer’s Death

FOR THE THIRD time in three months, the city is shocked by the fatal shooting of a D.C. police officer. This time, the victim was Robert L. Johnson Jr., a seven-year veteran, who was killed Saturday night near the 6th District police station in Northeast Washington as he sat in a car with a fellow police officer, Sgt. Paul Shelton. The assailants’ gunshots wounded Sgt. Shelton. So once again, police officers are wearing a black strip over their badges as a symbol of mourning. In restating his support for the death penalty for cop killers, Police Chief Larry Soulsby said, “We cannot allow people who do these things to walk the streets of D.C.” That concern certainly applies to the suspect charged in Officer’s Johnson’s fatal shooting. Why, it may be asked, was he on the streets last Saturday night?

Maurice Antonio Douglas, charged with first-degree murder of Officer Johnson, was no stranger to the police, prosecutors, the courts or the D.C. Corrections Department. At the time of his arrest on Sunday night, he was awaiting trial on an April 1996 charge of possession with the intent to distribute cocaine. That was the second time around for him on drug charges, since he was serving probation for a 1995 conviction on attempted drug dealing. Mr. Douglas’s guilt or innocence in the police shootings will be determined in a court of law. The question of whether he should have been on the streets when Officer Johnson was gunned down, however, is settled: By court order, Maurice Douglas had an 8 p.m. curfew and should have been at home at the hour he allegedly shot and killed a police officer. There is another question to ponder: Should he have been out of jail at all?

Mr. Johnson’s second arrest in April 1996 landed him in jail, where he was ordered held without bond (since he was on probation). His motion for bond review on May 15 was also denied by the court. However, one month later — June 15, 1996 — the court ordered him released to a Corrections Department halfway house work-release program. Five months later, a second judge released Mr. Johnson from the halfway house to go home under the newly inaugurated “Heightened Supervision Program” of the D.C. Pretrial Services Agency. He was a program participant at the time of his arrest Sunday night. Why was he on the streets?

As of yesterday, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office still could not say why prosecutors in the District were unaware that Mr. Douglas was facing handgun charges in Prince George’s County when he pleaded guilty to D.C. drug charges in 1995. Or why prosecutors were in the dark about outstanding arrest warrants in Prince George’s against him for allegedly assaulting a girlfriend.
And as of yesterday, the Corrections Department still could not explain why, after sending Mr. Douglas back to the D.C. Jail in September for assaulting another halfway house inmate, the department, according to court records, reversed course and dropped the charges, after first asking the judge to revoke his halfway house assignment.

And as of yesterday, D.C. Pretrial Services Agency still maintained that there was no reason — prior to his arrest on Sunday — to have expected a judge to revoke Mr. Douglas’s home release privileges, although, it turns out, he failed to report — as required — to his case manager in the Heightened Supervision Program in the week of April 20, 1997; and had failed to maintain — as required — his 8 p.m. curfew on April 9, 1997, April 17, 1997, and April 25, 1997 — the day before Officer Johnson was slain. By the way, on Tuesday, Pretrial Services asked the court to hold Mr. Johnson in contempt and revoke his conditions of release because of his re-arrest for first-degree murder and his curfew violations.

You do not have to prejudge the outcome of Mr. Douglas’s trial for murder to observe that so far as his freedom to roam the streets was concerned, the criminal justice system was not working.



2nd Suspect Held in Officer’s Slaying; D.C. Police Make Arrest With Local Sheriff’s Deputies in North Carolina

The second suspect in last week’s fatal shooting of a D.C. police officer was captured yesterday in North Carolina by D.C. police and local sheriff’s deputies.

Dominic Gibson, 17, was arrested as he stood on a street corner in Halifax County, about 20 miles south of the Virginia state line, officials said. The arrest ended an extensive manhunt. Hundreds of officers from the D.C. police and other law enforcement agencies had been looking for Gibson, primarily in and near his far Northeast Washington neighborhood, for nearly a week.
Gibson was charged as an adult with first-degree murder while armed in the shooting death last Saturday of Officer Robert L. Johnson Jr. Gibson was flown back to Washington with police officials last night in a U.S. Park Police helicopter, which landed in Anacostia Park shortly before 9 p.m.
Maurice A. Douglas, 22, also is charged with first-degree murder in the case. He is being held without bond at the D.C. jail.

Hundreds of police officers from the Washington area paid their respects to Johnson last night at a viewing ceremony at Full Gospel AME Zion Church in Temple Hills. Johnson’s body lay in a black coffin draped with a U.S. flag in the main sanctuary of the church. At one point, about 7:30 p.m., at least 100 people were waiting to view the body.

“I came to pay my respects because he was family,” said Capt. Tommy Musgrove, of the city’s 7th Police District, who went to the church with two co-workers. “I didn’t know him, but he was part of the family whether I knew him or not.”
Douglas and Gibson allegedly shot Johnson, 31, who was off duty and out of uniform about a block from the 6th District police station, where Johnson was assigned. A friend of Johnson’s, Sgt. Paul Shelton, of the 3rd Police District, was wounded in the feet. The two officers were about to go out to celebrate Shelton’s 29th birthday, police said. The shooting apparently was sparked by a minor traffic dispute, police said.
Gibson had told some friends he would not be taken alive, police said, but he did not resist when law officers surrounded him yesterday.
Capt. Chuck Ward, commander of the Halifax County sheriff’s detective unit, said Gibson was arrested about 10:30 a.m. in a residential neighborhood plagued by illegal drug sales. Seven sheriff’s deputies, some of them plainclothes officers, and two D.C. homicide detectives quickly moved in and arrested Gibson, Ward said.
“We were on top of him before he knew what was happening,” Ward said. “He didn’t know what hit him.”
Gibson had been staying at a Motel 6 in Roanoke Falls, Ward said. Another teenage youth from Washington was sharing the room with Gibson, Ward said. The other teenager was being questioned by D.C. detectives but had not been charged with a crime as of yesterday afternoon, Ward said.

Soon after Gibson’s arrest, additional D.C. homicide detectives boarded a helicopter and headed to North Carolina to interview him. Detectives took along a videotape recorder in hopes of getting a statement.

“We want to talk with him quickly,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney P. Kevin Carwile. “Obviously the other guy is putting the finger on him as the triggerman. {Gibson} might want to have something to say about that.”

In a D.C. Superior Court affidavit, prosecutors say Douglas blamed Gibson for the shooting. Douglas said that as he was driving on 43rd Road NE toward Benning Road, he encountered two cars blocking his path and blew his horn. (Johnson and Shelton were in one car, talking to someone in the car that was in Douglas’s way, police said. The two identified themselves to Douglas as officers, police said.)

According to the affidavit, Douglas said that after one of the cars blocking his way moved, he drove past the other car, stopped nearby and walked back with a handgun. While he was walking, he said, he encountered another young man, whom he knew as “Domo,” who also had a handgun. Douglas said Domo started firing toward Johnson and Shelton, who were now standing outside the car. At that point, Douglas said, he ran away.

In another affidavit, a witness reported hearing two guns firing. Neither Johnson nor Shelton fired his weapon, police said.

Authorities have not found the gun or guns used in the attack. Capt. Alan Dreher, commander of the D.C. homicide squad, said investigators are looking for the weapons in Washington and in North Carolina.

Dreher said evidence linking Gibson to the crime was found in his motel room. The captain would not disclose the nature of the evidence.

Johnson was the third D.C. police officer shot to death this year.

The mood at yesterday’s viewing was less somber than at other gatherings in honor of Johnson this week. Many people brought their children to the church.

“I wanted her to come to pay her respects to a man who tried to do the right thing,” said Marilla Simpson, 38, of Laurel, who works in Washington and brought her daughter, Candace, 11, to the wake. “This is a brother who was trying to give something. We hear a lot about how much we all need to do that, and it’s sad that he met his end doing a job he thought would help. I wanted her with me to say thank you, even though Officer Johnson won’t hear it. It’s important that officers know we appreciate them.”

Assistant Chief Rodney D. Monroe said it was important to officers to arrest Gibson before Johnson is buried. The officer’s funeral is scheduled for today. Officers “didn’t want to bury another officer with this individual still out there,” Monroe said.



Two Ordered Held in Death Of D.C. Officer; Judge Denies Bond To NE Suspects

The two men accused of killing D.C. police Officer Robert L. Johnson Jr. were ordered held without bond yesterday by a judge who found compelling evidence that they ambushed the off-duty officer in retaliation for blocking traffic.

Maurice A. Douglas, 22, and Dominic Gibson, 17, said nothing during a two-hour hearing in D.C. Superior Court. Both have given statements to police in which they acknowledged approaching Johnson late April 26 with guns, but according to prosecutors each said the other fired the fatal shot.

Authorities said preliminary indications are that Johnson was shot once in the chest with a semiautomatic pistol. Douglas and Gibson each told police that he was carrying a revolver and that the other was carrying the pistol. Neither weapon has been found.

Assistant U.S. Attorney P. Kevin Carwile played down the importance of the issue, noting that one witness said both men fired shots.

Judge Susan R. Winfield ruled that there was enough evidence to hold the men on first-degree murder charges. She said the circumstances of the killing led her to believe that both men were too dangerous to release.

“The motive was as minimal as it could be,” Winfield said.

Douglas and Gibson sat within inches of each other in court but rarely exchanged glances. Johnson, 31, was off duty and out of uniform when he was shot on 43rd Road NE, near the 6th District police station, where he was assigned. A friend of Johnson’s, Sgt. Paul Shelton, of the 3rd Police District, was wounded in the feet. Detective Robert Alder said the shooting occurred a short time after Douglas complained that the officers’ car was blocking his path on the narrow street.
Alder testified that Douglas honked his car horn, began swearing and yelled to the officers: “Stay right there. I’ll be back.”

Moments later, according to Alder, Douglas returned on foot, bringing Gibson with him. A witness told police that Douglas was carrying a semiautomatic handgun and said, “They don’t know I’ll kill them.” Moments later, the witness told police, he heard shots from two guns, Alder said.
Alder said neither Johnson nor Shelton was able to return fire.

Johnson’s slaying followed the recent killings of two other D.C. police officers, Oliver Wendell Smith Jr. and Brian T. Gibson. The courtroom was packed yesterday with more than 70 people, many of them police officers who gasped in disbelief when Douglas’s attorney, Ronald Horton, asked that charges be dismissed.

Douglas, of the 4200 block of Dix Street NE, was arrested the day after the killing. Gibson, of the 300 block of 50th Street NE, was arrested May 2 in North Carolina after a search joined by hundreds of law enforcement officers.



Officers, Never Out Of the Line of Fire; Stress, Pain Are Factors on the Job — and Off

Sgt. Brian Corrigan heard the shots and sprinted out of the station toward the sound. Less than two blocks away he came upon his friend Officer Robert Louis Johnson Jr. and a second officer shot and sprawled on the pavement.

“Johnson was saying, `This burns really bad.’ . . . He seemed scared,” Corrigan said. “I realized it wasn’t a good situation because {the ambulance attendants} loaded him up real quick and took him out of there. Then, from what I understand, things took a turn for the worse really fast. . . . Later, I heard the lieutenant on the radio asking to have all the Sector One units respond to the roll call room. That’s when I knew he had died. I couldn’t believe it. I had just heard him talking, and then he was dead.”

Corrigan didn’t cry that night. He checked his emotions and plunged into the task of finding Johnson’s killer or killers, as did hundreds of other officers who came in from off duty after the April 26 shooting, the third slaying of a D.C. police officer in as many months. A few cried; a few punched walls. But most of them focused on the job — what police officers are trained to do.

In an occupation in which stress is as much a part of the uniform as the badge and the gun, the killings of Johnson and Officers Oliver Wendell Smith Jr. and Brian T. Gibson compound the anxiety and emotional strain that officers feel every day, current and former officers and therapists said.
“You are always thinking, `But for the grace of God, it could have been me,’ ” said former D.C. police chief Isaac Fulwood Jr. “You go to the funeral and you are standing over the casket and you look down and see a . . . blue uniform and then you look around and see so many police officers in the same uniforms . . . and you are thinking, `It could have been any of us.’ ”

Today, law enforcement officers from across the country will be in Washington for National Police Week, an annual tribute to officers killed in the line of duty. The culture of policing has an elaborate mourning ritual: black-taped badges, a long blue cortege, the bagpipes at the gravesite. But in the immediate aftermath of a death, there’s no time to mourn. The officers quickly are sent back into the streets to deal with the dying, the dead, the abused, the victims and the criminals — even as thoughts of their own mortality are heightened.

The resulting stress can be as deadly as the streets. Police officers commit suicide, suffer from depression and alcoholism, and get divorced at much higher rates than those in most other professions, according to specialists in the field. They also die younger and suffer disproportionately from digestive disorders, coronary disease and some rare forms of cancer, said Beverly Anderson, who oversees counselors in the D.C. police Employee Assistance Program.

“They also suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder,” she said. “Trauma and traumatic memories are {ingrained} in their minds, and they remember them like moving pictures, frame by frame. There are also `feeling’ memories that they play back as well, flashbacks of pain.”

For a while, D.C. police Officer Michael Miller had trouble sleeping. On Aug. 31, 1992, he was shot in the chest at Ridge Road and G Street SE by a man he stopped for a traffic violation. He calls it “the incident.” A few months later, he attended the funeral for a 5th District officer who, like Miller, was also a volunteer firefighter. “They had all the firetrucks out . . . and I just kept thinking that would have been my funeral,” said Miller, 30. “When an officer gets killed, I wonder why I survived and others didn’t. That bothers me.”

Mark Maggio, a psychotherapist and member of the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation, said that compounding the stresses on the job — the danger, the varying work shifts, and internal politics — is the reluctance of some officers to share their pain with family and friends outside the department. “You will hear officers say that the only one who can understand are other cops, and they shut down the lines of communication” to anyone else, he said.

After Johnson’s death, hundreds of officers poured into the 6th District, where Johnson worked, to help solve the case, in which two young Washington men have been charged with murder. “They have to be there. They want to be there,” said the Rev. Salvatore “Father Sal” Criscuolo, a D.C. police chaplain. “They feel that it is the call of the badge to show support. That’s why officers come from all over to the funeral when an officer has been killed.”

But that closed circle sometimes causes problems in personal relationships outside the force: Mothers urge officers to quit; spouses hassle them about being late; children have nightmares that Mommy or Daddy has died. Relationships are strained by the cynicism that many officers exhibit, the long and unpredictable hours, and the fear that the officers won’t come home.

And the destruction of those relationships is a key factor in suicides, specialists said. Twice as many police officers kill themselves — more than 300 each year, therapists said — than die in the line of duty.

For couples in law enforcement, there is more fear because they know what is happening on the street. On Thanksgiving morning 1990, Prince William County police Officer Susan Crosby was on patrol when she heard that an officer had been shot at a barricade scene where her husband’s SWAT team was working. She sent up a prayer and kept working, until she got back to the station and learned that her husband was safe. “I couldn’t fall apart,” she said. “I just had to wait.”

D.C. homicide Capt. Alan Dreher said he credited his wife’s strength in sticking with him for 18 years despite the strain his job can cause on family life, but he said his children’s fears are more difficult to assuage. “They read the papers. They see the television news,” Dreher said. “You just have to tell them that there are bad people in the world but that you are careful at work.”

A colleague’s death stays with an officer. Fulwood said he still recalls all the details about the first officer killed after he joined the department in 1964.

“I didn’t sleep for three days,” he said. “The worst thing that can happen to a police officer . . . is to lose one of their own. You don’t get over that.”



Officer’s Badge Retired.

D.C. police Officer Robert L. Johnson Jr.’s badge was placed on the Wall of Honor at the police training academy yesterday, next to 107 other badges of officers killed in the line of duty since 1861.

Assistant Chief Sonya Proctor led the brief ceremony in which badge number 809 was officially retired. Johnson’s widow, Yvette Johnson, helped affix the badge to the wall, according to a department spokesman.

Johnson, 31, who had just gotten off duty the night of April 26, was shot allegedly by one of two men who had complained that the officer’s car was blocking their path on a street near the 6th District police station. Johnson died at D.C. General Hospital about three hours later, April 27. Sgt. Paul Shelton, a friend of Johnson’s, was shot in both feet that night and survived.

Two D.C. men, Maurice A. Douglas, 22, and Dominic Gibson, 17, are charged in Johnson’s death and are being held without bond.



Suspect Arrested in Officer’s Slaying

A third suspect was arrested yesterday and charged in the fatal April 26 shooting of a D.C. police officer.

Darryl Byrd, 18, of the 5000 block of Bass Place SE, is charged with first-degree murder in the death of Officer Robert L. Johnson Jr.

Authorities also arrested Felicia Smith, 22, and charged her as an accessory after the fact for allegedly harboring Byrd from law enforcement officials.

Johnson, who was off-duty, was fatally shot in the 4300 block of Benning Road NE, just a block from 6th Police District headquarters, where he was assigned.

Maurice A. Douglas and Dominic Gibson also have been arrested and charged in the slaying.



Defendants Trade Blame

A bullet killed off-duty District police officer Robert L. Johnson Jr. on April 26, 1997. That much is certain. Now a D.C. Superior Court jury must decide the fate of two defendants in the case, each of whom blames the other for the shooting.

Was it Maurice A. Douglas? His attorney, Ronald Horton, told jurors in an opening statement yesterday that Douglas, now 23, “did not fire a gun.”

Was it Dominic Gibson? His attorney, Shawn Moore, told jurors that Gibson, now 18, agreed to support Douglas in his beef with Johnson, but “did not fire.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Anthony Asuncion, trying to prove a first-degree murder charge against both men, told jurors that both men carried pistols, that both men pulled their triggers and that at least 11 bullets were fired. As Johnson, shot once, lay dying, Asuncion said, Douglas and Gibson laughed and gave each other a high-five.

Under the law, if jurors find that one man substantially aided the other in killing Johnson, both can be convicted of first-degree murder.

The shooting happened at 10:30 p.m. near 42nd Street and Benning Road NE, apparently because of a traffic dispute and a few harsh words. Douglas grew angry that Johnson’s car and another car briefly blocked the road. He leaned on his horn and shouted that he would return, investigators contend.

Douglas did return, with Gibson. Asuncion said they sneaked up and ambushed Johnson, 31, a married father of two.

Hit in the feet by gunfire, Johnson’s friend, Sgt. Paul Shelton, is expected to testify in the case, as is the driver of the getaway car.



Sergeant Describes Fatal Shooting; Shots From the Dark Left Officer Dead, Another Wounded

D.C. police Sgt. Paul Shelton described the first shots as “Bang! Bang! Bang!” Hardly a moment passed, he testified yesterday in D.C. Superior Court, before he heard a second volley of shots that sounded like “Pop-pop-pop-pop-pop-pop-pop.”

He felt the sting of bullet wounds in his feet and “ran or hopped or limped over to seek cover.” He crouched behind a car on 43rd Road NE with police officer Robert L. Johnson Jr. Both were off-duty, staring into the darkness with guns drawn, trying vainly to figure out who was shooting at them.

“I told him, `Bob, I’m hit,’ “Shelton testified. “And he said, `Yeah, I’m hit, too.’ ”

Johnson, 31, died of his wounds, leaving a wife, two sons and a homicide for police to solve. Shelton, now 30, lived to tell a jury how a minor traffic incident less than a block from the department’s 6th District station turned into a homicide.

Maurice A. Douglas, 23, and Dominic Gibson, 18, are facing first-degree murder charges, accused of killing Johnson on April 26, 1997. Both admit they were there, but each contends that only one gun was fired and that it was the other who pulled the trigger.

Shontaya Redd, who lives in Lincoln Heights, told jurors that some friends were sitting on her front porch that night when Douglas drove up and called to Gibson. The two men drove away with a third man. Redd said she heard gunshots a few minutes later from near the 6th District station. Then the men came back.

Douglas told the group on the porch that someone “tried to tell me where I could park at,” Redd, 24, recalled. “I squeezed on” him, she remembered Douglas saying. Gibson, meanwhile, went into the apartment and went to sleep.

It began with a traffic dispute.

Johnson’s friends remember the driver of a black Cadillac — Douglas, it turned out — honking his horn and trading words with Johnson. He was angry that Johnson’s car and another were briefly blocking 43rd Road. As Douglas raced away, he vowed to return.

Minutes later, as Johnson and his friends continued to talk, they heard the first three shots. It was dark, though, and they couldn’t figure out where the shots were coming from, Shelton testified.
Witnesses differed about whether the two spurts of gunfire sounded as though they came from the same gun. Redd, a friend of Gibson’s, at first said it sounded like two guns, but later decided it was more like an echo. Shelton testified that they had “distinctly different sounds.”

Greg Perry, who grew up with Johnson in the Clay Terrace housing development in Northeast Washington, said that he couldn’t be sure but that the first volley sounded like a revolver and the second like a semiautomatic pistol.

“Gunfire’s been around us all our lives,” Perry said. “I’ve heard a revolver. I’ve heard automatic gunfire.”

The trial is scheduled to continue today.



2 Face 30 Years Without Parole for D.C. Officer’s Slaying

Corrections: An article in yesterday’s editions incorrectly reported the location of a fatal shooting of a D.C. police officer in April 1997. The shooting took place at the intersection of 43rd Road and Benning Road NE. (Published 05/23/98)

A District jury convicted two men of first-degree murder yesterday in the April 1997 shooting of D.C. police officer Robert L. Johnson Jr., who was ambushed while off duty after trading words with one of the defendants.

There were hugs for the winners after a D.C. Superior Court jury announced guilty verdicts against Maurice A. Douglas and Dominic Gibson, both from Northeast Washington. In the end, though, Johnson’s friends were still feeling mostly pain.

Sgt. Paul Shelton was at 43rd Street and Benning Road NE the night of the shooting, waiting with Johnson and two other friends for a colleague to finish work. Shelton was hit in both feet by one bullet.

“It’s just so senseless,” Shelton said after listening to the jury foreman’s announcement. “Lose the life of a friend. Lose the life of a colleague. Two sons don’t have a father. All over nothing.”

It was a minor traffic dispute, occurring less than a block from the 6th District police station. That was what started the chain reaction that will send Douglas, 23, and Gibson, 18, to prison when Judge Mary Ellen Abrecht sentences them in July. First-degree murder carries a mandatory life term with no parole for at least 30 years.

Witnesses said Douglas, driving a borrowed, black Cadillac, became annoyed when Johnson and a friend, in separate cars, briefly blocked the road as they talked with each other. Douglas shouted at Johnson, 31, and vowed to return.

When Douglas came back a short while later, he was with Gibson and another acquaintance, Darryl Byrd, who later pleaded guilty to being an accomplice. Within a few minutes, Johnson was dead.
Shelton told the jury he remembered three shots, which he thinks came from a revolver. As the officers crouched, never seeing a target or getting off a shot, there was a burst of pistol fire from a semiautomatic.

“I told him, `Bob, I’m hit,'” Shelton testified. “And he said, `Yeah, I’m hit, too.'”

Shontaya Redd, 24, an acquaintance of the convicted gunmen, told the jury that Douglas returned to the Lincoln Heights neighborhood and reported proudly that he had “squeezed on” someone who “tried to tell me where I could park at.”

Douglas and Gibson each told police that the other did the shooting.

Each man’s lawyer, trying to prevent a first-degree murder conviction, argued that his client did not fire a shot, carry a gun or — most important — know that any killing was to be done.

To convict someone of first-degree murder, Abrecht instructed the jury, it is necessary to show only that the defendant willingly “aided and abetted” another person in the crime.

“The government need not prove who fired the fatal shot,” Abrecht told the jurors. “It need not prove that each participant fired a gun. And it need not prove that each participant held a gun.”
Douglas showed no emotion after the jury delivered guilty verdicts on each of 10 counts, but Gibson put his head in his hands and rubbed his scalp. He stood to go, even before the jury was dismissed. Attorney Shawn Moore tried to calm him. Later, a court official said, Gibson cried and kicked “like a child.”

The slain officer’s widow, Yvette Johnson, took time off from her job as a chemist to attend the two-week trial, often sitting in the front row. She said the guilty verdicts helped only “a little bit.”

“So many things are unfair, that somebody you don’t even know can change your future. None of it made sense,” Johnson said of the killing. She said of her sons, ages 1 and 4: “They’ll never be able to see their father again. And they never had a chance to know him.”

Watching Douglas and Gibson cutting up in court during the trial only added to her puzzlement.
“Giggling and laughing,” Johnson said. “Disgusting. You try to feel a little bit, but you couldn’t feel anything for them.”

Sgt. Shelton, 30, walked slowly down the corridor, wearing his blue uniform, talking in sober tones about the waste of it all.

“No type of remorse, even now,” Shelton said of the attackers. “The only thing they’re talking about is how to get off.”



Man Gets 46 Years to Life In Police Officer’s Slaying

Dominic Gibson, one of two Northeast Washington men convicted in the 1997 killing of Washington police officer Robert L. Johnson Jr., was sentenced yesterday to 46 years to life in prison by D.C. Superior Court Judge Mary Ellen Abrecht.

At an emotional hearing, Officer David Taylor spoke of his lifelong friendship with Johnson, killed off duty after a friend of Gibson’s grew incensed at him for briefly blocking traffic near Benning Road NE.

“I guess he touched everything in my life,” Taylor said, turning toward Gibson. “I think you all did the ultimate wrong, and you need to be responsible for it. You took someone special.”

Gibson, 18, must serve 30 years before becoming eligible for parole. He admitted carrying a gun but said he never fired it. He told Abrecht that he was sorry for Johnson’s death but considered himself innocent of first-degree murder. He intends to appeal the verdict.

Questioned by police, Gibson blamed his friend Maurice A. Douglas for firing the shots that killed Johnson and wounded Sgt. Paul Shelton on April 26, 1997, as the officers waited for a friend to finish work. Johnson’s death left two young boys without a father.

Douglas is to be sentenced Friday.



Man Gets 51 Years to Life For Murder of D.C. Officer; `You Destroyed . . . a Family,’ Killer Told

Two men grew up poor in the District. One became a police officer; the other became the officer’s killer. Yesterday, a judge sent the killer to prison for 51 years to life, with the pain-stoked words of the dead man’s family echoing in his ears.

“By killing him,” Yvette Johnson, the widow of D.C. Officer Robert L. Johnson, told Maurice A. Douglas, “you destroyed a friendship and a family. He was my life. He was my future. He was my strength.

“He could have turned out like you, but he decided a long time ago that he wasn’t going to go that way. See, growing up in the projects is not an excuse for making bad decisions. He even came back to the neighborhood to give people a living example that you can make it out.”

Douglas, 23, and Dominic Gibson, 18, murdered Robert Johnson on April 26, 1997. The ambush followed a traffic dispute on 43rd Road NE, where Johnson, who was off duty, was waiting for a colleague to finish work. Johnson’s car briefly blocked the street as he spoke with a friend. Douglas was in a hurry to get by.

As Douglas drove away, he called out that he would be back. And back he came from nearby Lincoln Heights with Gibson. Both carried guns, according to testimony in D.C. Superior Court, where both were convicted of first-degree murder.
Witnesses said they heard gunshots before they saw anything. Neither Johnson nor a fellow officer, Sgt. Paul Shelton, who was hit by a bullet in both feet, got off a shot in return. “I never saw a target,” Shelton testified.
Johnson, the father of two small boys, died within minutes. Douglas made it back to Lincoln Heights and bragged that he had “squeezed on” someone who “tried to tell me where I could park at,” an acquaintance testified. Gibson went to sleep.
Douglas and Gibson both claim to be innocent, each blaming the other for firing the fatal shot. D.C. law, however, holds each person equally accountable for willingly aiding and abetting another in a crime.
Gibson was sentenced July 10 to 46 years to life. Under current guidelines, he will be required to serve nearly 46 years, at least, before he is eligible for parole. Douglas similarly will not be eligible for parole much before 2049, if then.

In a crowded courtroom yesterday, Douglas barely glanced at Johnson’s family members as they spoke to him. He looked ahead or at the ceiling, chewing on something or rubbing his stubbled chin. When Judge Mary Ellen Abrecht, a former District police officer, asked if he had anything to say, he said, “No.”

Robert Johnson Sr. challenged Douglas to look him in the eye as he described his son as “the joy of my life.” He said to the prisoner, “You stole on him like a thief in the dark.”

The father told Douglas that he hopes he will find God in prison. If not, he told him, with apologies to Abrecht, “You are going to go to Hell,” where fire and brimstone will be “like a match to your feet.”
“Hell is a deep, dark, narrow pit that has no ending,” Johnson said. “Your name is going to be written off the books as if you never lived on this planet.”

Abrecht passed sentence, the marshals led Douglas away and the courtroom gallery emptied. Robert Johnson Sr. sat down and cried.



Married to an Officer; Police Spouses Unite to Ease the Fear and Isolation

Yvette Johnson’s eyes brimmed with tears, but there was calm strength in her voice as she described the night her husband was ambushed and murdered. Around her sat seven women who pray every day they will never know her pain.

“When I went to the hospital that night, nobody would tell me anything,” Johnson said. “I was sitting there; I tried to get information. When I finally got the word, the doctors came back to us and told us. They started it with that line”

The other women finished her sentence: “We did all we could do.”

“We did all we could do,” Johnson said. “It was all he had to say.”

Yvette Johnson was surrounded by people at D.C. General Hospital the night in April 1997 when her husband, Officer Robert L. Johnson Jr., was gunned down after a minor traffic dispute. But she felt oddly alone, she said. The only people who could really understand what she was going through were fellow wives of police officers, she said, but there were none around.

Johnson’s tragedy led one of those women to form a support group, Wives of Police Officers, dedicated to providing emotional, financial and spiritual support to spouses of officers who are in need. The group now has about 20 active members but has reached several hundred more through prayer breakfasts and other special events in the last year.

According to organizers, there are similar groups in other police departments, but this is the first of its kind in the Washington area. It is open to wives — and husbands — of police officers throughout the area, but most members are women married to D.C. policemen.

The group’s weekly meeting two weeks ago at the 6th District station in Northeast Washington prompted frank discussion on a variety of issues, such as when to tell children about guns, ways to help their husbands constructively vent their own fears and frustrations, and how to help them heal from the physical and psychological injuries they suffer on the job.

The women expressed fears that their husbands risk being killed not only by criminals, but by co-workers who might not recognize them in street clothing during an emergency — misgivings that foreshadowed the tragic shooting early Saturday of one off-duty officer by another. The wives said one of the main goals of the group is to introduce officers who might not otherwise meet each other to prevent just such a tragedy.

One woman said her husband wept openly after Johnson was killed and still shows signs of stress. Another said she fears that one of the hundreds of suspects her husband has arrested might someday come to his home seeking revenge. All but one of the women said their husbands have trouble sleeping at night when they come home from work.

Foremost on this meeting’s agenda, though, was helping Johnson steel herself for the sentencing of the 18-year-old convicted of gunning down her husband.

The night he was slain, Johnson said, she had to wait about an hour to see his body. He looked like he was sleeping, but when she touched him, his body was cold.

“At that same time, the Lord gave me this peace,” Johnson said. “The peace just ran right over me. It was a peace that I think no one could understand. It was a way to let me know that I was going to be okay.”

Johnson broke down in tears, and the women on either side quickly reached out to hold and comfort her. There was a brief pause.

The first to break the silence was Vandra Turner-Covington, an officer’s wife and a D.C. officer herself. She told Johnson that she and other group members can never fully understand what she’s going through, but she promised that they will be there to lend support whenever she needs it.
The focus of the discussion then turned to the persistent fear of every officer’s wife that every time her husband goes to work may be his last.

“Me being a police officer myself and married to one, to me it’s twice as bad because he worries about me and vice versa,” Turner-Covington said. “I love this job. I love doing what I’m doing, but to be honest, I’m ready to leave. I really am.”

The stress of being the wife of a D.C. police officer was never worse than the period between February and April 1997. Three officers — Johnson, Oliver Wendell Smith Jr. and Brian T. Gibson — were gunned down in rapid succession.

Some wives were awakened by telephone calls from well-intentioned family members and friends. Others heard vague, dramatically teasing television headlines saying, “D.C. police officer shot — more at 11.” Countless wives called and paged their husbands, then feared the worst when they didn’t receive an instant response.

Janette Cureton thought she was the only one living in fear of being awakened by a telephone call or a knock on the door.

Cureton, wife of 6th District narcotics investigator Leon Cureton, began talking to other police officers’ wives and discovered that she wasn’t alone in being unable to sleep until her husband was safely home and in bed beside her.

“It seemed like nobody gave any support to the wives of police officers until after a tragedy,” said Cureton, who formed the group. “There was no organization or support or any type of unity. Everybody seems to do something after a tragedy happens, but nobody does anything before.”
Cureton said police officers’ wives often grossly overestimate or underestimate the dangers their husbands face on the streets. The group has arranged with the department for wives to ride along on patrol with officers in their husbands’ districts.

Cureton’s sister-in-law, Selena Johnson, seemed less than enthusiastic about the prospects of seeing police work up close. Eleven years after her brother Leon began working as an officer and eight years after he persuaded her husband, David, to join the force, Selena Johnson is more comfortable — but still wary of knowing too much.

“I just have a fear,” Selena Johnson told the group. “I just don’t want to know what’s going on when he’s away from me.”

“That’s very understandable,” said group member Sharon Gardner, whose husband, John, survived being shot in the chest.

“Once you understand and y’all can communicate about it, he’ll be able to vent to you, and that’s what you want,” another group member said. “When they keep getting that negative in and nothing can come out, that’s why {police officers} have the highest suicide rate in the country; that’s why they have the highest divorce rate in the country.”

“I really don’t want to go on the ride-along, but the girls in the group are trying to encourage me,” Selena Johnson said later with a tone of resignation. “They say we should get over that fear inside of us. They’re talking about going to see a stress counselor after the ride-along, but I need to go before.”