It seems fairly easy to be a corrupt cop in America these days and still hold down a job. Don’t do anything insanely horrendous or stupid and you’ll probably be fine. Hell, do something both horrendous and stupid and you’ll still probably be fine. Officer Wardell Johnson of the New Orleans Police Department did both but, well, it doesn’t look like he’s going to be fine.
On June 20, another New Orleans officer, Daryle Holloway, was transporting a domestic violence suspect named Travis Boys to central lockup in the back of a police SUV. At some point during the ride, Boys shot and killed Holloway.
The obvious question is: how did Boys, who was handcuffed, manage to shoot and kill a police officer? The answer, it was revealed recently, is that the arresting officer failed to properly search Boys, who may have killed Holloway with the same weapon that prompted a call to police in the first place. That arresting officer was Wardell Johnson.
Wardell Johnson is a bad, neglectful cop. He’s the type of cop who takes it upon himself to dispense justice outside the letter of the law, and this has gotten him in trouble in the past. A thorough piece in the New Orleans Advocate published yesterday explains in great detail Johnson’s history of overlooking evidence in domestic violence cases specifically.
By the time Johnson responded to the domestic violence call about Travis Boys on June 20, he had already been suspended two times for improperly handling domestic violence cases. In 2006, he broke and disposed of two guns related to an incident instead of bringing them in as evidence, and in 2010 he failed to file an incident report regarding a disturbance he had responded to. Between the two incidents, Johnson was suspended for a total of 12 days.
The obvious question is: why was Johnson never fired? His 2006 suspension was handed down by New Orleans PD superintendent Warren Riley, his second by a different superintendent named Ronal Serpas. The current superintendent, Michael Harrison, did not mince words in a press conference on Tuesday:
At a news conference Tuesday, Police Superintendent Michael Harrison ripped Johnson’s conduct and said he was “far past disgusted. I’m actually quite pissed off at it.”
Cops are notoriously hard to fire, and the New Orleans’ PD has been singled out in the past for protecting its officers. A Department of Justice investigation into the police force conducted in 2010 found that officer-involved shootings were frequently not referred to the city’s Public Integrity Bureau (PIB), which is supposed to handle investigations into officers accused of misconduct. The DOJ stated that the mishandling of internal probes “was so blatant and egregious that it appeared intentional in some respects,” and as recently as this year federal monitors of the city’s PIB believed the organization was not properly handling bungled domestic violence cases:
In their most recent quarterly report, the federal monitors also noted they had prodded the PIB to further examine complaints about mishandled rape and domestic violence investigations.
It’s possible, if not likely, that the New Orleans PD declined to fire Johnson simply because they could not afford to lose an officer, even a crooked one. The department is severely understaffed, and after Holloway’s death, the department noted that its officers typically have to transport suspects by themselves because there are not enough officers to double up.
Whatever the case may be, the New Orleans PD endorsed Johnson’s method of policing by only twice slapping him on the wrist. He was either lazy or corrupt, and his bosses basically told him it was no big deal. On June 20, Johnson again chose to be lazy or corrupt, but this time it cost a fellow officer his life.
So, once again, Johnson found his conduct under review, though this time the consequences of his conduct were far more tragic. And when it became clear to the PIB officers investigating Holloway’s murder that Johnson’s flippancy had led to Holloway’s death, Johnson panicked.
Here is the point at which a remarkably shitty cop reveals himself to also be a profoundly and pathetically stupid one (via the Advocate):
When he was confronted Monday during a Public Integrity Bureau interview with body-worn camera footage exposing his sloppy police work, Johnson left abruptly, police said, claiming he had to pick up his child from day camp. While detectives tracked him, Johnson threw a box containing the .40-caliber bullets into a canal near Morrison and Downman roads.
Johnson was wearing a body camera. That body camera revealed his bad policing—he left a shell from a bullet Boys had fired at his wife on the scene, and sloppily frisked the suspect before putting him in Holloway’s SUV. When he was confronted with this information, Johnson thought up an obvious lie and immediately fled the meeting. For some reason, he thought he had escaped cleanly, like he’s Jason Bourne, and during his getaway he tossed further evidence into a canal as his coworkers trailed him.
Wardell Johnson, you evil, dumb motherfucker.