Missouri Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson was personally selected by Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon to coordinate the law enforcement response to protests in Ferguson, Mo. A 27-year veteran of the Highway Patrol, Johnson was supposed to be the steady hand amidst the chaos. He started by delivering a stirring speech at a unity rally that the local media said “brought down the house.”
But since then Johnson has received criticism from First Amendment organizations for imposing rules on protesters and members of the press. Protesters have alleged that police officers have been too heavy handed in their use of tear gas and rubber bullets. And others have said Johnson was playing to the cameras and being too soft. When looting broke out on Friday, former St. Louis Police Chief Tim Fitch said that Johnson’s “hug-a-looter” policy had failed.
But Fitch’s criticism of Johnson doesn’t hold a candle to an open letter written by Gulf Shores (Alabama) Police Chief Ed Delmore.
Delmore spent most of his 32-year law enforcement career in St. Louis before coming to Alabama in 2010, so he’s very familiar with Ferguson and the local players involved.
In “An Open Letter to Captain Ronald S. Johnson” posted on LawOfficer.com, Delmore spoke directly to Johnson and, in no uncertain terms, told him that he “blew it.”
“I have to call you out,” Delmore wrote. “I don’t care what the media says. I expect them to get it wrong and they often do. But I expect you as a veteran law enforcement commander — talking about law enforcement — to get it right. Unfortunately, you blew it.”
Delmore said that the public response to Johnson’s initial moves were positive.
“You played to the cameras, walked with the protestors and promised a kinder, gentler response,” he noted. “You were a media darling. And Thursday night things were better, much better.”
But Delmore then laid out a sequence of events the he believes ultimately contributed to the protesters returning to violence.
Here’s an excerpt from the letter:
Friday, under significant pressure to do so, the Ferguson Police released the name of the officer involved in the shooting of Michael Brown. At the same time the Ferguson Police Chief released a video showing Brown committing a strong-arm robbery just 10 minutes before he was confronted by Officer Darren Wilson.
Many don’t like the timing of the release of the video. I don’t like that timing either. It should have been released sooner. It should have been released the moment FPD realized that Brown was the suspect.
Captain Johnson, your words during the day on Friday helped to fuel the anger that was still churning just below the surface. St. Louis County Police were told to remain uninvolved and that night the rioting and looting began again. For much too long it went on mostly unchecked. Retired St. Louis County Police Chief Tim Fitch tweeted that your “hug-a-looter” policy had failed.
Boy did it.
And your words contributed to what happened Friday night and on into the wee hours of Saturday. According to the St. Louis Post Dispatch, you said the following regarding the release of the video: “There was no need to release it,” Johnson said calling the reported theft and the killing entirely different events.
Well Captain, this veteran police officer feels the need to respond. What you said is, in common police vernacular — bulls***. The fact that Brown knew he had just committed a robbery before he was stopped by Officer Wilson speaks to Brown’s mindset. And Captain, the mindset of a person being stopped by a police officer means everything, and you know it.
Delmore then discussed historical examples of law enforcement officers unknowingly engaging with individuals who had committed serious crimes, including mass murderers who were stopped for minor traffic violations. Similarly, Delmore argues, Ferguson Officer Darren Wilson did not know Michael brown had just committed a “strong-arm robbery.”
“But Brown did!” Delmore wrote. “And that Captain, is huge. Allegedly, Brown pushed Wilson and attempted to take Wilson’s gun. We’re also being told that Officer Wilson has facial injuries suffered during the attempt by Brown to disarm him. Let’s assume for a moment those alleged acts by Brown actually occurred. Would Brown have responded violently to an officer confronting him about jaywalking? Maybe, but probably not. Is it more likely that he would attack an officer believing that he was about to be taken into custody for a felony strong-arm robbery? Absolutely.”
Delmore said it is too early to say if Officer Wilson’s use of deadly force was justified and legal, but also noted that several officers in Captain Johnson’s organization had actually been killed in similar confrontations.
“So Captain Johnson, I guess the mindset and recently committed crimes of the suspects that murdered those Missouri Troopers didn’t mean anything,” Delmore concluded. “The stops by the Troopers, as you have said, are entirely different events right? Bulls***.”
As of Tuesday afternoon, Delmore’s letter has been shared on social media over 50,000 times.
Follow Cliff on Twitter @Cliff_Sims