Thousands lay fallen San Jose officer to rest

About 8,000 people, including hundreds of uniformed peace officers and firefighters, filed into the SAP Center in San Jose Thursday to attend a memorial for police Officer Michael Johnson, who was shot and killed by a suspect on March 24.

Police officers, sheriff’s deputies and fire personnel from many jurisdictions throughout California came to witness the 90-minute service that featured emotional speeches from Johnson’s sister, a police academy classmate and San Jose Police Chief Larry Esquivel.

Johnson, 38, a field training officer recently promoted to San Jose police’s Covert Response Unit, was among the officers who responded to a distress call on March 24 from the wife of 57-year-old Scott Dunham, whom she said was suffering from mental problems and armed, possibly with a rifle.

Shortly before 7 p.m. that day, as the officers approached Dunham’s condominium on Senter Road in San Jose, Dunham fired a high-power rifle striking and killing Johnson. An officer with Johnson immediately returned fire and fatally wounded Dunham, according to police.

Thursday morning, dozens of motorcycle police officers, riding in pairs, escorted Johnson’s funeral procession from a mortuary in Los Gatos to the SAP Center at Autumn and Santa Clara streets near downtown San Jose.

Hundreds of officers and deputies from multiple law agencies who lined both sides of Autumn Street at Santa Clara saluted as the motorcade and the black hearse with Johnson’s casket drove by toward the arena at 10:42 a.m.

Among those standing outside the SAP Center was San Mateo County Sheriff Greg Munks, who said that Johnson’s death is:

“… just a reminder of the dangers that face the men and women in uniform. … It painfully illustrates the sacrifice that so many have made to make the community safe.”

Munks added:

 “It also brings to light again the challenges of dealing with the mentally ill. So many of these tragic incidents involve people who are mentally ill, and first responders are the ones who pay the brunt of it. … We need to redouble our efforts to address that problem. … But there is no taking away from the tragedy from losing a fellow officer who has lost his life protecting the community. All of us are here to honor him to show the family and show the community that we stand together in support of those who made the ultimate sacrifice.”

Officer J. Kolaskey of the Rocklin Police Department in Placer County said he and another Rocklin officer came to Johnson’s service because of:

“… the brotherhood of police, it’s what we do, we look out for each other.”

Also outside viewing the procession was Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen, who remarked that the large turnout of officers and others:

“… reflects the enormous admiration the community has for this police department. “The police are the community and the community are the police. … The kind of call that Officer Johnson responded to, a man with a gun, is sadly not an uncommon call that police officers receive.”

Rosen added:

“Officer Johnson and the other officers who responded were trained to deal with mentally ill individuals but that is no safeguard against what happened. … There’s nothing that could have been done differently except not respond to the call. When you call 911, the police respond, try to resolve the situation peacefully. The vast majority of times situations are resolved without any force, in a peaceful manner, but sadly there’s always the risk that something tragic will happen and that’s what happened here.”

Inside the SAP Center, a series of floral stands, including two fashioned into police badges with Johnson’s badge number, were placed on and beside a stage. A police patrol car was parked each side of the stage.

Family photos of Johnson, showing him as an infant, a teen and a married adult, were projected on large screens and accompanied by solemn music. At about 11:30 a.m., with TV cameras broadcasting the events live the screens, an honor guard carried and deposited Johnson’s flag-draped casket between the stage and the front row of the floor-level audience where Johnson’s wife Nicole and other members of his family were seated.

Assistant Chief Eddie Garcia, who served as master of ceremonies, said that the support and condolences from the community to the Police Department over Johnson’s death have been “overwhelming”:

“Michael died honorably, serving the community he loved. … Today we honor [choking back emotion] our fallen brother officer. Today we remember a brother, a son, a husband.”

Garcia said that he was surprised to learn that Johnson, beyond being a cop, was a gun collector, a black belt and a scuba diver who also liked to bake desserts.

Esquivel, in his speech, recalled about when he heard about Johnson’s death:

“As a police chief, you never want to get that call. … On March 24, 2015, I go that call, a day I will never forget.”

Esquivel said it was Garcia who phoned him, saying that he had “the worst possible news ever” and after hearing about it, Esquivel said he felt “sick” and like he had been “hit by a sledgehammer.” In the subsequent hours, police department personnel on duty acted professionally, the police chaplain was called and “we gathered and prayed,” he said.

Esquivel said that “Mike” Johnson, a 14-year veteran officer:

“… always had a smile on his face, very respectful, professional, physically fit, the type of officer who would get the job done.”

Johnson’s sister, Jamie Radack, said that while she grew up with her brother in Calaveras County and then in San Jose, where they moved to in 1988, she knew he would become a police officer:

“When we played cops and robbers as kids, he always insisted on being the cops and I had always to be the bad guys.”

Radack joked, to laughter in the audience, that not only did it turn out that he became a cop, but that she became a lawyer.

Johnson pursued all aspects of his life with passion, becoming captain of a chess team, taking up jiu-jitsu to became a second-degree black belt, making cheesecake from a “secret” recipe he stored in his gun safe, visiting Jordan and Egypt, swimming in the Red Sea and being an expert marksman, she said:

“Mike was always genuine, always honest, always trustworthy, always loyal, always there for his friends.”

He made sure to visit his family on holidays, birthdays and informal get-togethers, sometimes driving up in his patrol car, and ate dinner at his mother’s home several days a week, she said.

Former San Jose police Officer David Solis, who graduated with Johnson at the San Jose police academy in 2001, noted that another member of their class, Jeff Fontana, had been the last San Jose officer killed in the line of duty, not long after graduating, in October 2001.

Solis advised the audience to honor Johnson by choosing “to live differently” by telling people who are close to them how much they appreciate them. For those who are training to be police officer, but are having second thoughts due to Johnson’s death, Solis said, “don’t quit. Don’t make this make you to choose to quit. I urge you not to quit. Go forward.”

State Attorney General Kamala Harris expressed her sympathy, on behalf of the state, to Johnson’s family and colleagues. Harris said that the officer:

“… dedicated 14 years of his life to the most noble of professions, putting his life on the line to keep our community and great state safe. … In so doing, he followed in the footsteps of his father, Daniel, a 28-year retired sergeant from the Calaveras County Sheriff’s Department.”

At the close of the ceremony, a police dispatcher, on the arena’s pubic address system, called for units on duty to have a moment of silence for Johnson. Then six officers and two civilians carried Johnson’s casket behind a pipe and drum corps, beating drums and playing bagpipes, out of the arena.

The casket was returned to the hearse and as a bugler played taps in front of the arena, the motorcade again drove by hundreds of saluting officers on its way to a private burial service at Oak Hill Memorial Park on Curtner Avenue. Garcia said after the memorial that about 8,000 people had attended the memorial, including, he heard, from as far away as Chicago.

Agencies that sent officers to the event included Police Departments from Alameda, Atwater, Campbell, Fremont, Hanford, Los Altos, Los Gatos, Livingston, Milpitas, Mountain View, Oakland, Palo Alto, East Palo Alto, San Francisco, San Leandro, San Ramon, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, Soledad, Torrance, and Tracy; the University of California; deputies from the San Diego, Santa Clara and Sonoma sheriff’s departments and Stanford University; and firefighters from San Jose city fire and Cal Fire.