Sgt. Craig Johnson, a 15-year veteran of the Tulsa Police Department, succumbed Tuesday to gunshot wounds he suffered in the line of duty.
Johnson, 45, and a novice police officer he supervised in east Tulsa’s Mingo Valley Division were both shot multiple times during a traffic stop early Monday near the intersection of 21st Street and 89th East Avenue.
The Tulsa County District Attorney’s Office upgraded a criminal charge filed Monday against the suspect in Johnson’s death to first-degree murder.
Police Chief Wendell Franklin announced Johnson’s death at a news conference Tuesday afternoon outside the office of the Tulsa Police Department’s Mingo Valley Division.
That is where Johnson first began his career, in 2005 when he joined the Police Department, and where his career came to an early, unnatural end.
It is also where a makeshift memorial to Johnson was parked — a patrol car covered in flowers, teddy bears, balloons and handmade signs left by fellow officers from Tulsa and other departments, friends and residents from all over the city.
An officer lowered the flags flying over the division office to half staff before the city’s police chief and mayor walked out before the gathered journalists, a slew of uniformed and plain-clothes officers and residents who came to hear the announcement in person.
Johnson’s death is “a tremendous loss to our department,” Chief Franklin said at a podium set up in front of the makeshift memorial. “His sacrifice will not go unremembered.“
Mayor G.T. Bynum said the city of Tulsa mourns because “Sgt. Johnson was a good man who made our lives better.”
“Tulsa’s a city that loves and honors heroes,” the mayor said. “Today we feel the tremendous pain of losing one. In the days ahead, I hope that both the Johnson family and the men and women of the Tulsa Police Department will feel our city gathered around them, showing that same love for them that Sgt. Johnson and his sacrifice showed for us.”
Franklin said that on Monday evening he delivered to Johnson and his family gathered at the hospital a purple heart medal symbolic of the sacrifice he had made in service to the city of Tulsa.
Franklin said Johnson’s condition worsened Tuesday morning and that upon his death, he became an organ donor.
The chief was flanked by several dozen police officers as he spoke, saying they were representative of all of Johnson’s “brothers and sisters” in the Tulsa Police Department.
He shared the Bible verse 2 Corinthians 4:16, which he said was Tuesday’s daily verse on the cellphone application he reads each morning.
“‘Therefore, we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly, we are being renewed day by day,’” he said before closing. “We lost an officer today, but internally we have gained so much more spiritually.
“I’m not going to forget this, and I know these officers here are not going to forget this.”
In a written statement released Tuesday afternoon, Gov. Kevin Stitt called the shooting of both officers “a senseless act of violence.”
“My hope is that Sgt. Johnson is forever remembered for the heroism, courage and bravery he displayed while protecting Tulsa for 15 years,” Stitt said in a news release. “Our law enforcement officers need the support of their community now more than ever, and I encourage Oklahomans to find ways to show their support for those who keep them protected.”
Trent Shores, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Oklahoma, also released a statement upon Johnson’s death, sending condolences to his family and colleagues.
“Brave men and women like Sgt. Johnson and Officer Aurash Zarkeshan make up the thin blue line that stands between order and chaos. Sgt. Johnson’s death will not lessen our resolve, but rather reaffirm the collective duty of all those in law enforcement to serve and protect. May God bless Sergeant Johnson and all of our nation’s police officers.”
The shootings occurred after Zarkeshan, who had completed his initial training and began patrol only six weeks ago, stopped a car with an expired temporary tag near the intersection of 21st Street and 89th East Avenue about 3:30 a.m. Monday.
Johnson arrived shortly afterward to back up Zarkeshan.
In public court records, prosecutors allege the driver, David Anthony Ware, 32, refused to get out of the car when the officers told him it would be towed for taxes due to the state and was able to resist strikes from Johnson’s Taser and pepper spray in the officers’ struggle to remove him.
“Ware reaches under his seat and as the officers are pulling him out, he produces a gun and fires three times at each officer,” reads a police affidavit filed in district court.
Both officers were reportedly struck in the head and torso.
Zarkeshan, 26, is still hospitalized. At Tuesday afternoon’s news conference, a TPD spokeswoman announced that Zarkeshan’s condition, which had been critical Monday, had improved and that he was responding to medical staff requests to move his feet.
Ware is being held in the Tulsa County jail. He was charged with two counts of shooting with intent to kill and possession of a firearm after a former conviction of a felony, but one of the shooting charges was upgraded to a murder charge Tuesday.
Investigators apprehended him hours after he fled the shooting scene in the vehicle of a friend, whom he apparently had phoned for help. Police allege that the getaway SUV was driven by Matthew Nicholas Hall, 29, whom they arrested Monday afternoon. Hall has been charged with being an accessory to a felony.
It had been 24 years since a Tulsa police officer was killed in the line of duty.
In June 1996, Officers Steve Downie and Dick Hobson were chasing an armed robbery suspect into a dark alley, when the man they were chasing ambushed them with a gun, killing Hobson.
Gallery: Memorial for Tulsa police officers