NEW ORLEANS – A review of Officer Wardell Johnson’s personnel file reveals a cop who appeared to regularly skirt departmental regulations and cut corners while investigating anything from traffic accidents to domestic disputes.
The file, obtained by The New Orleans Advocate through a public-records request, includes a half-dozen letters of reprimand that resulted in an equal number of suspensions between 2007 and 2012.
Perhaps most egregious are two times in which Johnson, who joined the NOPD in 2002, investigated domestic incidents and failed to write the proper report – and even threw away evidence.
Johnson was arrested Monday night and suspended after an internal investigation found he tried to leave a .40-caliber casing at the home of Travis Boys, who allegedly fired at his wife during an argument early June 20, and also removed a box of .40-caliber bullets from the residence without bringing them to the NOPD’s evidence room.
Hours later Boys allegedly shot and killed Officer Daryle Holloway as he drove the suspect to Orleans Parish Prison. The gun used, police have said, was a .40-caliber.
The only weapon confiscated at the Boys residence was a .38-caliber gun, something that didn’t sit right with Holloway’s relatives who noted that the ammunition and gun didn’t match, leading them to suspect Boys might have had the .40-caliber on him during and after his arrest.
Police have said they continue to investigate how Boys was able to get hold of the gun, but Police Superintendent Michael Harrison on Tuesday said that any bodycam video shows that a pat down of Boys was not properly done.
“It was not thorough,” Harrison said.
Investigators on Monday confronted Johnson with body-worn camera footage to questions him about what Harrison described as “sloppy police work with a clear intent to cover it up.”
Johnson left the interview abruptly, saying he had to pick up his child from camp, Harrison said. Investigators trailed him and saw him throw a box of ammunition owned by Boys into a canal near Morrison and Downman roads in New Orleans East.
Investigators once again called in Johnson for a follow-up interview during which time he confessed to his actions, Harrison said.
The chief said he was “disgusted and pissed off” by the behavior.
“I am extremely disgusted and outraged by the lack of professionalism and integrity shown by this officer based on the evidence we discovered today,” NOPD Superintendent Michael Harrison said. “This is an example of sloppy police work with a clear intent to cover it up, and it will not stand.
But for years, it appears, Johnson ignored NOPD rules and regulations and continued to work after serving out suspensions of various lengths.
In February 2006, Johnson was dispatched to investigate a domestic violence incident and failed to complete the proper report, according to a letter of reprimand from then-Superintendent Warren Riley.
In addition to not writing the proper report, Johnson threw away evidence.
“You also had the occasion to confiscate two (inoperable) handguns from the residence, broke them into several pieces and placed them in the trash can in the victim’s home,” Riley wrote. “This evidence should have been properly secured at Central Evidence and Property and an incident report should have been written to document the property or evidence seizure and the domestic violence incident.
He was suspended for seven days following that investigation.
In a similar incident on April 10, 2010, Johnson and his partner investigated a domestic violence incident but failed to complete a report that documented assault, damage and injuries, according to a Public Integrity Bureau report. Instead, the officers marked the incident up as “necessary action taken” to avoid writing a report.
Johnson was suspended for five days for “failing to write a police report when such is needed.”
He was once again suspended Monday night after his arrest.
Police booked Johnson with theft, malfeasance in officer for the alleged evidence tampering and injuring public records, according to Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office records. His bail was set at $30,000.
Harrison said investigators do not believe Johnson was trying to assist Boys in any way, instead trying to cover up shoddy police work.
Kristie Holm, Johnson’s attorney, said that her client, a former Marine, was “very distraught” about the entire situation.
“He’s even more distraught because he and Daryle Holloway were very close friends – very good friends,” Holm said. “It was Daryle Holloway who introduced Wardell to his wife many years ago. He’s just sickened by the whole thing. He’s just very upset.”
She declined to talk about the case but said “the NOPD will say what it wants to say.”
Holm expected Johnson to post bond and be released by the end of the day.New Orleans Advocate staff writer Matt Sledge contributed to this report.