The Missouri Supreme Court has set an execution date for Kevin Johnson, who killed a Kirkwood police sergeant at the age of 19. Johnson is scheduled to die by lethal injection on Nov. 29 at the state prison in Bonne Terre.
Reportedly, Johnson ambushed Kirkwood police Sgt. William McEntee on July 5, 2005. McEntee was on patrol in the Meacham Park neighborhood when Johnson approached the passenger’s side of his car, fired several shots then fired two more shots as McEntee crawled out of his police cruiser. In all, McEntee was hit seven times.
I was a Metro Columnist with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch at the time and vividly remember my reaction to the July 7, 2005, story written by Heather Ratcliffe titled, “Police search for suspect, motive in officer’s killing.”
Something didn’t sit right. Ratcliffe, relying on police reports, said that Johnson was wanted by police for “violating probation in a domestic assault case…” Police, according to Ratcliffe knew of “no link” and found no connection between the killing and “the death, by natural causes” of Johnson’s 12-year-old brother, Joseph “Bam-Bam” Long, who died less than two hours before he killed McEntee.
Wait. The killer’s little brother died two hours before Johnson decided to kill a policeman and there was no connection. It made no sense. What human wouldn’t be impacted by a close relative’s death?
I called Ratcliffe, who doubled down on her account, insisting Kirkwood police “responded to a call to help paramedics” but there was no “friction with the family” and McEntee was not one of the officers at the scene of the boy’s death.
Out of curiosity, I visited the neighborhood and approached a group of teens near Alsobrook Street where McEntee was gunned down.
After identifying myself as a writer with the Post-Dispatch, the boys responded angrily: “We ain’t talking to ya’ll ‘cause ya’ll been lying about this story. You know that cop killed that boy,” one kid said gruffly.
“What,” I answered, “I read McEntee wasn’t even on the scene.”
The teens told me where the family lived and demanded I go talk to them if I wanted “the truth.”
I did and the family was eager to share their story.
They said McEntee was indeed at the house. They knew the almost 7-foot-tall officer from the neighborhood. They even nicknamed him “Lurch,” from the character on the old Addam’s Family TV show.
Johnson’s great-grandparents -- Henrietta and Anderson Kimble -- told me about the defect in “Bam Bam,” his little brother's heart.
"The valves were switched," his great-grandmother explained.
They further detailed how McEntee and another officer were outside of Patricia Ward, Johnson’s grandmother’s house looking at his white SUV. Johnson, who was watching through his great-grandmother’s window next door, gave Bam Bam the keys to his truck.
"Give these to Grandma," Henrietta Kimble said, recalling Johnson’s instructions to his brother, "Ask her to tell the police she was driving my truck."
According to the family, Bam Bam's heart seized, and he collapsed, face forward, on his grandmother’s living room floor. Ward said she then called out to the policemen for help. Family members said the police “slow-walked” toward the house then, upon entering, told everyone to leave. Ward recalled how police even made a relative stop giving CPR while they searched the residence for Johnson. Johnson’s grandmother said Bam Bam was still lying face-down when the ambulance came -- 20 minutes after the child collapsed and after they asked police for help. The 12-year-old was pronounced dead at St. John’s Mercy Medical Center in Creve Coeur that evening.
Back at the office, I called Capt. Diane Scanga, the public information officer for the Kirkwood Police Department. She repeated what Ratcliffe reported, insisting McEntee was not one of the officers at the house where Bam Bam died.
She hesitated when I told her I had just talked to the family who identified McEntee. “Oh,” Scanga responded, adding that she’d get back with me. Later that day she called to say McEntee was indeed one of the officers who visited the house.
All hell broke loose after writing my Sunday July 10, 2005, column that contradicted Ratcliffe, the newspaper’s crime reporter. The newspaper and police officials had to change the narrative of their respective stories to discount any notion of “motive” in the killing. Readers called and wrote to my bosses demanding my termination. I was a "rabble-rouser" and "spinmeister,” some said, insisting that I only defended Johnson because he is Black and defamed Sgt. McEntee because he was white.
The police and newspaper’s narrative changed after my column. To contradict the family’s story, Kirkwood police presented documents showing that paramedics arrived four minutes after they were called. I again called the family to ask about the contradictions. There were none, they countered. In another column, I shared Bam Bam's grandmother, Patricia Ward’s thoughts:
"The ambulance service was fantastic," Ward insisted, adding: "My problem was with the police. I didn't have to call 911, they were right outside."
What haunts me to this day is the fact that if I hadn’t gone to Meacham Park and talked to neighbors and family, the police department’s initial story might have been all that was reported. We may have never known that Johnson retaliated because he thought McEntee was complicit in his brother’s demise. It in no way justifies the murder but it added much-needed context to a tragic story. The only difference between my reporting and the crime reporters was that she offered the police department’s criminalized version of Johnson while my columns, in a way, humanized him.
When reporting Johnson’ execution date recently, the Post-Dispatch wrote that he killed McEntee in anger “because he felt police officers hadn’t done enough to help when his brother collapsed and died…”
Our relationship ended badly so I understand the newspaper wanting nothing to do with me. But ignoring the “truth” I shared in 2005 and settling for a watered-down version of events, to me, is unforgivable-especially in the light of the fact that Johnson will be killed by the state in November.
The American has allowed me to thoroughly detail this story. This issue contains my final installment of a three-part series. To date, I’ve addressed the upcoming death sentence, revisited the circumstance involved with the killing and, today, I’m addressing the injustice and infallibility of death sentences too often predicated by race.
I am humbled by the gravity involved with bringing awareness to this case. Afterall, a young man senselessly took the life of another. Because of his actions, a father of three is no more. Trying to weave together a life narrative that explores how “systems” – social, educational, and judicial failed a child who grew up to be a murderer was no easy task with such a sensationalized case. Yet, considering the end-of-November death sentence, it is pertinent to know the intricacies of the case.
It's ironic that I’m ending this series where I began in 2005. I sought answers to why a teenager killed someone on the same day he lost his brother.
As it was then, it is now. I’m still searching for humanity.
Part I: A Murder in Meachum Park
Part II: The making of a murderer