If St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kimberly M. Gardner’s primary motive in appointing retired Missouri Highway Patrol Captain Ronald Johnson as her law enforcement liaison was to repair a fractured relationship with the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, she had the right idea.
“Captain Johnson has a great reputation and a strong law enforcement background,” St. Louis Police Chief John W. Hayden stated. “He is the ideal person to serve as the liaison.”
Gardner made the announcement on Wednesday, October 16. She stated that Johnson also will “lead efforts to enhance communication and collaboration” between her office and other law enforcement agencies, including the Missouri Highway Patrol, the FBI, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Eastern Missouri.
“I am dedicated to finding innovative and effective ways to collaborate with our local, state, and federal law enforcement partners to assist in making our city safer,” Gardner stated.
“He will also assist in our efforts to develop and deploy joint community outreach initiatives with law enforcement to strengthen the relationship between the community and police and prosecutors.”
Johnson, who will serve in a consulting capacity, began his work immediately. St. Louis Public Radio reported that he will be paid $50,000.
“We are all working towards the same outcome: to create a safer and healthier community. I believe the strategies the circuit attorney has deployed that focus on reducing harm and addressing the core drivers of crime are essential to making our city safer long-term,” Johnson stated.
“At the same time, we must continue to put together the strongest cases possible to hold the most violent offenders accountable.”
This is not the first time that Johnson has been called to duty in a high-profile relief role. He became an international household name when he became the face of the Unified Command after Gov. Jay Nixon took command of Ferguson protests away from the St. Louis County Police Department in August 2014. Johnson marched alongside protestors when he first arrived in Ferguson, becoming a national symbol for black police leadership and community policing.
However, Ferguson protestors have not forgotten that some of the heaviest police use of chemical dispersants in Ferguson were authorized by the Unified Command when Johnson was its public face.
That is, in fact, something he has in common with Hayden. Hayden, then a deputy chief, was the commander on the scene of Stockley verdict protests on September 29, 2017, when he was photographed watching Police Officer William Olsten unleash pepper spray on Amir Brandy and other protestors. Olsten has since been charged – by Gardner – with felony assault for those actions, and the city and police department are defending themselves against a number of civil suits as well.
But Gardner emphasized moving past such tense incidents in bringing Johnson aboard.
“There has been far too much divisive rhetoric in the law enforcement community over the last decade,” Gardner stated. “I am confident that Captain Johnson can help foster more effective working relationships with our law enforcement partners that will make the City of St. Louis safer.”
Johnson scored high marks from his new federal law enforcement partners.
“Captain Johnson is well respected by law enforcement and the community,” Jeff Jensen, United States attorney for the Eastern District of Missouri, told The American. “I look forward to working with him.”
Richard Quinn, special agent in charge of the FBI St. Louis Division, told The American, “Even before Ferguson, we recognized Captain Ron Johnson’s leadership qualities and hand-selected him to attend the FBI National Academy, an elite professional development program for law enforcement leaders worldwide. We look forward to working with Captain Johnson in his new role in the days ahead.”
Johnson’s former employer, the Missouri Highway Patrol, acknowledged receipt of a request for comment but has not provided one. Jeff Roorda, business agent for the St. Louis Police Officers Association, said he would only comment after he had spoken to Johnson.