UPDATE HERE: Suspect in fatal beating started anger management class in July

A Geismar man ordered to stay away from his wife in late June broke into her home Sunday night and bludgeoned her to death with a baseball bat, also breaking the arm of her 18-year-old son when he tried to defend his mother, police said.

Ascension Parish Sheriff Jeff Wiley said David L. Johnson Sr., 38, broke through a glass door and found a bat in the Parks of Dutchtown home of his estranged wife, Monica Butler Johnson, 45.

Wiley said her body was found in the back yard about 11 p.m. Sunday.

“It’s just horrible. The worst-case scenario for a woman who has an abusive, cowardly husband. She thought she was safe in her home. He breaks in, gets a bat and hits her,” Wiley said.

David Johnson was arrested early Monday morning on a count of first-degree murder after West Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office deputies apprehended him.

David Johnson was also booked on counts of attempted first-degree murder, aggravated burglary with a weapon and violation of protective orders.

Deputies in a statement listed David Johnson’s address as being the same as his estranged wife’s, 12143 Canterbury Park Drive, but Monica Johnson claimed in a June court filing her husband moved out in May.

David Johnson had worked for the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office as a full-time deputy from July 1997 to May 2003, said Casey Rayborn Hicks, Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman.

Hicks said David Johnson quit to go to physical therapy school. The Sheriff’s Office has no record of any disciplinary action taken against him, she says.

Until recently, David Johnson had been with Pinnacle Home Health of Baton Rouge as a field agent working in people’s homes as a physical therapy assistant, said Jonathan Lyons, director of Pinnacle Home Health.

Lyons, who could not immediately say when David Johnson’s employment with Pinnacle ceased, said it has been a difficult time for the company.

“We’re just really upset. I think a lot of people are just really confused,” Lyons said.

Monica Johnson, who was an admissions administrator at Remington College in Baton Rouge for nearly 13 years, claimed in a June 24 request for the protective order that her husband had been following her in the days prior, including at a birthday party she had taken her other son, who is 8, where she spotted David Johnson hiding behind a fence. He had also been seen at Wal-Mart in Prairieville and had even been seen peeping into her house and hiding in the attic.

Monica Johnson claimed her husband had become obsessive, even secretly recording her at times.

“My sons and I are not comfortable in our home,” she wrote in the request for the protective order.

David Johnson had been arrested Dec. 31 on a count of domestic abuse strangulation, a felony, after the couple got into a fight at their house over her cellphone, Sheriff Wiley said. Deputies showed up at the home again June 19 when David Johnson had been seen nearby after the earlier encounter at the birthday party.

Deputies did not arrest David Johnson that time but warned him about trespassing, Wiley said.

Monica Johnson reported in her protective order request that during the Dec. 31 incident, her estranged husband choked her “resulting in me losing my voice.”

But she wrote that she had agreed then to drop the domestic abuse count because she thought it was an isolated incident due to her husband’s “recent medical condition” and his medication. The request does not specify what that condition was.

Online jail and court bail records show David Johnson was released from Ascension Parish Prison on the domestic abuse count Jan. 5 on $2,000 bail and has not been formally charged by prosecutors nor arraigned on the count.

A January 2016 hearing date is set for the domestic count, Wiley said.

Lolita Whitmore, an attorney who represented Monica Johnson through the Iris Domestic Violence Center, declined comment Monday and referred calls to the center.

Lynn Medley-Long, center executive director, said she could not comment on Monica Johnson’s case directly.

But Medley-Long said many people in domestic violence situations have second thoughts about trying to hold perpetrators accountable through law enforcement and the court system. She said these people have a number of factors to consider, including their children, their children’s schooling, housing, finances and further antagonizing an abusive partner. That makes pulling away difficult, she said.

Medley-Long said using the legal system actually raises the risk for domestic violence victims, and protective orders are not a guarantee of safety.

“It’s difficult to make life changes even when one’s life is at risk,” Medley-Long said.

Though David Johnson was not arrested in the June 19 incident, it prompted Monica Johnson to action, court papers show, as she filed for the protective order five days later and cited the incident as the reason for the filing, before she also detailed other alleged harassment. A temporary restraining order was granted and then extended July 6 until Aug. 24, when a hearing officer was set to consider the protective order, court minutes show.

Monica Johnson claimed she and her friend had just returned from the June 19 birthday party where David Johnson had been seen hiding behind the fence and staying in a parking lot.

Monica Johnson reported in the protective order request that her husband could not give a good reason why he was in the parking lot and her friend decided to follow her home that night because the friend “didn’t have a good feeling.”

Once back at Parks of Dutchtown and having seen David Johnson running down her street, Monica Johnson and her friend followed David Johnson in the friend’s car to the parking lot of the subdivision’s pool house, Wiley said. Monica Johnson found her husband there and called 911.

David Johnson jumped in his truck, hit the rear bumper of her friend’s car, which had been parked close to the truck, and drove away.

Wiley said David Johnson later returned to receive the no-trespass warning from the deputy.

The Parks of Dutchtown subdivision is a quiet neighborhood of mostly two-story homes and landscaped yards off Cornerview Road in Geismar. Lending no hint of the brutality that happened Sunday inside the Johnson house, an LSU wreath decorating the front door and a sign in the front yard congratulating Monica Johnson’s son on his recent graduation from high school remained at the home Monday. There was no police tape visible from the road.

A neighbor who lives a few doors down said that when he got home at 10:30 p.m. Sunday, the street was blocked with an ambulance and police cars.

At that time, he said, another neighbor believed it was an incidence of domestic violence but neither knew then it was a homicide.

Jack Forrest, president and chief executive officer of Remington College, a nonprofit career college, said everyone is heartbroken by Monica Johnson’s death and said she “will be sorely missed by all who knew and cared for her.”

“In her professional and personal lives, Monica worked tirelessly to try to help others and to make the world a better place, something she unknowingly did just by being a part of it,” Forrest said in a statement.

Advocate staff writer Ellyn Couvillion contributed to this report. Follow David J. Mitchell on Twitter @NewsieDave.