Arrested NOPD Officer Wardell Johnson did not appear in court Tuesday morning, where Magistrate Judge Harry Cantrell set his bail at $10,000 each on three felony counts: malfeasance in office, injuring public records and theft.
All three counts related to the box of ammunition that Johnson kept for 16 days before tossing it out of the window of his car in New Orleans East after an interview with police on Monday, said Assistant District Attorney Michael Henn.
Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro’s office had sought a total bond of $110,000 for Johnson, whose attorney, Kristie Holm, argued for his release on his own recognizance.
“This is not a crime of violence. Mr. Johnson is a former Marine who served his country honorably in North Africa and Bosnia,” Holm said, adding that Johnson is a 13-year NOPD veteran who was friends with Holloway.
“He did not deliberately do these things. He was under a lot of stress. He’s extremely distraught by this incident. It was not intentional. The evidence, he intended to log in. It was an oversight on his part.”
Henn, the prosecutor, argued that Johnson’s distraught state didn’t explain why Johnson allegedly tossed the box of bullets from his car after an interview with internal investigators.
Holloway’s uncle, criminal defense attorney David Belfield, walked out of the courtroom frustrated as Holm described Johnson’s state of mind.
Later, Belfield said he wasn’t aware the two officers were friends.
“I take issue with her statement he didn’t intentionally do it,” said Belfield, adding that he thinks Cannizzaro’s office should add an obstruction count, if and when it accepts the charges against Johnson.
After reading a police report on Boys’ arrest for allegedly shooting his wife that morning, Belfield said he’s convinced Johnson and other officers never followed up on her allegation that Boys shot her with a black semi-automatic handgun.
The report, written by Johnson, says officers confiscated the wife’s .38-caliber revolver, live rounds and a single .40-caliber spent shell casing from next door.
“They never went back to what she said in the beginning,” Belfield said. “You should have turned that house upside down. That gun had to be somewhere.”
He thinks the firearm the wife described was the same .40-caliber weapon that police say Boys used to shoot Holloway in the right side of his chest during a transport to Orleans Parish jail.
“Or there’s a third gun we don’t know about,” he said.
Mostly, Belfield was irked by the explanation for Johnson allegedly tossing the bullets, a move that prompted a search in New Orleans East on Tuesday.
“Being distraught in that Daryle, his friend, is murdered, I can appreciate that. But that’s after the fact,” he said. “Why not give them the box of shells? The easiest thing is, ‘I forgot to turn it in.’ Just turn it in. To not turn it in reveals the fact that, ‘I didn’t do something I should have done.’”
Donovan Livaccari, spokesman for the local Fraternal Order of Police lodge and the attorney for two other officers who were there for Boys’ arrest, said the officers didn’t simply take the wife’s .38 and move on.
“It’s my understanding that they searched the residence for the .40-caliber weapon,” he said.
A police report on the arrest, written by Johnson, makes no mention of searching the house, though it does say Johnson searched Boys, whom he found asleep in a back bedroom. That search came up empty, the report says.
The initial police report on Johnson’s arrest, written Monday, says investigators with the NOPD’s Public Integrity Bureau reviewed body camera footage and saw that Johnson was given a box of eight .40-caliber rounds that Boys’ wife said belonged to the semi-automatic firearm he used to shoot at her, and “is seen twirling the box of bullets while he talks to another officer relative to a spent casing that was eventually confiscated from the scene.”
Johnson eventually took Boys to the 5th District station, where he turned him over to Holloway, who had offered to take Boys to jail while Johnson wrote up his report.
Johnson submitted his report, and Sgt. Kevin Burns noticed he didn’t mention the box of ammunition.
“Officer Johnson initially denied knowing the exact whereabouts of the box of bullets, citing that it may be in his bag,” the report said. Then, while being interviewed, Johnson asked to pick up his child from day camp.
“As Officer Johnson entered his vehicle and proceeded to pick up his child, members of the Public Integrity Bureau initiated covert surveillance” and watched Johnson stop at the corner of Morrison and Downman roads, “exit his vehicle via the driver side door, open the trunk, remove a small white box, placed the box inside of his right pants picket and re-enter his vehicle and continue driving.”
The investigators lost sight of Johnson momentarily, the report says. Johnson then picked up his child and returned to PIB.
The report doesn’t say investigators saw Johnson toss the box from his car, as he’s alleged to have done.
But “when confronted directly,” Johnson conferred with his attorney and then admitted tossing the bullets from the car while headed to pick up his daughter. He agreed to point out where he jettisoned the bullets.
“Officer Johnson intentionally removed the box of .40-caliber ammunition that could have provided a nexus to the spent casing and kept the box of bullets with him and failed to log the evidence,” the report says.
NOPD spokesman Tyler Gamble said Tuesday afternoon that ballistics tests that would show any link between the spent casing and the gun that killed Holloway were “not finalized.”
Johnson remained jailed Tuesday.