Ex-New Orleans police officer pleads guilty to tossing evidence in cop-killing case, faces up to 40 years in prison _lowres

Former New Orleans Police Officer Wardell Johnson

A former New Orleans Police Department officer, who admitted that he tossed a box of bullets into a New Orleans East canal after the killing of a fellow officer in an apparent effort to cover up earlier bad policework, was remanded to jail Tuesday.

Criminal District Court Judge Karen Herman deferred sentencing for Wardell Johnson, 40, until after the trial of Travis Boys, who is accused of first-degree murder in the death of Officer Daryle Holloway in June.

No trial date has been set for Boys, 33, who faces a possible death penalty. Herman also is presiding over that case.

Johnson, who was taken from Herman’s courtroom in handcuffs Tuesday morning, quit the force in the fall after pleading guilty to obstruction of justice and malfeasance in office. The latter charge was for lying to internal investigators.

He faces a maximum of 40 years in prison. Herman had ordered a pre-sentencing report for him, indicating that his guilty pleas came with no firm agreement with District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro’s office on a prison term.

Johnson’s attorney, Robert Jenkins, said his client is slated to testify at Boys’ trial, but when that will happen is uncertain. For the time being, Johnson will remain jailed, with credit for his days behind bars.

“We know that he’s going to testify,” Jenkins said.

He described the pre-sentencing report as “favorable” to Johnson, noting his lack of a criminal record.

A 12-year NOPD veteran, Johnson was arrested in July. He had been assigned to the 5th District along with Holloway when Holloway was killed on the morning of June 20 after Johnson and other officers apparently did a poor job of searching Boys for weapons.

The officers placed Boys in the back seat of Holloway’s police SUV for a ride to Central Lockup. Boys is accused of firing a fatal shot, allegedly from a .40-caliber handgun he had used earlier to fire on his wife but that officers had not taken from him, into Holloway’s torso through an opening in the barrier between the SUV’s front and back seats.

Boys quickly slid through the opening into the front seat, authorities said. Holloway, 45, a 22-year NOPD veteran who was eyeing retirement in a few years, struggled to keep Boys in the vehicle even as he was dying.

A recording from the wounded officer’s camera showed that Boys yelled three times, “Let me go before you kill yourself!” before fleeing.

Boys’ escape prompted a manhunt that ended in his arrest the following day. He has pleaded not guilty to a first-degree murder charge in Holloway’s death.

Johnson later admitted to investigators with the NOPD’s Public Integrity Bureau that after Holloway’s killing, he tossed a box of .40-caliber bullets recovered from Boys’ house out of his vehicle after failing earlier to log them in as evidence.

He’d been caught on tape handling the box of bullets as police responded to the report of a shooting at Boys’ house. Police said body-camera footage also showed that Johnson deliberately tried to leave a .40-caliber bullet casing at the crime scene. Officers eventually recovered that casing, but the weapon used to fire it was not taken by the arresting officers.

Police brass have said they don’t believe Johnson was trying to aid Boys, but his actions drew an angry response from NOPD Superintendent Michael Harrison following his arrest.

“I am extremely disgusted and outraged by the lack of professionalism and integrity shown by this officer based on the evidence we discovered today,” Harrison said at the time. “This is an example of sloppy police work with a clear intent to cover it up, and it will not stand.”

Personnel records show Johnson had been suspended twice before for botching investigations in domestic violence incidents.

Since his resignation, Johnson has enrolled in culinary school and recently was invited to cook at the Masters golf tournament this week in Georgia, said Jenkins, his attorney.

“He’s doing very well,” Jenkins said.

Follow John Simerman on Twitter, @johnsimerman.