Funeral held for slain Newark police officer

June 2, 2011 2:20:28 PM PDT
As loudspeakers broadcast a sermon onto a Newark sidewalk where hundreds of police officers stood at attention, a young girl's wailing could be heard from inside the church: "I want my daddy back."

Newark Police Officer William Johnson was being remembered Thursday as a man devoted to his native city and his two daughters a week after he was killed in a drive-by shooting. He was off duty and standing at the counter of a fast-food restaurant in Newark waiting for an order to go on his way to a second job as a security guard.

Detective Russell K. Thomas was a friend of Johnson's who graduated in the same 1995 class of 200 officers, the largest police class in Newark's history. He said Johnson was dedicated to remaining in the city he loved and working to improve it. His death rattled the department, Thomas said, partly because of the senseless manner in which he was gunned down, with bullets that authorities believe were meant for someone else.

"We just wouldn't expect this, not like this," Thomas said of Johnson's death. "We already know what we signed up for to become police officers - it's a very tough job - but not on your off time.

It shows that you're never off duty."

Authorities have charged 19-year-old Rasul McNeill-Thomas with murder and aggravated assault. Police have been searching for a second suspect.

The slain officer, who was 45, grew up in Newark and worked in the police department's video surveillance unit. He was a 16-year veteran of the force.

Johnson was remembered Thursday as a straight-talking, methodical, dedicated cop who was devoted to his children and spoke of attending their school performances with pride.

Besides Johnson, two other people were struck in the drive-by shooting. A 21-year-old man was hospitalized with a wound to the stomach, and a 19-year-old at the restaurant with her toddler was struck in the shoulder, treated and released. Her child was not wounded.

Despite gains in 2007 and 2008, violent crime has risen in Newark in the last two years. There have been twice as many murders - 20 - in the first three months of this year compared to last, according to police department statistics. Following Johnson's May 26 death, there were four other fatal shootings in Newark during the Memorial Day weekend, police said.

The increase has come after much-publicized layoffs that cut nearly 15 percent of the police force at the end of last year. City officials have argued that there's no direct connection.