A 30-year-old Maricopa County sheriff's deputy who allegedly was caught on his own bodycam stealing $600 from a dead man last year has pleaded guilty and had his peace officer certification revoked, Phoenix New Times has learned.
In December 2018, Gregory Todd Johnson was arrested and booked into Fourth Avenue Jail on suspicion that he committed theft and burglary two months prior.
It all began when Johnson responded to a call that October from a caregiver who said a man had died from a gunshot wound at a home in the Sun Lakes neighborhood of Mesa. While Johnson was in the home responding to the call, his body-worn camera was turned on, recording the whole time. Johnson found the deceased person in the master bedroom. He also saw a stack of cash, credit cards, and a driver's license on a dresser in the bedroom, court records indicate.
Sheriff's deputies, including Johnson, left the master bedroom and moved the body out of the home. But Johnson returned to the bedroom alone a short time later, grabbed the money off the dresser, and recorded himself counting the cash out.
While investigating the person's death, detectives from the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office received a call from the dead man's family inquiring about the missing cash. Investigators with the department's professional standards unit then reviewed bodycam footage and learned Johnson had stolen money from the deceased.
When they interviewed Johnson about the theft, he admitted he stole $500 or $600 off the dresser that day, the indictment states. He claimed he was "experiencing financial difficulties and used the cash to pay bills and never deposited the cash into any bank accounts," the probable cause statement says.
According to a victim impact statement submitted to the court by the deceased man's sister on December 11, 2018, Johnson's theft caused the man's caregiver "weeks of stress and the inability to sleep." The caregiver worried that the man had paid someone to help him end his life, and spent weeks wondering what had happened to the missing money. "This all disrupted her home life and made her question continuing as a caregiver," the victim impact statement says.
The dead man's sister (New Times is withholding the names of the victims in the case), said that she and the man's two daughters "did not want to believe that an officer of the law could stoop to this level. Losing a loved one to a self-inflicted gun shot was a trauma in itself, and then to have to face the effort, phone calls, and accusation of a person we considered to be there to help us through this awful experience was extremely difficult."
The victim's sister asked the court to find Johnson guilty and direct him to reimburse the victim's daughters, though, she said, "nothing can compensate us for our profound disappointment in the fact that Mr. Johnson besmirched the good name of the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office."
Johnson was fired in December 2018, a spokesperson for the MCSO confirmed.
On March 31, 2019, Johnson's attorney, Robert Jarvis, submitted a statement of facts to the court claiming that Johnson never took anything from the house and that there is "no evidence to the contrary." He claimed that an internal affairs investigator "failed to give truthful testimony about the circumstances surrounding the incident" and instead manipulated the facts to get a grand jury to believe there was evidence against Johnson.
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Jarvis claimed that the bodycam footage showed Johnson only went back into the master bedroom when the paramedics asked to identify the deceased, at which point Johnson returned to the bedroom to grab the man's ID. Johnson then left without taking any cash and did not re-enter the residence until he and another detective were instructed to do so, according to Jarvis.
Johnson initially pleaded not guilty, but by November 22, 2019, he reversed course and decided to plead guilty to possession of burglary tools, a Class 6 felony (the other charge was dismissed as part of the agreement). Johnson was offered supervised probation instead of jail time. After Johnson successfully completes his probation, the offense will be designated as a misdemeanor instead, the plea agreement states. He will also be ordered to pay restitution to the victim's family.
Johnson's peace officer certification was revoked by the Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board last week, meaning he is banned from law enforcement in Arizona.
Johnson is set to be sentenced on January 6, 2020. Johnson's attorney did not immediately respond when asked about Johnson's decision to reverse his not-guilty plea.