Detroit officer killed in crash saluted as ‘warrior’

George Hunter
The Detroit News

Chonita Johnson smiled as she stood at the podium before a packed church Tuesday and shared humorous stories about her son, Detroit police officer Darren Weathers, who died last week during a training accident.

She told the gathering at Second Ebenezer Church in Detroit how her son would style her hair when he was young. He told her he wanted to be a hairdresser because “he wanted to meet the ladies.”

Johnson talked about her son’s drive, and how he told her, “mom, we’ve got to keep it moving for 2018. No matter what happened in 2017, we have to move forward.”

But moments after Johnson took her seat in a pew near the front of the church, she broke down in tears and had to be escorted away. Another man was also removed from the sanctuary after he began yelling.

It was an emotional moment in a service full of them, as police officers from across Michigan and Weathers’ relatives gathered to say goodbye to the man they called “Lucky.”

Weathers, 25, died Feb. 13 in a traffic accident after running a red light, crashing into another vehicle and hitting a wall.

Detroit Police officials initially said Weathers’ death happened during a training exercise, although police chief James Craig later said it was unclear if Weathers was involved in the training or tailing the group.

Craig said he is reviewing the incident and department training policies.

At Tuesday’s funeral, Craig said Weathers, who was assigned to the department’s Integrity Unit, which investigates allegations against police officers, was a “peace officer and a warrior.”

Weathers appeared in a viral video earlier this year, when he did push-ups with a group of teens who had been playing basketball. That showed Weathers’ commitment to community service, Craig said.

The chief said Weathers “seamlessly married the worlds between compassionate peace officer and warrior.”

The warrior in Weathers surfaced April 30, when he and his partner Waldace Johnson were ambushed during a domestic violence run by a gunman who shot Johnson in the head. Weathers returned fire, killing 46-year-old James Ray.

Weathers put Johnson into his squad car and rushed him to the hospital – actions that Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said were remarkable for someone who had only recently graduated from the police academy.

Duggan said during Tuesday’s service he was in the hospital after Johnson was shot, and asked Craig for an update on the case.

“Chief Craig told me ‘what happened tonight is one of the most extraordinary things I’ve ever seen,’” Duggan said. “‘(What Weathers did) would’ve been remarkable for a 10-year veteran, but he’s only been out of the academy for six months.’

“Waldace Johnson still has a long way to go (he’s recovering from his wounds), but he’s still here and fighting, and his family has Darren Weathers to thank for it,” Duggan said.

Duggan also discussed Weathers’ viral video showing him interacting with teens on the playground. “He left with those children running after him and asking him not to leave,” the mayor said. “You know those children will never forget that. And neither will we.”

Weathers’ widow, Keshia Dewitt, started to address the congregation, but only managed a few words before she started crying, prompting someone in the back of the church to shout, “it’s all right.” She was escorted from the pulpit.

Comments were printed in the funeral program, including a passage from Weathers’ daughter Nyla, who wrote: “You held my hand when I was small and you caught me when I would fall. The hero of my childhood and later years as well. Every time I think of you my heart fills with pride and though I will always miss you daddy you are always by my side.”

After Tuesday’s service, Weathers’ American flag-draped casket was carried outside into a steady drizzle, as members of the Metro Detroit Pipes & Drums band played mournful bagpipe melodies.

Weathers grew up in Detroit. After he graduated from Crockett Technical High School, he attended Marygrove College on a track scholarship. He also played basketball at the college.

He joined the U.S. Army in 2012 and was deployed to Afghanistan, where he became a squad leader and earned several commendations, including an Afghanistan Campaign Medal with two campaign stars, an Army Commendation Medal, an Army Achievement Medal and a National Defense Service Medal.

After his discharge, Weathers joined the Detroit police force, graduating from the academy in November 2016. He was awarded the department’s highest honor, the Medal of Valor, for his actions during the shootout that wounded his partner.

Survivors include wife, Keshia Dewitt; daughter Nyla Weathers; mother Chonita Johnson; fathers Lewis Weathers and Patrick Johnson, a brother and nine sisters.

Interment was in Resurrection Cemetery in Clinton Township.

On Saturday at the Detroit Police Department’s 2nd precinct, Weathers was honored with a vigil, which was attended by U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence, D-Southfield.