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Slain Detroit police officer showed 'strength, courage, honor and compassion'

George Hunter
The Detroit News

Detroit — Waldis "Jay" Johnson was a fighter.

He boxed on the U.S. Army boxing team. As a longtime Detroit police officer, he fought to keep the city safe. And after he was shot in the head during an ambush while responding to a 2017 domestic violence call, for three years he fought for his life.

"He loved the community he served," police chief James Craig said Wednesday during Johnson's funeral at Unity Mission Baptist Church in Detroit. "Due to the severity of his injuries, he fought long and hard for his life, which is proof how strong he was." 

Johnson, 48, died May 31 from injuries related to the gunshot wound he sustained on April 30, 2017, when he and partner Darren Weathers responded to a domestic violence call to the Oakman Apartments on Detroit's west side.

After the officers knocked on the building's front door, surveillance video showed tenant James Ray loading his .380-caliber semiautomatic pistol as he walked from his apartment to the building entrance.

Ray, 46, opened fire. Weathers shot back, killing the suspect. One of Ray's rounds struck Johnson in the head.

Funeral for Detroit Police Officer Waldis Johnson at the Unity Baptist church in Detroit, Michigan on June 10, 2020.

Weathers put his partner into his squad car and drove him to the hospital. Ten months later, Weathers died in a training accident on Detroit's southwest side.

After Johnson was shotath, his family fell into financial straits and received help from the Dented Badge program, a nonprofit that raises money and provides services for the relatives of slain police officers. 

The Collin Rose Memorial Foundation, ran by Wayne State police officer Chris Powell, is also raising money for Johnson's family. As of Wednesday, about $3,300 had been raised.

Johnson was born June 26, 1971, in Sheffield, Alabama. After high school, he joined the Army, where he joined the boxing team. After his discharge, he moved to Detroit and worked for the city's Water and Sewerage Department before joining the police force on Aug. 23, 2004.

Detroit Police Officer Waldis Johnson's daughter Piper Johnson, with a stuff animal her father gave her, follow the casket during her fathers funeral at the Unity Baptist church in Detroit, Michigan on June 10, 2020.

"He exhibited strength, courage, honor and compassion," Johnson's sister-in-law Yolanda Gatson said during Wednesday's service. "He willingly chose to protect those who are vulnerable. Officer Johnson will be remembered as a passionate hero who trusted God."

Johnson had been most recently assigned to the 2nd Precinct, and previously served on the department's Tactical Services Section and the Southwest District. 

While serving on the police force, Johnson earned an associate's degree in business from Henry Ford College in Dearborn. 

Johnson earned seven citations during his career. Craig posthumously promoted him to the rank of corporal.

"He believed like many of us that Detroit is one of the most challenging cities, but also one of the most rewarding," Craig said. "One thing I've heard from the people who worked with him: If you served with Waldis, you knew he had your back."

Detroit Police Chief James Craig addresses officers, friends and family during the funeral for Detroit Police Officer Waldis Johnson at the Unity Baptist church in Detroit, Michigan on June 10, 2020.

The Rev. David Washington of the Canton Christ Fellowship Church began Wednesday's eulogy by asking congregants to smile behind the masks they wore in response to the coronavirus, as a way of honoring Johnson.

"I wish we could hug," Washington said. "But would you look at someone and smile at someone? I heard (Johnson) liked to laugh, and that he found reasons to keep smiling. Even though you're wearing a mask, smile for him."

Survivors include Johnson's wife, Nicolle Johnson; sons Arin and Jaden; daughter, Piper; mother, Doris (Johnson) Clark; and sisters Yan York, Jasmine Johnson, LaDawn Johnson and Nikki Manus.

Burial was to be at Woodmere Cemetery in Detroit.

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Twitter: @GeorgeHunter_DN