Detroit police honor fallen officers during first 5K event

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

Detroit — Five years have passed since Nicolle Johnson went to sleep and woke up with her world forever changed.

Her husband, Detroit police Officer Waldis "Jay" Johnson, was shot in the head in April 2017 while responding to a domestic violence call. He was 47 and the father of two sons and a daughter. He battled for his life for three years before he died in 2020 at age 50.

Friends and family of fallen members of the Detroit Police Department walk along Michigan Avenue during the first annual Memorial Walk in Detroit on Saturday.

On Saturday, fellow officers, family and friends gathered to remember Johnson and two other fallen police officers who have died during the Detroit Police Department's 1st Annual Police Memorial 5K Run-Walk-Bike event.

"It's bittersweet," said Johnson. "But it's nice to see such support for the police officers and their sacrifice ... We are here to support three officers that gave the ultimate sacrifice."

Dozens of people gathered for the event, which also honored Detroit police Sgt. Rasheen McClain and Capt. Jonathan Parnell. 

McClain died in 2019 after he led a team of Detroit police officers into the basement of a house, where a man armed with a rifle abushed the four officers and fired shots, including one that killed McClain. 

Parnell, a 31-year police veteran, died in March 2020 after contracting the coronavirus.

Detroit police Capt. Tonya Leonard-Gilbert said Detroit police honor all of its fallen officers, which has in the past has been in ceremonies held indoors. The pandemic led to the outdoor event that began at the Detroit Police headquarters downtown.

Leonard-Gilbert said she hoped the event raised awarenessof the people who died while trying to protect the community and the service that they gave.

"We hope to show we never forget," said Leonard-Gilbert. "We always remember our heroes."

Sgt. Adam Borkowski, who was a partner of Parnell years ago in the armed robbery unit, said it was the worst day in his career when he learned Parnell had died.

Amy Camm, the department's deputy chief chaplain, sings "Amazing Grace" moments before the start of the walk.

"He was a great leader," said Borkowski. "He was a dedicated individual for the department. I looked up to him."

But he was glad to see that police were being remembered.

Capt. Tony Potts, who serves on the department's Peer Support Team, said the police work with families of fallen officers after the incident but stay connected with them over the years. 

"To make sure that we never forget them," said Potts.

It's important to honor those who have lost their lives and critical to support police right now, said Cpl. Tracey Hamilton.

"Right now, police have a bad rap," said Hamilton. "I just want to show we are out here. We're regular people. We support our fallen officers and support the community as a whole."

kkozlowski@detroitnews.com