'A time of reverence:' DPD honors fallen officers at memorial

Amelia Benavides-Colón
The Detroit News

Correction: Captain Lashonna Potts is the founder of the Fallen and Critically Injured Officer Board. A previous version of this story incorrectly identified the founder.  

Detroit — Even as he struggled through what would eventually become a deadly case of the COVID-19 virus, Detroit Police Captain John Parnell was still concerned with the well-being and safety of those around him.

"His last words to me before he passed was that he was getting better and he loved me and told me to stay safe," Eleanor Parnell said. "I was the aunt and yet he was always the one looking out for me."

The Johnson and Parnell families hug each other Tuesday, May 18, 2021.

Parnell, who died in March 2020, was one of three fallen police officers who were honored Tuesday at Detroit Public Safety Headquarters with plaques from the Fallen and Critically Injured Officer Board.

The 31-year-veteran of the force was remembered as a funny, straightforward man who always left you laughing and was a "shining star" of the department, Chief James Craig said during the memorial 

Honored alongside Parnell was Officer Waldis Johnson, who died May of 2020 from injuries he received in April 2017 while responding to a domestic violence call that left him with severe brain damage. He was a 14-year veteran of the department. 

The third officer honored with a plaque was Benton Hacker, who passed away in 1958 from complications of a gunshot wound he received while trying to arrest an armed robbery suspect in 1948. He served on desk duty before being medically retired. 

From left, DPD Chief James Craig assists as Jaden Johnson, son of Detroit police officer Waldis Johnson, and Nicolle Johnson, Waldis' wife, unveiled his plaque, Tuesday, May 18, 2021. Waldis Johnson died in May of 2020 from injuries he received in April 2017 while responding to a domestic violence call that left him with severe brain damage.

"The impact their selfless heroism has made on all of us will never fade and we will never forget, and be inspired by the unparalleled example of courage, loyalty, and professionalism," Craig said during the ceremony which featured family members and other members of the force. 

Sergeant Anthony Potts was one of the DPD members who worked to organize an annual memorial walk earlier this month in honor of officers who lost their lives in recent years. He serves on the Fallen and Critically Injured Officer Board that his wife, Captain LaShonna Potts started four years ago with the support of Craig. 

She says she wanted to start the effort to "make sure a legacy to remember our fallen is here long after we are gone."

Anthony Potts added that it's a time for reflection. "Unfortunately, it's a solemn occasion but we should also look at it as a time of reverence."

Potts described Parnell as "one hell of an operator" and emphasized his self-sacrificing nature. 

Detroit police Captain Tonya Leonard-Gilbert, left, and Renee Parnell, wife of the late Detroit police Captain Jonathan Parnell, hug Tuesday, May 18, 2021.

"He taught me a lot," said Potts. "To the Parnell family... because of his sacrifice we have embraced you and you will always be a part of our family as well."