For the past two decades, a Rock Hill Police Department officer named Joe Johnson has quietly defused confrontations. Helped people. Arrested the dangerous. And even helped catch an emu.
Johnson rarely if ever has battles - his calm demeanor and gentle manner are legend.
But Johnson is now in a battle of his life - he has cancer.
So his brothers in blue are rallying for him. A benefit barbecue fundraiser is March 17 to help Johnson with the expenses insurance does not cover.
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“We want to do all we can to help Joe any way can” said Capt. Rod Stinson. “Joe is optimistic he will come back and we are, too.”
Johnson has a rare bone cancer called angiosarcoma, a hard to pronounce name that sounds awful and is. Johnson thought he had hurt his shoulder at work - cops are punched and bit and spit on and sometimes have to tussle with suspects - but the discomfort was found to be cancer. Johnson is out on leave undergoing cancer treatment from his regular duties, but when he is able he sometimes can be seen working the traffic detail outside York Preparatory Academy.
At the police department, Johnson worked his way up from a “boot,” a rookie, through the ranks and still retained his gentle ways. Years ago, he led the police and community effort to catch an escaped emu with The Herald’s video of the chase becoming a national story. Johnson quipped when it was all over that he might have to ticket the emu because, “The bird ran from the police.”
He spent time as a detective and, until his illness as a lieutenant, ran a shift of patrol officers covering the entire city. The sergeants who work for Johnson are running the shift as he battles the cancer.
Sgt. John Aiton, a legendary school resource officer himself before returning to patrol, said he heard a story this week that shows what Johnson means to people. A mother was having problems with her teen son a few years ago and asked Johnson to talk to the young man. Johnson took the kid for a ride in the police car, talked to him about good choices, told him he was valued and could succeed.
“That young kid is now a college graduate,” Aiton said. “That’s what Joe Johnson means to people.”
Officer Anthony Hucko called Johnson a great supervisor and mentor, saying Johnson’s leadership by example is unsurpassed.
“There is a saying that gentle ways turn away wrath - that is how he has done his job and he has taught us to be the same way,” Hucko said. “He knows how to deescalate a situation and talk to people.”
The Rock Hill Fire Department firefighters are cooking the barbecue for Friday’s event, and police officers are serving it 11 a.m to 2 p.m. at the Fraternal Order of Police building, 954 W. Main St. Rock Hill.
Want to go?
What: Barbecue benefit for Rock Hill Police Department Lt. Joe Johnson.
When: 11 a.m.-2 p.m. March 17, Fraternal Order of Police Lodge, 954 W. Main St., Rock Hill.
Cost: Plates are $8,, Barbecue by the pound is $10. Delivery is available for orders of 10 or more. Organizers ask for pre-orders by Wednesday.