ROBERTSDALE, Alabama — Law enforcement officials and leaders from throughout Baldwin County gathered on Tuesday, May 12 for the Fallen Officers Memorial, hosted by the Baldwin County Sheriff’s Office at the BCSO Central Command in Robertsdale.
While Baldwin County has not lost an officer in the line of duty since Loxley Police Officer Kerry Mitchum died in a car crash in 2015, one name was added to the memorial this year that has a special connection to the man who oversaw the creation of the memorial.
“Last year I received a letter from a retired police officer in Wyoming,” said Sheriff Hoss Mack. “This man has taken it upon himself to be a historian of sorts for law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty.”
In researching officers from Wyoming killed in the line of duty to make sure they are included on the National Law Enforcement Memorial in Washington, D.C., the officer wrote to Mack that he had come across articles that were published in some of the nation’s largest newspapers, including the Atlanta Constitution and the Denver Post, pertaining to a Baldwin County Sheriff’s Deputy who was killed during a shootout in December of 1881.
“Not only would that make this officer the first known Sheriff’s Deputy killed in the line of duty, he would also end up having a special connection to the memorial itself,” Mack said.
In December of 1881, Joel Johnson, a resident of what was known at the time as the Sibley’s Mill community, which would now be in the area of Alabama 225, northeast of Spanish Fort, was out riding his horse when a man (who was identified in the discovered articles only as being from Bay Minette) shot him, robbed him, took his horse and left him for dead after dragging his body to a pond.
“But Joel Johnson did not die and somehow managed to drag himself back to his residence where he told his family what happened,” Mack said. “Among those he told was his brother, Baldwin County Sheriff’s Deputy Abram “Abe” Johnson.”
Deputy Johnson then took off after the suspect, locating him at a residence a few miles from his home. In the process of being arrested, Mack said, the suspect pulled out a pistol and shot Deputy Johnson in the chest. Johnson returned fire, in turn mortally wounding the suspect.
Johnson was found barely alive at the scene where he would later succumb to his injuries. The suspect was found dead about a half a mile from the scene.
“Being a young man of about 32, Abe Johnson was not married and as far as we know, left no descendants,” Mack said. “But his brother, Joel Johnson, did survive. He recovered from his injuries and lived to be 80 years old.”
In research done by local officers, Mack said, while they do not know where Abe Johnson is buried, they found Joel Johnson’s grave in the Whitehouse Fork community west of Bay Minette, listing his date of death as March 6, 1924.
“When they found Joel Johnson’s grave, I knew they were going to find something, and they did,” Mack said.
Through the research it was determined Joel Johnson is the grandfather of James B. “Jimmy” Johnson who served as Baldwin County Sheriff from 1986 through 2007. It was under Jimmy Johnson’s command that the Baldwin County Law Enforcement Memorial was created in 2001.
With the addition of Abe Johnson, Baldwin County’s Law Enforcement Memorial now includes 11 names, Mack said. When Johnson’s name was added, the names on the memorial have now been rearranged, with all Baldwin County Sheriff deputies’ names on one side, names of state and federal officers on one side and the names of local law enforcement on one side.
Johnson’s name has also been added to the National Law Enforcement Memorial in Washington, D.C. and was read aloud during a National Police Week ceremony, which was broadcast live over social media on Wednesday, May 13.
Johnson is one of eight officers from the state of Alabama whose name was added to the memorial this year, Mack said, including Lowndes County Sheriff “Big John” Williams, who was killed while responding to a noise complaint in January.
“We want to remember all of those being added to the memorial, especially our friend Big John and Deputy Johnson who has such a special connection to this department,” Mack said. “And while we gather here again next year and for years to come to speak these names that are on our memorial, it is our sincere hope that we will not have to add any more names to it.”
Tuesday’s ceremony also included opening prayer by Baldwin County District Attorney Robert “Bob” Wilters, and presentation of colors by the Baldwin County Sheriff’s Department Honor Guard.
Mack also recognized other dignitaries in attendance including Baldwin County Judge of Probate Harry D’Olive, County Commission Chairman Billie Jo Underwood, Commissioner Jeb Ball, Judge Scott Taylor, State Rep. Matt Simpson and police chiefs from Bay Minette, Daphne, Elberta, Loxley, Orange Beach and Summerdale.
Following the ceremony, Mack and the police chiefs participated in the placing of a wreath in front of the memorial.