Fallen officer Derek Johnson remembered at Draper memorial
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
DRAPER — A crowd that spilled over onto the grass at Draper Historic Park gathered Monday evening to remember Draper Police Sgt. Derek Johnson, who was shot and killed a year ago in the line of duty.
At a memorial that included stories, music and a proclamation of Sept. 1 as a day to annually remember the fallen officer, family, friends, co-workers and Draper officials ended the Labor Day holiday by honoring his service.
“We will miss Derek forever and always,” Johnson's wife, Shante, told the crowd, thanking them for their support during the past year. “I know grief is ugly and I don’t think it’s going to get a whole lot better real quick.”
Johnson was wrapping up his graveyard shift on Sept. 1, 2013, when he stopped just a few blocks from the Draper Police Station to assist a vehicle that had apparently been involved in a crash and was ambushed.
The vehicle's driver shot Johnson through the open passenger window and continued to fire even as the sergeant attempted to drive away. The driver then shot his girlfriend turned the gun on himself, but both survived to face charges.
Timothy Troy Walker pleaded guilty in July to aggravated murder and was sentenced to prison for life. His girlfriend, Traci Vaillancourt, has a preliminary hearing scheduled for Sept. 30 on charges of obstruction of justice.
Wearing a bright blue T-shirt printed to look like a police uniform, Shante Johnson alternated between joking and tearing up as she told stories about her relationship with the “soulmate” she met when she was 12 and he was 13.
She described Johnson as “sort of a rebel kid” who once showed up to school with black eyes and bruised ribs from a gang initiation. But, she said, once he “figured out I was kind of a catch, he decided to straighten up.”
His experiences help shape his law enforcement career, something that had "always been in his heart. He just had to walk on the other side of the line for a minute,” she said, to be able to help other young people toying with trouble.
In the summer before his death, Johnson and his son, Bensen, set up a tent in their backyard for a campout complete with power supplied by an extension cord — something his son still talks about, Shante Johnson said.
She still misses her husband’s “funny little calls,” especially after long police shifts. "Derek would get really goofy," she said from the park's bandstand, decorated with blue ribbons and a memorial wreath.
Johnson's father, Randy Johnson, said the many events held to honor Johnson have helped the public know not only who the 32-year-old was, but also the contribution made by him and other members of law enforcement.
"I appreciate this opportunity," he said.
Cathy Quinn said she came to support her friend of many years, Shante Johnson, through what was a "rough weekend. Very emotional. But she's a very strong woman."
Quinn, who lives in nearby South Jordan, said Johnson's death has impacted the community.
"Personally, I think it's a loss of innocence for a lot of us. I don't think anybody ever thought a police officer would be shot and killed in Draper," she said, recalling being "totally shocked" when she heard the news a year ago.
Draper Mayor Troy Walker told the crowd the community is "very fortunate to have people like Sgt. Johnson," professional, hard workers who care about the people they serve.
"We'll miss him very much," Walker said.
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