Officer Rick Johnson
Excerpt from "Friendly Fire?"
In 2000 the San Bernardino Police Department chose not to act or even start an investigation against an officer that indirectly caused the death of one of his partners because of the liability and scandal that it would have caused.
Officer Rick Johnson was once a technician that used to process crime scenes for the department, he would watch the officers on the calls and would voice his envy at their position and their paycheck. To remedy this situation he became a reserve officer with the City and was ultimately hired and was sworn in as a full time officer, as with most new officers he ended up on graveyard shift where the officers were tightly knit together. They knew that after 2:00 a.m. they could only depend on other graveyard officers so they became particularly close, much more close-knit than the other shifts. When this reliance on each occurred, the officers usually get to know the personalities of their partners very well and adjust their behavior accordingly. Supervision on graveyard varied between scant and none at all which became evident in the VanRossum rapist investigation later. The graveyard supervisors used to hide, study for school or sleep during the shift allowing the officers the full rein of the City with no-one looking over their shoulders.
There is a large disparity in the quality of different officers, some officers never called for help until they were actually fighting with an arrestee and others called for help when they were in a situation that may be potentially hazardous. So a 11-11 call (officer needs assistance NOW) from one officer that never calls out 11-11 would require a different response than the same call from another officer that seems to need help every night. Officer Johnson had a reputation for crying wolf on his calls and sensationalizing them over the radio, so in hearing him call out stressfully would not necessarily mean that he was in any danger. Different officers and supervisors had tried to talk with him to stop him from sensationalizing his calls over the radio to no avail. When this issue was brought up to supervision they realized that it was a sensitive subject, Johnson was very keen but just needed to be reigned in, I do not think they had the supervisory skills to achieve the correct result and therefore did not try.
For example, some officers are very good at calming people and others can escalate a situation just by showing up on a call. Most officers learn who they like to work with and who the do not, I can remember when the officers who would tend to escalate a call would volunteer to back me I would try to resolve it before they showed up. I did not want the officer to get everyone agitated again after I had got then calmed down.
Incidentally, Departments hire female officers because they think that they are more sensitive to people especially in highly volatile situations. Now there are some excellent female officers out there and I worked with several but the majority need to realize that they do not need to be so macho. Physically, they are no match for a man, in particular a parolee that has just spent the last few years building muscle and taking steroids. The good ones realized this and would talk to try to de-escalate the situation; the others seem to believe they needed to give out waves of machismo to prevent an attack. Some of the female officers would show up on a call and immediately start asserting themselves, now they have to arrest someone just to save face. Most of the women I worked with were among the most challenging and assertive officers on the Department and were not in the least more sensitive to the needs of the citizens. Someone only had to say something under their breath or look the wrong way and they would see it as a personal challenge to them and their authority. I would try to resolve whatever situation I was in before this type of female officer could arrive, I was trying to build bridges, not fight everyone and I did not have anything to prove.
One night I was working with my partner Danny Gomez when we heard officer Johnson sent on a stolen vehicle type call, I accessed his call on my terminal in the police car so I could see what kind of call it was and to get the license plate on the vehicle if we happened to see it. I read the call and found that it was probably more of a civil problem than an actual stolen vehicle.
This situation was all to common, the typical scenario was that a boyfriend and girlfriend would share their car, and everything was fine until they got in an argument and the boyfriend would drive away in the car. The girlfriend would call the police, lie and say that the boyfriend had never driven the car in the past and that he had stolen it. In reality it was a civil problem and the girlfriend was so mad she would try to lie to the police to get the boyfriend in trouble and hopefully recover the car. This would happen very frequently, I would go on calls similar to this every week and I would tell them that there was nothing we could do, as it was a civil problem between them, and they usually made up when everyone had calmed down.
After about 30 minutes officer Johnson said over the radio that he was going to look for the stolen vehicle, I bought up his call again to see if anything had changed from my original assessment and found that it had not, it was still a civil problem. He had not drawn a case number that would show that he had taken a report so we continued to look for gang members.
Officer Johnson then called out in an excited and loud voice over his radio that he had found the stolen vehicle in an apartment complex and it was being driven towards him. I said to my partner, "how could he find his own GTA (stolen car)? If he found it then it must be a civil problem and not a stolen vehicle because the only way he could find the car that quickly, would have been if the girlfriend told him where to look." We started to drive to his location to help if we were wrong when another officer called out that there had been a traffic accident and an officer was involved.
Officer Gerald Silvestri was a new officer to our Department having spent his first few years in another smaller and quieter Department and probably had not yet learned which officers sensationalized their calls and called wolf and those that did not. Apparently he had heard officer Johnson's radio traffic about finding the stolen car and was rushing to help him when he had lost control of his patrol car and crashed into a tree. We arrived to help him and found that the crash had been so severe he really did not have much of a chance, in my assessment, I believed he died instantaneously. Several concerned citizens had heard the crash and had come outside to help as much as they could by dragging him away from his patrol car if it caught fire, but he did not survive. It was a tragic heart-rending event that was witnessed by several of his friends from graveyard shift who had also arrived to help.
Officer Johnson was shook up; he resolved the call by telling the boyfriend to take the car back and left the apartment complex. He had made a non-criminal matter, a civil problem into a felony crime and had inadvertently caused another officer to lose his life. I realize that officer Johnson was not in control of Silvestri's police car but Silvestri was rushing to help him in a situation that Johnson had misrepresented and sensationalized over the radio. I particularly blamed the supervision that knew of Johnson's tendency to over dramatize his calls and had failed to address it.
This is the first time the truth surrounding this event has ever been made public, the Department swept it under the proverbial rug just as they had in the past and just as they would in the future to avoid embarrassment and liability. Officer Johnson is still with the San Bernardino Police Department and has no guilt over his role in Silvestri's death. I don't know how he can look at himself in a mirror, knowing he killed a fellow officer.
January 7th 2005
This is my personal point of view, so for what its worth. The assholes at the top of SBPD have already cost a cop his life at the San Bernardino Police. They hired a total worthless moron from their "Reserve" ranks and made him a full time waste of money. Rick Johnson was a lazy worthless Reserve, he did nothing to put himself above the other Reserves , he was just a number. Then one day he put him self through the "Extended Academy" For some reason, they hired him as full time copper ??? yes I suppose he was an "ok" ID Tech, but to make him a regular copper well he must have some dirt on some one.. One Night "officer" Rick Johnson was on patrol and sensationalized a situation. He put out a call for help after finding a non-stolen car that was only a civil problem, between a girlfriend who didn't like her boyfriend driving her car. He knew this because he took the radio-call from the girlfriend, HE KNEW THE CAR WASN'T STOLEN. One of the other Grave Yard Warriors responded to back Rick after he "found" the car at the boyfriends residence. However that Grave yard Warrior didn't make it to the back up call. In his haste to back this idiot "Glory Hound" he died . His wife lost a husband and his kids lost their Dad. The Police Department lost their son, a loyal and dedicated Cop, and I lost a friend. Rick Johnson still HIDES OUT on Grave Yard because he isn't competent enough to handle a real shift. The graveyard sergeants knew for YEARS that Rick was worthless, yet they were allowed to skate on the blame too. The whole thing was covered up, Rick never even pulled a report number for the civil problem, he KNEW that the car wasn't stolen and the City of San Bernardino covered up everything, below is the official excerpt from the "California Police Officer Memorial." By the way, there was no "high risk vehicle stop" another lie from SBPD, Johnson told the boyfriend to take the car home, call resolved.
Police Officer Gerald Silvestri, San Bernardino Police Department, California
End of Watch: Saturday, October 14, 2000
Age: Not available
Tour of Duty: 6 yrs
Badge Number: Not available
Cause of Death: Automobile accident(Preventable)
Date of Incident: Saturday, October 14, 2000
Weapon Used: Not available (It should be bad police work and supervision/training)
Suspect Info: Not available( It should be Officer Rick Johnson)
Officer Silvestri was killed in an accident while responding to assist other officers with a high risk vehicle stop. During the response, Officer Silvestri lost control of the cruiser and struck a tree. He was transported to a local hospital where he later succumbed to his injuries.
Officer Silvestri had been in law enforcement for six years, and had been employed with the San Bernardino Police Department for three years. He is survived by his wife, 2-year-old son, and 5-year-old daughter.