Jeff Jardine

Rules prohibit fallen community service officer from place among sworn at Lakewood

When Mary Ann Donahou was struck by a car and killed while gathering shell casings following a shooting in Hughson in 2011, the question arose: How should a crime scene technician killed in the line of duty be memorialized?

Should she be interred in the Peace Officers section of Lakewood Memorial Park with the sworn officers who died in service? Should her name be etched into the monument with theirs? The discussion had never come up before because, to Sheriff Adam Christianson’s knowledge, it marked the first time in the 163-year history of Stanislaus County a non-sworn officer died while on duty.

“When Mary was killed, that was new to us,” Christianson said.

Ultimately, the decision was no, she would not receive the same kind of honors. Though her work was vital to investigations and the job often involved personal risk, she was not a sworn peace officer. She didn’t carry a gun nor did she have the authority to make an arrest. It is no different virtually anywhere else in the nation, where peace officer memorials are dedicated only to sworn officers killed in the line of duty.

The death of Community Service Officer Raschel Johnson – killed last weekend along with Deputy Jason Garner in an on-duty traffic accident – raises the question again. Johnson, 42, had been with the department for 15 years and was recently reassigned from the sheriff’s Patterson Police Services to Modesto, where she would be in charge of training new community service officers.

Garner, a sworn officer and nine-year department veteran, will get full fallen officer honors. But the protocol won’t change for Johnson, Christianson said. Her name, and Donahou’s will be read during the annual fallen officers ceremony at Lakewood, but they won’t be buried with the sworn officers nor will their names be added to the monument at the cemetery.

That disappoints some of Johnson’s closest friends, all of whom either worked or still work as community service officers. They remember Johnson as a woman who loved her job and represented the department well.

After Donahou died in December 2011, this close circle of friends – Johnson included – got tattoos memorializing Donahou. Now, the others say, they’ll add another remembering Johnson.

“I was her trainer,” former CSO Sarah Hatfield said. “Me and my red pen (used to highlight trainee errors). She hated that red pen. But then she used that pen when she trained people.”

They remember her as a loving mom whose son, Matthew, remains best friends with Donahou’s son, Jake, and as a woman who was conflicted as a Dodgers, Braves and Giants baseball fan.

“And she was an extreme couponer,” friend and current Sheriff’s CSO Michelle Switzer said. Johnson orchestrated Christmas toy drives and used her coupons at the Dec. 26 sales to get a jump on the next year’s efforts.

They remember her for photobombing Switzer when she had to get hit with pepper-spray in order to be able to carry it.

“She acted like she was coming up to comfort me,” Switzer said. Johnson then made a “V” behind Switzer’s head as a friend took the photo.

They remember her as a woman who, friend Gina Shoars said, “was deathly afraid of guns. She would not touch one.”

Then Johnson decided to arrange a Mother’s Day trip to the gun range for her and her friends last year.

“She got us all set up at the shooting range,” Shoars said. “She was finally was going to overcome her fear. But when it came time, she stayed behind. She couldn’t to it.”

A few months later, though, Johnson bought a gun, learned how to use it and joined a shooting organization.

“Her next thing was going to be a helicopter ride,” Shoars said.

Instead, Johnson perished in the fiery crash in south Modesto. She will be remembered in the formal funeral service. She’ll be remembered on the wall inside the Sheriff’s Department headquarters on Hackett Road in South Modesto.

Christianson said he would welcome a privately funded movement to establish a monument in front of the Sheriff’s Office, akin to the fallen officer memorials in front of the Modesto Police Department and at the California Highway Patrol building in Salida.

But the fallen officer memorials, from the monument at Lakewood Memorial Park to the National Law Enforcement Memorial in Washington, D.C., will remain for sworn officers only.

Memorials for the non-sworn will have to come more nuanced forms.