MILLIS — Less than three weeks ago, Bryan Johnson was beaming in a suit and tie as he stood before town selectmen, who had voted unanimously to make him a permanent police officer on the small force where he had been a part-time officer and dispatcher.
“This is a blessing,” said the 24-year-old Johnson, with the police chief and his parents sitting behind him at the hearing.
On Friday, police officials said he will be fired and face charges for allegedly making a false claim that he had been shot at by a passing driver, a report that triggered a massive response by heavily armed police who cordoned off parts of the town for hours on Wednesday and led authorities to close the public schools.
“I know I speak for the entire department and the police community when I say that we were shocked by what’s happened,” said Sergeant William Dwyer, who has been running the Millis Police Department this week.
Johnson allegedly confessed to using a handgun to shoot his police cruiser three times in a wooded area of town, then getting back in the cruiser, driving it, and “blacking out’’ just before the vehicle crashed into trees and caught fire, police said.
Johnson’s alleged confession to State Police came after he told them several false stories about what happened, according to a Millis police report filed in Wrentham District Court. The report said Johnson will be charged with misleading a criminal investigation, communicating false information to emergency services, malicious destruction of property, and unlawfully firing his gun.
Johnson is in an undisclosed “medical facility’’ and will remain there for the next six to 10 days, Dwyer said at a news conference Friday afternoon. “As soon as he is cleared at the medical facility, we will execute the warrant,’’ he said. He did not say what Johnson was being treated for.
The four-page police report filed in court Friday detailed Johnson’s alleged actions, but did not address what motivated him.
“We’re human beings,’’ Dwyer said at the news conference. “And obviously, something’s wrong. And hopefully, he gets the help that he needs.’’
Dwyer added, “And when he gets the help that he needs, you know what? I will still be his friend.’’
Those who have known Johnson for years said they were astonished to learn that he had been arrested.
“Nothing I can think would explain this,” said Pedro Henrique Jungermann, a close friend from high school. “I’m still surprised and confused. None of this really makes sense to me.”
He said Johnson had long wanted to be a police officer, noting how two years ago he graduated with a criminal justice degree from Western New England University in Springfield.
He described Johnson as “very responsible, mature, hard-working, and smart.”
“He didn’t do the crazy stuff that all the other kids did,” Jungermann said. “He was the type of friend who was always there when you needed him.”
According to the police report, Johnson initially claimed he saw a “black-barreled handgun pointed out of the driverside window by a white tanned male.’’ That man fired two shots “directly through the left side of his front windshield.’’
Johnson said the man in the pickup truck pulled over, and Johnson then took defensive action, positioning the cruiser at an angle to protect himself from further gunfire. “For an unknown reason, Officer Johnson accelerated quickly and the vehicle’’ ended up in the woods.
Johnson told police in that initial interview that he climbed out of his cruiser and fired three shots at the truck and its driver, who then sped away from the scene.
But in later conversations and interviews with State Police and Millis officers, Johnson’s account repeatedly changed until he finally admitted “he was NOT shot at as first reported,’’ according to the report.
Ultimately, police said, Johnson told investigators he fired two shots into the windshield of his cruiser and a third shot into the rear of the vehicle while stopped in a conservation area on Forest Road. He got back into the cruiser, driving on Forest Road again.
“Officer Johnson reports ‘blacking out’ before driving his cruiser into a wooded area off the westbound lane of the roadway. After the vehicle came to a rest and began filling with smoke due to the vehicle catching fire, Officer Johnson exited the cruiser and removed his duty weapon from his holster, walked to the front of the cruiser and fired three shots.’’
Police wrote that Johnson next used his police radio.
“It’s at this time that Officer Johnson called into the station to report being fired upon,’’ police wrote in the report.
Dwyer said police have revoked Johnson’s license to carry firearms and have seized his department-issued Sig Sauer P229 pistol and two other pistols, Dwyer said.
Asked if Johnson was remorseful, Dwyer said, “I’m going to say I’m sure he is. I know him personally. Again, I’m not going to retreat from the fact that I thought he was going to be a great addition to our police department. He’s a great person. I’m sure this is a very tough situation for him as well as it is for our department.”
Johnson is a 2009 graduate of Millis High School, where he was the cocaptain of the basketball team. The sport continued to draw his attention as an adult, as he was involved in the town’s youth basketball program, according to social media postings.
On Thursday, a man at a Walnut Hill Road address listed in public records for Johnson refused to comment and said, “You guys need to leave, and leave now, please.”
Before selectmen voted to approve Johnson’s appointment to the force on Aug. 17, Chief Keith F. Edison called him “an exemplary employee.”
On Friday, Selectman Christopher Smith said he had heard only good things about Johnson.
“By all accounts, he was doing very well at the police department,” Smith said. “This seems very uncharacteristic of him.”
He called the incident especially unnerving, because he knows Johnson’s family. “They’re a very nice family, a very good family,” he said.
Johnson’s burned-out police Ford Explorer was pulled from the woods off Forest Road about 50 yards southeast of the intersection with Birch Street late Wednesday night. Dwyer said Friday that the 2014 SUV, valued at an estimated $28,000, was a total loss.
Dwyer said Millis officers worry that the incident has eroded public confidence in law enforcement. But Dwyer said he hopes that the department’s speed in identifying the incident as an alleged hoax would send a signal that no one is above the law.
“These things happen in law enforcement. We are not perfect,’’ he said. “But people, hopefully, will see when we have something like this, we handle it properly, and they are treated no differently than anyone else.’’
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