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Craig Johnson • 1975-2020
'He went above and beyond in everything': Tulsa Police Sgt. Craig Johnson remembered as 'tenacious investigator,' caring mentor

To anyone familiar with his work habits, it was no mystery why Tulsa Police Sgt. Craig Johnson was on the scene that fateful morning of June 29.

“It wasn’t unusual to hear that Craig was going to back one of his officers on a call,” said Capt. Kim Lee, Johnson’s shift supervisor at the Tulsa Police Department’s Mingo Valley Division.

“He was active, and he was always there with them.”

So from the moment she heard the terrible news — that Johnson and another officer had been shot while on duty — “it wasn’t a question I had to ask: ‘Why was he there?’ I knew exactly why,” Lee added.

Having his officers’ backs — both in the field and out of it — was just who Johnson was, she said, and part of what made him the perfect mentor to young cops.

Johnson, 45, died June 30 after being wounded in that shooting a day earlier. Officer Aurash Zarkeshan was also shot.

A public memorial service for Johnson, with full honors, is set for 1 p.m. Thursday at Victory Church in Tulsa. Masks will be made available for those who attend. Floral Haven Funeral Home in Broken Arrow is handling arrangements.

Zarkeshan, 26, remains hospitalized but is improving, the Police Department reported Tuesday.

A Broken Arrow resident who left behind a wife and two sons, Johnson was a 15-year TPD veteran.

At the time of his death, he was a graveyard shift supervisor, overseeing a squad of 11 officers.

Although they’d had only a short time with him since he moved from the department’s Gilcrease Division in late 2019, Lee and her Mingo Valley colleagues felt Johnson’s influence.

“He taught us a lot — even me as his boss and his supervisor,” she said. “I knew him for nine months, and I’m just so blessed.”

Lee said Johnson had a gift and passion for mentoring younger officers and that his work on the graveyard shift, which is the first stop for many, gave him plenty of opportunities.

Johnson represented “a new way to police and supervise,” she said.

“He cared about the whole person, not just whether they were doing their job correctly. … He was always there to be supportive, always there to encourage, and it was just palpable.”

And Johnson’s officers reciprocated, Lee added.

“I got to see that in full effect at the hospital,” she said. “These guys did not leave his side, and they have not left his side. The entire squad.”

Before Mingo Valley, Johnson had distinguished himself as an investigator and in training new officers.

Lt. Pat Harker was Johnson’s supervisor for four years when he worked with Gilcrease’s Investigations Unit, and trained him when Johnson was promoted to supervisor.

“I told many officers and supervisors that if I could have cloned Craig Johnson as an officer or supervisor, I would have,” Harker said.

“He was the nicest police officer you ever met in your life, one that many young men could emulate. Kind of like the old Michael Jordan thing — ‘be like Mike.’ I say, ‘Be like Craig.’

“He went above and beyond in everything,” Harker said.

Johnson, he added, was “really my go-to guy” and a “tenacious investigator. He would take the investigation as far as he could and then some.”

“There were times I just had to say, ‘OK, we got to leave this for another day. We’ll come back to it.’”

Johnson’s tenacity paid off. He earned high praise from city leaders for helping resolve Tulsa’s chronic copper theft problem.

“It was a big public safety issue,” Harker said, explaining that thieves were stealing copper from street lights, leaving entire stretches of the city in the dark.

Johnson led the successful investigation locally and headed a coalition combating copper thefts statewide. He also helped educate smaller police departments and sheriff’s offices as well as scrap-metal dealers.

Johnson investigated after thieves began targeting a local cable and internet provider, stealing the batteries that powered its services to customers.

His efforts led to multiple arrests, Harker said.

“So not only did you keep your lights on around town, he also worked to make sure you get your cable service,” he said.

Harker said Johnson’s influence with TPD would only have grown in the years to come.

“He was working hard to get ready for his next promotional test,” he said. “I could definitely see him becoming a lieutenant, where he could keep turning out younger officers like him.”

Learning of the shooting in an early morning phone call, Harker felt “shock,” he said, and “immediately prayed and then went to the hospital.”

Harker had been with the department for only a year when it suffered its last line-of-duty death — that of K-9 Officer Dick Hobson, who was fatally shot in 1996.

But if Harker’s mind flashed briefly last week back to that death of a colleague, it immediately returned to the current victims and their loved ones.

Harker said everyone who worked with Johnson knew how devoted he was as a family man.

“He talked about his young sons on a daily basis,” he said. “His family meant the world to him.”

Lee said the word “humility” has kept popping into her head about Johnson the last few days.

“He was a hero, and he didn’t know it. He had no idea that he was so heroic,” she said. “He wouldn’t be able to wrap his brain around all that’s being said about him now.

“I’m hoping that’s people’s takeaway: That if we could all be like Craig, we and everyone else would all be blessed for it,” Lee said.

Harker added: “He was a light. His light shone brightly, and he will be missed greatly.”

Johnson’s survivors include his wife, Kristi Johnson; two sons, Connor and Clinton Johnson; and his parents, Clyde and Cheryl Johnson.

To honor late Tulsa Police Sgt. Craig Johnson, Gov. Kevin Stitt has signed an executive order calling for all American and Oklahoma flags on state property to be lowered to half-staff on Thursday.

“Sgt. Johnson's sacrifice and exemplary service to the Tulsa Police Department and our state will not be forgotten,” Stitt said in a statement. “We will forever remember the heroism, courage and bravery that he displayed while protecting Tulsa for 15 years. I ask Oklahomans to join the First Lady and me in continuing to pray for his family and fellow officers during this time.”

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More than half a million dollars donated for families of slain Tulsa Police Sgt. Craig Johnson, wounded Officer Aurash Zarkeshan

The Tulsa Police Department Foundation and a local media organization raised more than half a million dollars Wednesday to benefit the families of two police officers who were shot, one fatally, last week.

Tulsa police officers, foundation members and Cox Media Group staff collected donations throughout the day at LaFortune Park, 5500 S. Yale Ave. The funds will go to support the families of Sgt. Craig Johnson, who was killed, and Officer Aurash Zarkeshan, who is recovering in a hospital after being shot during a traffic stop.

“For the families, obviously they’re struggling emotionally and spiritually and physically,” Tulsa Police Officer Jon Grafton said. “This little bit? Give a penny, and it helps.”

Grafton spent the hours before his shift Wednesday helping collect donations. Grafton said the money will help see Johnson’s and Zarkeshan’s families through some of their financial uncertainties in the wake of the shootings.

Tulsa Police Chief Wendell Franklin said $17,000 had been raised by 8 a.m., just three hours after collection efforts at LaFortune Park began. Mayor G.T. Bynum said more than $100,000 was raised in about four hours.

But by Wednesday evening, Bynum said in a Facebook post that the fundraiser had netted more than $515,000.

In-person fundraising efforts wrapped up at 7 p.m. Donations can still be made online directly to the Tulsa Police Department Foundation.

Grafton and Franklin remarked on the outpouring of support and solidarity from the Tulsa community and community at large. Franklin said the fundraising efforts will support Johnson’s family and Zarkeshan and his family through “long-standing financial impacts.”

“This is just another way … for people to give back to these officers who have given so much,” Franklin said.

Johnson and Zarkeshan were shot early June 29 during a traffic stop in east Tulsa. Johnson, who had been with the Tulsa Police Department 15 years, succumbed to his injuries June 30.

Authorities allege that David Anthony Ware, 32, shot Johnson and Zarkeshan during a traffic stop. Ware refused to get out of his car when the officers told him the vehicle would be towed due to owed taxes, police said. A struggle ensued while the officers tried to get Ware out of the car, and Ware pulled a handgun from under the driver’s seat and shot both officers multiple times, police said.

Johnson’s public funeral will be held at 1 p.m. Thursday at Victory Church in Tulsa. Masks will be provided for attendees.

Zarkeshan reportedly is awake and communicating with his family in the hospital and is improving day by day, police have said.

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Stetson Payne contributed to this story.

Masks shouldn't be a mandate, mayor says, but an order is coming if Tulsa cases keep skyrocketing

Mayor G.T. Bynum says he shouldn’t have to order Tulsans to wear a mask but will soon if soaring COVID-19 cases don’t slow, with the county’s top health official holding off on that recommendation a few days to confirm whether the trend is here to stay.

Bynum said Wednesday that this week is the first time hospital leaders have expressed concern to him about what might happen to capacity if the upward trajectory goes on uninterrupted. Bruce Dart, executive director of the Tulsa Health Department, said he will ask local municipalities to implement face covering orders if the exponential rise in cases continues as expected over the next few days.

Both urged residents to take the simple measure of voluntarily wearing a face covering to help protect others and keep the economy open.

Bynum said he views a mask mandate as a last resort to preserve hospital capacity before potentially considering rolling back to an earlier phase of reopening. But the mayor feels it shouldn’t come down to his ordering Tulsans to wear masks.

“Throughout this you’ve had that tension back and forth between public health and the economy,” Bynum said. “When it comes to wearing a mask, this is one of those things where it benefits both.

“Because if people don’t wear masks and this virus continues to spread, then we will be faced with a situation where we have to again talk about rolling back the reopening measures that have gone in place and that will unquestionably hurt our local economy.”

Wednesday marked the fifth consecutive day that Oklahoma’s seven-day moving average of new COVID-19 cases set a record, now at 525 per day after 673 were reported for Tuesday. Tulsa County’s seven-day average hit 147 cases per day after 206 were reported for Tuesday, nearing its recent peak average of 148 on June 25.

Statewide, COVID-19 hospitalizations have been streaking upward since mid-June. There were 453 hospitalizations on Tuesday. Oklahoma’s peak is 497 on March 31 — the first time the state began publishing that data.

Tulsa County residents hospitalized for the coronavirus are at all-time highs in the lower 80s, according to the Tulsa Health Department’s online dashboard.

“Give us a couple more days (before recommending mask orders) to make sure that the trends are going in the direction that we think they’re going,” Dart said.

Bynum said overall hospital capacity in Tulsa remains strong but that hospital leaders now are expressing some concern about the future on the current trajectory.

The Oklahoma State Department of Health reported Wednesday evening that 19% of intensive care unit beds statewide were available Tuesday. There were reportedly 185 of 1,000 open, according to a bed survey with an 83% response rate.

There were 1,441 medical-surgical beds available of 6,037, or near 24% open.

Available capacity is trending downward from highs in the mid-40% for ICU beds and low 50% for medical-surgical beds in April.

Jamie Calkins, an OSU Medical Center spokesperson, in an email stated that 10 of its 125 overflow units for COVID-19 in Tulsa are outfitted, of which eight are occupied by positive patients. She said another 40 beds can be “quickly converted” when needed.

“We are working with the State to monitor COVID numbers so that we can outfit the other rooms,” Calkins wrote in a statement.

The state’s contract with OSU Med for the overflow beds is in its most recent 30-day lease, which runs from June 23 to July 22, Calkins said.

The Norman City Council voted 8-1 on Tuesday night to immediately enact a mandatory mask policy.

The Stillwater City Council will consider a face coverings mandate during a special meeting at 5:30 p.m. Thursday.

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As Tulsa County Commissioner Karen Keith pushes for mask mandate, Expo Square weekend event won't require them

Tulsa County Commissioner Karen Keith said Wednesday that she would like to see the city require people to wear masks in public to slow the spread of COVID-19.

“We’ve had another big surge, and we’re just going to have to wrap our arms around this,” Keith said. “This is all about preserving our small businesses, our retail and our restaurants. This is something everybody can do to help them.

“If we don’t get our arms wrapped around this, we can face another shutdown. We just can’t afford it.”

Keith’s comments came just days before Expo Square — which is overseen by the county fair board — plays host to the popular An Affair of the Heart show in the River Spirit Expo.

Keith, the current fair board chairwoman, said visitors to the event are being encouraged to wear masks but that they will not be required to do so. She said she had wanted to require masks at the event and even tried to convene a special fair board meeting this week to discuss it.

“I wasn’t getting any traction” for a meeting, she said. “I tried my darndest.”

Tulsa Health Department Executive Director Bruce Dart early last week visited the fairgrounds to review its safety plans for An Affair of the Heart and told Keith afterward that he was satisfied with the preparations. But on Wednesday, Dart told the Tulsa World that COVID-19 cases have been trending upward since then and that he “strongly encourages the use of face coverings for everyone outside their home.”

Expo Square will have masks available at the doors of An Affair of the Heart as well as hand-sanitizing stations and monitors continuously cleaning restrooms.

An Affair of the Heart organizers also plan to provide masks and a hand-sanitizing station, and event staff and vendors will be required to wear masks.

Asked whether she thought a large event like An Affair of the Heart should be held while COVID-19 numbers are surging, Keith said, “If everyone is wearing a mask, it would be OK.”

Keith could end up getting a mask requirement anyway. Dart and Mayor G.T. Bynum indicated Wednesday that a citywide mask mandate could be coming soon.

“If we continue to see an exponential rise from cases, which frankly we expect over the next few days, I will be asking our local mayors and city councils to make face coverings mandatory,” Dart said at an afternoon news conference.

Tulsa County has had 4,571 cases of COVID-19, including 206 new cases reported Wednesday. Seventy-two people in the county have died of the disease since March, Dart said.

The county’s seven-day rolling average, 146.7, is nearing the previous peak of 147.6 reached two weeks prior.

Keith isn’t just using her platform as a public official to encourage Tulsans to wear masks. She’s also deployed the iconic Golden Driller to help get the word out.

With help from Expo Square CEO and President Mark Andrus, Keith had a blue 6-foot-by-6-foot mask placed on the Driller’s face Wednesday morning at a cost of about $1,150.

It’s not the citywide mask mandate she’s hoping for, but she believes it could help.

“I think it is a good idea because the more we normalize wearing the masks, the more buy-in we will get,” Keith said.

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