The case against a Pacific County Sheriff’s Office deputy who had been charged with 11 crimes, including bribery and extortion, is back to the starting point after a conflict for the prosecutor who filed the charges.
Pacific County Prosecutor David Burke said he filed a motion Wednesday to dismiss the case against Deputy Vance Johnson without prejudice after Lewis County Prosecutor Jonathan Meyer realized he had a conflict of interest.
“What that means is that the case can be refiled,” Burke explained. “So I’m in the process of trying to get another prosecutor on board to handle the case.”
The Lewis County Sheriff’s Office investigated the allegations against Johnson, 44, and recommended criminal charges. The case stems from Johnson’s alleged actions after someone threw an egg at his personal vehicle.
According to charging documents, Johnson saw someone throw an egg at his Jeep from a passing car March 28. Witnesses told Lewis County Sheriff’s Office investigators Johnson gave chase, following within 10 feet of the car with his high beams on at speeds up to 75 mph.
The other driver said Johnson eventually cut him off, and he had to brake “pretty violently” to avoid a collision.
He said Johnson got out of the Jeep, “and was making a ‘come on’ motion with his hand and appeared to be reaching for his gun,” according to charging documents.
Weeks later, Johnson allegedly threatened all the people who had been in the car and several of their parents, demanding they pay him $1,500 for the damage or he would file felony charges.
He recognized the driver while he was on duty April 20 and stopped the car, having the driver fill out a statement about the egging incident.
The driver said “he felt obligated to fill out the statement and was told that he was going to ‘get a ride in a cop car’ if he didn’t complete the statement,” the documents state.
Johnson allegedly asked the driver why he left after the original incident.
According to court papers the driver “responded that (Johnson) was very intimidating, he … was very scared and thought the defendant was reaching for a gun. The defendant responded, ‘Yeah I was reaching for my gun.’ The defendant went on to talk about carrying a gun and how he walks in the shadows.”
Johnson is also accused of contacting several parents of the people in the car, also demanding money or he would file charges against the people in the car.
Burke said the prosecutor who picks up the case may be another county prosecutor or someone from the Attorney General’s Office. His office won’t be involved because Johnson is a local deputy and one of the parents he allegedly asked for a bribe works for Burke’s office.
“At this point I don’t know exactly how long or where that’s going to go,” he said. “This will be totally separate from us, I’ll have nothing to do with case. It will just take a while for us to figure out how to proceed. I don’t anticipate anything going forward quickly.”
Johnson had been charged with first-degree extortion, four counts of bribery, five counts of reckless endangerment and one count of reckless driving. The new prosecutor may make different charging decisions.
If the felony extortion and bribery charges are refiled, Johnson would lose his right to own or possess a firearm if convicted.
Burke noted the case would have been somewhat simpler for Meyer since the investigating officers were local to him. Whoever takes up the case may want to conduct additional investigation or request the reports from Lewis County.
“We don’t have a statute of limitation problem, somebody can take a lot of time,” Burke said. “There’s not a legal problem pushing forward. Obviously you want to get these things taken care of as quickly as possible but there’s not a legal impediment (to taking more time).”