U.S. Army veteran, law enforcement officer in prison for legally carrying a firearm in New Jersey. (Op-ed)

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This editorial is brought to you by a staff writer for Law Enforcement Today.

NEW JERSEY – If you’re anything like me, you’re about to get really pissed off.

After writing an article on LEOSA and the State of New Jersey’s horrid history with refusing to follow the laws listed within it, I was contacted by a woman named Tiffany Johnson.

Tiffany is the sister of Dana Johnson, who is a US Army Veteran who served for eight years as an MP during Operation Iraqi Freedom and a former Federal Bureau of Prisons (FBOP) officer.

Oh yeah. And she’s in prison.

LEOSA, for those of you who aren’t familiar, is the Law Enforcement Officers’ Safety Act, signed into law by President George W. Bush with the intention of providing certain protections for qualified law enforcement officers regarding the concealed carrying of a firearm.

Specifically, with certain exceptions, it grants law enforcement the right to carry a concealed firearm across jurisdictional lines anywhere in the United States regardless of the state’s or local entity’s laws.

This would mean that a qualified officer, meaning actively serving, retired after having served 10 years, or medically retired, can carry a firearm off-duty concealed in even a state as restrictive as New Jersey.

Dana Johnson met the definition of a qualified officer, as she was serving as a Recreational Specialist with the FBOP Detention Center in Philadelphia. A recreation specialist is someone who is tasked with offering recreational activities to the inmates, such as programs, sports, etc.

Dana is permitted as a part of her job to carry a weapon on duty when it would be in the course of her duty, such as during a prisoner transport. She has arresting authority on BOP premises, as well as off premises for crimes such as assaulting an officer and escape.

She is a law enforcement officer and therefore covered under the LEOSA act.

And yet, here we are.

On March 26, 2018, Dana was involved in an incident where she was accused of brandishing a weapon in a threatening manner.

Officers responded to her residence to discuss the incident with her, and at that time they asked her if she owned a firearm. She said that she did.

Dana gave the officers consent to retrieve her unloaded firearm, a Glock 26 handgun, from the center console of her vehicle.

Despite having produced her TWO forms of federal law enforcement officer identification, she was charged under NJSA 2C:39-5(b) with unlawful possession of a weapon.

The FBOP Federal Detention Center of Philadelphia suspended Dana without pay in June of 2018 due to the accusations.

During a four-day trial in February 2019, Dana was found to be not guilty on the intent to harm and aggravated assault.

She was, however, found guilty of unlawful possession of a weapon.

I have read through hours of court transcripts, letters, and other documentation, and I can say with firm conviction that Dana Johnson has been wrongfully imprisoned.

The judge in the case clearly did not understand LEOSA, nor Dana’s position and protection under the act.

Despite the judge knowing full well that Dana was a law enforcement officer, she was confused by the title of Recreational Specialist. Or at least it appeared as if she was.

Additionally, she was mislead by questioning, where the prosecution claimed that the FBOP assign employee’s the “moniker” of “law enforcement officer.”

The title of “law enforcement officer” is not a “moniker” that the bureau decided to assign to its employees. It’s what they are under federal law. She went through her academy, she earned the title, she continued to train in order to maintain the title and position.

Which includes training on her firearm and qualifying yearly. You know, like law enforcement officers are required to do.

The state does not have the authority to interpret on its own the definition of “law enforcement officer,” which is what this judge was attempting to do.

In March of 2019, Dana was fired from her job. Ironically, the law used to justify her firing was 5 USC § 7371(b) “Any law enforcement officer who is convicted of a felony shall be removed from employment as a law enforcement officer…”

Dana was sentenced May 23, 2019 to five years in state prison with three-and-a-half years parole eligibility.

During the trial, the judge had ruled that LEOSA could not be mentioned because of her denying Dana’s Motion to Dismiss the unlawful possession of a firearm.

Additionally, Lieutenant Michael Bridges, who took the original call when Dana was arrested, was brought in to testify. However, they limited his testimony and said that he could only comment on Dana’s character, not on her law enforcement status.

Because of this incompetent judge and unfair trial, the jury wasn’t even made aware that Dana was a law enforcement officer with LEOSA privileges.

The jury was even given a typed statement saying to disregard the testimony they heard regarding her working for the BOP, which apparently Lt. Bridges had mentioned before the State’s objection.

I’ll be completely honest with you, dear reader. I can’t understand why the hell Dana is in prison right now.

Dana has the backing of her local Fraternal Order of Police chapter. Her union, AFGE, where she paid dues, did not support her at all.

The Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 222 Trustee, Raoul Watson, has spent countless hours attempting to help Dana. He has written letters, specifically to Representative Cory Booker, but, likely due to his complete anti-gun stance, Raoul hasn’t ever received a reply.

Not only is Dana still sitting in prison, but she filed for an appeal eight months ago (EIGHT!) and they still have not assigned a public defender to her to fight.

The state is clearly using her as a political pawn in their feud with the Federal Government. They don’t want people to have guns, so they’re “sticking it to the man” on issues like LEOSA using a law-abiding military veteran and law enforcement officer to do it.

This case can’t be fought at a federal level until it’s overturned at the state level, which is another reason why it appears the State of New Jersey is purposefully denying her a public defender.

Raoul has found an attorney that believes in this case and is willing to take it on for Dana, but, again, it can’t be fought federally at this time.

Quite frankly, this is an outrage and a complete failure of our criminal justice system.

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Murdered officer's grave desecrated before headstone even placed

Dana has never been in trouble before, ever. This is her first “offense,” although I hate to use that word to describe this situation.

I was able to speak to Dana with the help of her sister Tiffany via email. Dana said that she is holding up ok inside the prison, but also stated:

“Most importantly, my name and reputation have been ruined, all because a bias judge and state prosecutor showed unconstitutional discrimination and purposely ignored the facts and the law.

“This is another unfortunate example of the lengths to which some judges and prosecutors will go to circumvent and manipulate the justice system.”

Readers, Dana needs help. She needs US to fight because the State of New Jersey is clearly abandoning her to rot in jail.

This is not an acceptable way to treat our hero military veterans and our brave and honorable law enforcement officers.

A change.org petition has been created for Dana, called Justice For Dana J. It can be found HERE. Please take a few minutes and fill out the form to support this hero.

If you have even more time to put into this, we would encourage you to send a letter to Governor Phil Murphy. You can send a message via email by clicking HERE.

I wish I had a happy ending to this nightmare of a story, but unfortunately that’s not the case. Not yet, anyway.

Law Enforcement Today is committed to continuing to follow Dana’s story and to help her in any way we can.

Check back for updates on this case and in the meantime…pray for Dana!

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