JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Officer Jennifer Johnson with the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office says February 23 started off like any other day, with her responding to a simple shoplifting call at a Walmart in Jacksonville’s Pine Forest area.
“None of us knew that within a few hours, I would be beaten unconscious by a shoplifter who was on a mission to hurt anyone in his path,” Johnson said at a fundraiser held for her Friday evening.
Johnson would later regain consciousness but with a broken jaw, a concussion, and multiple other severe injuries. Furthermore, Johnson says, she just narrowly escaped with her life.
“I call Sergeant [Steve] Rudlaff my angel on Earth, because I know in my gut had he not driven past me and seen the beating in progress, I would not be here standing in front of all of you,” Johnson added on.
Now, the Signal 34 Foundation held a fundraiser Friday evening to raise money and show support for Officer Johnson, who told Action News Jax in an exclusive interview at the event that she’s doing much better, but still has her bad days.
“I have a lot of metal in my mouth that you may or may not be able to see as I talk … a bunch of screws in my upper jaw, so it’s painful at times,” Johnson explained. “I definitely have good days and bad days and now I’m having much better days.”
And Action News Jax had the chance to speak to the surgeon who operated on Johnson at Friday’s fundraising event. He said Johnson’s made promising progress in her recovery, but still has a long road ahead. Nonetheless, it will be one that she won’t have to go through alone, as her fellow JSO officers and community members are rallying to show their support.
“We’re here to support you, we’re here to be behind you while you recover, and hopefully we’re gonna be here behind you when you fully recover and come back to work,” said Kevin Munger, the fundraiser organizer and founder of Signal 34.
And Johnson says she fully plans to return to the force, possibly even as soon as by the end of 2023.
Meanwhile, the man who attacked Johnson, 40-year-old Joseph Merrill, is now facing multiple criminal charges for his role in the incident, including a felony charge of first-degree attempted murder. Merrill is next due next in court on May 5 at 9 a.m. for his pretrial hearing.
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