‘A trooper’s trooper …’

By Bill Kirby Jr.

Let there be no question about this decision.


The governor got this onevright in selecting Col. Freddy Johnson Jr. as commander of the N.C. State Highway Patrol. “He’s a trooper’s trooper,” says S.D. “Deric” Reed, himself a 16-year Master Trooper, who grew up in south Cumberland County with Johnson. “He’s a trooper’s commander, because he really believes in and loves the troopers on the street.

“He has always kept his focus on the men and women on the streets, and never forgotten where he came from. “He’s definitely,” Reed, 48, says, “the right man for the job.” Freddy Johnson Jr. walks tall and statuesque. His is a gait of assuredness.


He is polished, and the personification of a state highway patrolman, with gray uniform shirt tucked tight and the signature campaign hat with the pinched four corners atop his head and always perfectly in place. His is a demeanor of purpose, when guarding the state’s roadways, byways and highways, and Freddy Johnson has been that kind of trooper since taking his oath in the name of public safety since becoming an honor graduate of the N.C. State Highway Patrol Basic Training School, No. 1 in the Class of 1995.


Johnson becomes the 28th NCSHP commander since the NCSHP was established in 1929 by the General Assembly, replacing Col.
Glenn McNeill, who retired on April 1. The Col. Freddy Johnson Jr. governor chose Johnson on April 7 as McNeill’s successor to lead the NCSHP of more than 1,600 troopers patrolling more than 80,000 roadway miles in 100 statewide counties. “Commander Johnson has shown his dedication to keeping North Carolina safe with his distinguished law enforcement career,” Gov. Cooper tells CityView Magazine. “He is committed to his community and will continue to make North Carolina safer and stronger in this new role.”


Erik A. Holder, who is Secretary of the N.C. Department of Public Safety, joins the governor in support of the new commander. “I am extremely grateful to Governor Cooper for selecting Johnson as the new commander of the State Highway Patrol, as he will be an integral part of my DPS leadership team,” says Hooks, a Spring Lake native. “Commander Johnson’s leadership throughout his career and in his community will serve him well. As a fellow Cumberland County native and a career public servant, I am particularly pleased to have Colonel Johnson take on this important role.”

Out Stoney Point way For Freddy Johnson Jr., 49, his ascent to lead the NCSHP began at Stoney Point Fire Department, where his father, Freddy Johnson Sr., was chief of what then was an all-volunteer department, and Freddy Johnson Jr. was growing up in the brick home with the rail fence adjacent to the fire house. And it was there where Rudy Hines, a highway patrol sergeant, took on part-time work as a firefighter.


“Rudy Hines was a trooper stationed here and joined the fire department,” Freddy Johnson Sr. says. “I remember the first time Freddy met him. That nailed it for him, and Freddy wanted to be a highway patrolman since he was in high school.” He first would follow in his father’s footsteps of a firefighter and law enforcement officer.


“He grew up in the fire department,” Freddy Johnson Sr. says. “We only had a couple of fulltime firefighters. But he was exposed to
major fires and accidents. He found himself at a young age commanding fires, and he did a great job.


He became a credentialed fire officer. He is well-versed at decision-making, and still is deputy fire chief here.”


‘If you are going to do this’ But the NCSHP always was on Freddy Johnson Jr.’s mind. “He said one day, ‘Daddy, I’m putting in my application for the state highway patrol,’” his father says. “I said, ‘If you are going to do this, I want you to go in with a mindset that you will
run the highway patrol, and one day be the commander.”


Benny Nichols is the retired City of Fayetteville fire chief, who lives across from the Stoney Point Fire Department and has watched

Freddy Johnson Jr. grow up from boyhood. “Since his early days as a child around the
Stoney Point Fire Department, he has always been a highly-motivated, results-oriented
individual and is a person who was always willing to go the extra mile to reach his goals,
while learning along the way to become the best firefighter and NCSHP trooper,” Nichols
says. “The example of this was his driven desire to always become a NCSHP trooper from an
early age. “While employed full-time as a firefighter at the SPFD, he pursued his post-high school education at Fayetteville State University to earn a degree in criminal justice before he
would even consider applying to the NCSHP. “He brings a high level of the motivation,
confidence and a skill-set second to none to lead the NCSHP,” Nichols says. “He has always
had the respect of his peers and leaders at the fire department and the NCSHP. He brings a
unique emergency response perspective to the state of North Carolina, which isn’t possessed
by many first-responders. He is trained and is certified in all aspects of the emergency
response community, and he can function comfortably in all these disciplines, which
made him the best trained and most qualified NCSHP trooper for the position of NCSHP
commander. A great choice.”

‘A model trooper’

Freddie Johnson Jr. began his patrol career assigned to Robeson County for more than
14 years after being trained under now retired patrolman Gary Turlington, who was an
armorer for the NCSHP. Turlington saw something in the rookie patrolman. “I was not easy on him,” says Turlington, 56, now a training officer with the Bladen County Sheriff’s Office. “I was hard on him. I’m also the one who tased him and pepper-sprayed him. I said all along he would be where he is at. I had no doubt he was destined for high rank, and he would be a commander. I’m immensely proud of him.”


And like S.D. “Deric” Reed, other active NCSHP troopers say so, too. “He was an early example of a model trooper before I became a trooper myself,” Sgt. Atlas McVicker says. “As a young trooper, I was stationed in Robeson County, where Colonel Johnson was my sergeant. I have gotten to experience his skillful leadership firsthand. In all the time that I have known Colonel
Johnson, I have seen him take on challenge after challenge and excel at all ranks.


“Colonel Johnson embodies the core values of the Highway Patrol. “He is the right person to lead the Highway Patrol into the next chapter,” McVicker says.


“I know that Colonel Johnson will succeed, as he has in all his prior roles, because he has
a strong moral compass, undeniable integrity and a passion for taking care of others.”
Lt. Jeremy Brewington is a veteran patrolman.


“His leadership style and ability to connect with those under his command is second to
none,” Brewington, 44, says. “He leaves a trail of success in each position he has held, and his
latest promotion to colonel will most likely follow suit. Colonel Johnson has maintained
the same mindset as ‘Freddy’ had 20 years ago, as we patrolled the streets of Cumberland
County. Treating everyone equally and with respect has always been a quality that came
natural for him. Colonel Johnson will bring innovative ideas and maintain the confidence
of troopers working the road.”

Rudy Hines, the now retired highway patrolman whose presence at the Stoney Point Fire Department in 1985 inspired a young teenager to pursue an NCSHP career, recalls Freddy
Johnson Jr.’s phone call to tell him of the governor’s appointment. “Freddy is like a second son to me,” Hines, 65, says “I met him when he was about 14 or 15 years old. I coached him and mentored him.


I violated every rule and policy. I put him in the car with me. That hooked him, and the rest is history. Every time he would call to tell me he was being promoted to first sergeant or major, I would always tell him, ‘Freddy, never forget where you came from.’ When he called me to tell me about the governor’s appointment, I cried and then Freddy and I cried together.”


‘A huge responsibility’ Law enforcement and emergency response is just a way of life out Stoney Point way, where Freddy Johnson Sr. and Clarkie Johnson raised their two sons and a daughter to not only be their best, but to be their best in public service for others. Sean Johnson,
too, is a NCSHP sergeant. Tara Johnson Whitman is a sergeant and training officer with the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office.


“My mother was a disciplinarian,” Freddy Johnson Sr. says. “I raised my boys and our daughter the way I was raised. I am very, very proud for Freddy. Our entire family is proud. It is an accomplishment.” But an accomplishment with a mother’s advice for the new commander.
“When he called to tell me, I cried,” says Clarkie Johnson, who may not herself be
in the law enforcement game, but the new NCSHP commander will tell you his mama
can cook a mean meatloaf like none other, and her banana pudding and peach cobbler
aren’t bad, either. “I told him it is going to be a huge responsibility. He will need to surround
himself with good people, and he would need a lot of prayers. And then I was crying again. It is
a huge responsibility.” A responsibility, the new commander says, he shares with those who will serve under his leadership.


“First, allow me to express my sincere gratitude and appreciation for what all of you do each and every day,” Col. Freddy Johnson Jr. would write on April 13 to every NCSHP employee. “Our patrol retirees, all who have come before us, have established the very foundation of what the N.C. State Highway Patrol, circa 1929, is today, and that foundation remains cogent, vigorous and ever-present as a result of the hard work, commitment and dedication of our active patrol members, all who demonstrate these values 24-7 on a daily basis in the name of public highway safety.

“I wish for each of you to know that I am more than honored to be appointed by Governor Roy Cooper as your N.C. State Highway Patrol commander. I am deeply honored and humbled to serve as your new commander, and grateful for the trust, confidence and faith that Governor Cooper has placed in my leadership abilities to carry forth our proud and time-honored N.C. State Highway Patrol organization.


“And I would be remiss not to acknowledge N.C. Department of Public Safety Secretary
Erik A. Hooks for his confidence and support of my appointment,” Freddy Johnson Jr.
said. “As a team, our goals can be achieved, and as a patrol family, we can celebrate the
accomplishments that our achievements will foster in the tomorrows to come.”

Epilogue
He has been a state trooper 26 years. He has pulled his share of motorists for exceeding speed laws. He has brought motorists who drink and drive to know the perils of the danger they present to themselves and the innocent. He has investigated and seen the carnage of broken bones, shattered lives and lives lost on the state highways. He knows what it is to see a fellow trooper knock on a widow’s door to break the news that a slain trooper will not be coming home, his cruiser to be draped in purple and black in memory that a patrolman served proudly in
his time.

“Over the course of my career, I have unfortunately delivered several life-altering messages to families about the loss of someone dear to them,” Freddy Johnson Jr. says. “You never forget them and walking up to their house. I have never had to deliver a line-ofduty death message to the family of a law enforcement officer, and I pray I never will have to, but I have been to scenes where this has occurred, and it weighs on me to this day.”


He is polished, and the personification of a state highway patrolman with gray uniform shirt tucked tight and the signature campaign hat with the pinched four corners atop his head, and perfectly in place. He is the governor’s choice.


The governor’s choice, and something more.


“He’s a trooper’s trooper,” says S.D. “Deric” Reed, the veteran trooper. “He’s a trooper’s commander.”

Bill Kirby Jr. can be reached at bkirby@ cityviewnc.com, billkirby49@gmail.com or 910-624-1961. Read more of his columns in our weekly Insider Newsletter. Subscribe at cityviewnc.com or text CityView to 22999.