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Originally published February 13, 2010 at 7:38 PM | Page modified February 14, 2010 at 6:07 PM

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State trooper shot in head, lives

A Washington State Patrol trooper survived an attempted execution early Saturday morning, adding to law-enforcement fears that they are being targeted for violence.

Seattle Times staff reporters

A Washington State Patrol trooper survived an attempted execution early Saturday morning, adding to law-enforcement fears that they are being targeted for violence.

Just after midnight, Trooper Scott Johnson, a decorated 25-year veteran, was processing the car of a drunken-driving suspect in downtown Long Beach, Pacific County, when a "scruffy-looking" man emerged out of the dark, according to the State Patrol.

The man mumbled something, and Johnson acknowledged him. When Johnson turned his attention back to the car, the man drew a small-caliber pistol and fired twice at the back of the trooper's head. The gunman then ran away.

One bullet grazed Johnson's ear. The other remained lodged in the back of his head. Remarkably, Johnson was in stable condition at a Portland hospital — alert, cracking jokes and able to describe the gunman to investigators and take a call from Gov. Chris Gregoire.

"I'll tell you what, the good Lord or somebody was looking out for him," said Long Beach Police Chief Flint Wright, who visited Johnson, a well-known local figure, at the hospital.

The incident comes amid one of the bloodiest stretches for Washington law enforcement in at least 50 years. Nine law-enforcement officers have been shot since Halloween, and six of them died. They include four Lakewood police officers — Sgt. Mark Renninger and Officers Tina Griswold, Ronald Owens and Greg Richards — killed in the deadliest single attack on police in state history.

"This is constantly on our minds," said State Patrol Capt. Robert Johnson, no relation to Scott Johnson, at an afternoon news conference. "It's a trend the likes of which we do not recall seeing."

After K-9 units and a State Patrol airplane conducted a search early Saturday, more than 60 officers from jurisdictions around the area began going house by house in Long Beach, a resort town on the Pacific Coast. The Washington State Patrol Troopers Association was offering a $25,000 reward, and Tacoma-Pierce County Crime Stoppers offered $1,000 for information leading to an arrest.

"I am troubled that we've had yet another police officer ambushed while performing what should have been a simple law-enforcement task," State Patrol Chief John Batiste said in a statement. Batiste joined Johnson's family at Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) Hospital in Portland, where the trooper was being treated.

Routine arrest

Around midnight, Trooper Jesse Greene pulled over a woman in Long Beach on suspicion of drunken driving. Johnson, working solo in a patrol cruiser, arrived at 12:20 a.m., allowing Greene to take the driver in for processing.

A tow-truck driver arrived and was preparing to tow the car when the shooter suddenly appeared. The man exchanged words with Johnson and opened fire at 12:40 a.m. Johnson got off a shot, but there was no indication at the scene that the man was wounded, said Patrol Sgt. Freddy Williams.

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The tow-truck driver, George Hill, radioed in the shooting.

Johnson was first taken to a Long Beach hospital, then driven to OHSU. Although the bullet remained in his head and Johnson was in pain, he was interviewed by Portland police detectives.

Johnson and Hill gave a detailed description of the attacker: a man between 35 and 40 years old, unshaven, between 5 foot 10 and 5 foot 11, 185 to 200 pounds, wearing a dark, insulated shirt and possibly a knit cap.

The State Patrol released a sketch of the man late Saturday. Investigators interviewed the drunken-driving suspect but found no reason to believe she had any involvement with the shooter, Williams said.

Law-enforcement officers from Oregon and Washington have dropped in on Johnson and found him alert, conscious, even joking.

Wright, the Long Beach police chief, said Johnson joked to him, "My supervisor needs to know I'm on OT for all this." Wright said of Johnson, "I've known him 20-plus years. He's a great guy. He loves being a cop."

"A local boy"

Johnson has spent nearly all of his 25-year State Patrol career in Southwest Washington. He graduated from South Bend High in 1980; his parents still live there. Johnson, who has four adult children, also owns Johnson & Sons Excavating in Naselle and employs his father as a manager.

"This is a neighbor, this is a friend," Long Beach Mayor Bob Andrew said in an interview Saturday, calling Johnson "pretty much a local boy."

He said residents were experiencing "a little bit of shock because usually we're insulated from some of the big crime issues that happen in large cities."

In 2004, Johnson was named Trooper of the Year by the Ilwaco American Legion Post. He would have won it before but had steered the honor to other troopers, according to a feature story on Johnson in the Chinook Observer in Long Beach.

"Everybody knows I like to talk," he said at the awards ceremony. He joked that his dress shoes were so old their soles were disintegrating even as he crossed the stage.

A search for gunman

Teams of law-enforcement officers from coastal jurisdictions and the State Patrol, working in 12-hour shifts, planned to canvass Long Beach, then comb homes up the 13-mile Long Beach peninsula, said Williams, the State Patrol spokesman.

Pacific County Prosecutor David Burke said his office was gathering information in case a search warrant is needed. "We're not there yet," he said late Saturday afternoon.

Earlier in the day, search efforts involved a roadblock outside of Ilwaco, but the roadblock was lifted in late morning.

Williams said the State Patrol had "no information" about the identity of the shooter. The State Patrol is soliciting tips at 1-800-283-7808.

"They're pulling over almost everybody, checking our rigs. They're doing their darnedest to find him," said Natasha Luce, bartender at the Crab Pot restaurant near the shooting scene. Customers weren't scared, she said: "I'm sure if you went outside and hollered, 'Help!' there would be about 10 cops here in a second."

Staff reporter Hal Bernton contributed to this report from Portland. Jonathan Martin: 206-464-2605 or jmartin@seattletimes.com

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