Compromised detective

Perhaps the biggest mystery of this case is why Long Beach homicide detectives made so many huge mistakes.

On March 4, 2014, Hon. Judith L. Meyer signed a search warrant granting LBPD Homicide Detectives Todd Johnson and Roger Zottneck enormous power to search Dana’s residence, vehicles, and possessions for “any evidence related to the possible crime of murder.” The search warrant specifically commanded the police to search for clothing, blood, and “any instrument that could cause any injury condusive to that of which Dana Jones received.” [sic]

LBPD Homicide Detective Todd Johnson at work.

And yet, the detectives failed to search for blood at that time. They failed to notice blood at the scene even when it was just inches away from an evidence marker. They failed to locate clothing that the victim was wearing at the time of the alleged accident. They failed to see likely weapons in the house that were capable of causing the victim’s fatal injuries. They failed to notice inconsistent statements made by the victim’s husband and a neighbor who said she helped clean up the victim’s blood.

The detectives failed so badly that, on March 13, 2014, after the autopsy, they sought a second search warrant (from a different judge) for a do-over — and a chance to cover up their earlier lapses. At that time — nine days after their first shoddy search — the detectives returned to the scene for a second shoddy search, and ridiculously restricted their scrutiny to just one room of the house. Notably, the second search warrant knowingly lied about the facts of the case. For example, Detective Johnson stated that the victim was doing yoga when she sustained a fatal blow to her head. This claim — made by the victim’s husband — was not proven, and Johnson knew it because he had seen physical and digital evidence that contradicted the claim. Further, Johnson and other LBPD homicide detectives appear to have created false reports regarding the chain of custody of biological specimens in the case.

Later, in a different case, Judge Meyer reportedly characterized the behavior of two Long Beach homicide detectives as “appalling and unethical and inappropriate.” One of the detectives in that case was Todd Johnson. Reportedly, the prosecutor in that case said that the detectives “were involved in a series of either blunders or intentional omissions during the investigation.” The prosecutor reportedly recommended that Detective Johnson and his partner be added to the L.A. District Attorney’s Brady list.

A columnist for a local Long Beach newspaper wrote several articles criticizing a culture of corruption and coverups in the Long Beach Police Department. He reported that Detective Johnson was involved in a traffic collision in 2017 while under the influence of alcohol, and that the incident was covered up by Johnson’s fellow officers and supervisors. One source claimed that, “Todd Johnson was drunk or under the influence at work most of the time and everybody knew it.” What’s more, according to the columnist, the LBPD has earned a reputation for being defensive, obstructive, and retaliatory.

Perhaps the many failures of Detective Johnson and the LBPD with regard to the “yoga death case” can be explained by on-the-job alcoholism, incompetence, and poor supervision. Even so, it serves as an instructive example of how to botch a homicide investigation beyond repair — and evade accountability.

At least 16 dumbbells were visible in the yoga room when LBPD took this photo.

Update: Case of the demoted detective

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