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East County Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2020 4 months ago

Insurance CEO pleads to reduced charges in officer battery incident

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Craig Johnson has completed most of the probation conditions.
by: Mark Gordon Managing Editor

SARASOTA — Former FCCI Insurance Group CEO Craig Johnson, terminated from the insurance giant in May for his role in an alleged battery on two Sarasota police officers during an incident at a Sarasota restaurant, has entered a no contest plea to reduced charges.

A no contest plea is essentially conceding there is enough evidence to sustain the charges or accusations without admitting guilt. Johnson’s no contest plea, entered Dec. 7, was for misdemeanor obstruction and misdemeanor assault on a law enforcement officer, according to Sarasota County court documents. He’s been placed on misdemeanor probation for one year, the documents show, and can apply for early termination of the probation in six months.  The plea also includes 25 hours of community service and several other conditions, several of which Johnson has already completed.

In an email to the East County Observer Derek Byrd, Johnson’s attorney, says his client is glad to have this behind him. The “Johnsons are extremely grateful for the overwhelming support of family and friends during this time,” adds Byrd in the email.   

Johnson, through a text message, turned down a East County Observer request for an interview. “I’m so thankful and humbled by the unwavering support and strength of my extraordinary family, friends and counsel,” Johnson wrote in the text. “I’m grateful that charges were reduced to misdemeanors and look forward to my next chapter.”

Johnson, 52, was initially charged with two counts of battery on an officer; one count of resisting an officer: obstruction without violence; and one count of trespassing: failing to leave a property by owner. The charges stem from an incident that took place May 7 at Wicked Cantina, just north of downtown Sarasota.

That night, according to a probable cause affidavit filed with the Sarasota Police Department, owners and employees of the restaurant had asked Johnson and two people he was with to leave, “due to their high level of intoxication and that they were instigating arguments with other customers.”

Johnson continued to refuse to leave and became aggressive, the report states, and when police arrived he allegedly swung a closed fist at one officer, missing contact, and then shoved two officers. Johnson was taken to the ground and handcuffed, the affidavit states, and while being escorted to the vehicle he “began ranting about his personal relationship with Sarasota Sheriff (Tom) Knight and that officers would ‘pay.’"

“Johnson continued to rant,” the Sarasota Police affidavit states, “and stated to officers, ‘I’m going to knock you out and that officers ‘were responding like they were going to a black neighborhood.”

Those specific allegations weren’t addressed in the no contest plea documents. Megan Leaf, the lead prosecutor on the case with the State Attorney's office, says her office looked at aggravating and mitigating circumstances in the plea negotiations with Byrd. Other factors in the reduced charges, says Leaf, include that this was Johnson's first offense and she spoke with the arresting officers.   

In addition to the probation, the agreement calls for Johnson to spend five days in the county jail, which was already satisfied by five days of the county’s Offender Work Program; perform two additional Offender Work Program days within the first 45 days of probation; attend an online victim impact panel course, which he already did; obtain a drug and alcohol evaluation and comply with any recommended treatment, with credit for counseling he completed after his arrest; write a letter of apology to the officer; and attend a four-hour webinar called “Blindsided: Uncovering, Understanding and Managing Bias.

Johnson’s 22-year-old son, Nathan Johnson, who was also charged in the incident at Wicked Cantina, entered a no contest plea on the same charges as Craig Johnson, court records show. His probation requirements are the same, and like the elder Johnson, he has completed most of the conditions.  

Craig Johnson had been CEO of FCCI since April 2011, leading the company on a decade-long growth surge. He was fired May 12. Longtime employee and executive Christina “Cina” Welch as named president and CEO of FCCI in June. FCCI was founded in 1959 and has $2.5 billion in assets. It posted $930.16 million in revenue in 2019.

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