A Bethalto man faces federal charges of detonating an explosive device after he was injured in an apparent explosion.
Richard Lee Johnson, 27, of Bethalto was injured on April 25 from an apparent explosion. Alton Police officers and firefighters were called to the intersection of Central Avenue and Pearl Street at 11:21 a.m. that day to assist Johnson, who told them he had been injured from a gas can that exploded inside his vehicle while he was smoking a cigarette.
But police now believe that Johnson repeatedly detonated explosive devices in close proximity to people with whom he had a dispute. However, police do not believe he ever targeted the general public outside of his personal dispute.
According to the federal charges, police officers found cannabis and a smoking pipe inside Johnson’s van, as well as two Madison County Sheriff’s Department badges, a deputy badge and other law enforcement insignia.
Madison County Sheriff’s Department badges were found in the suspect’s van. Sheriff Lakin said they appear to be from the 1950s and 60s.
Details of the feud were not immediately made public, but the federal charges allege that he had threatened to blow up a woman’s house after a dispute involving a drug deal, and later exploded a small device on the street in front of her house. A neighbor allegedly witnessed this, and told police Johnson said, “This is a warning.”
In his interrogation, Johnson denied all the allegations and then declined to speak further with police.
Johnson now faces a federal charge of detonating an unregistered explosive device. Additional charges may be possible, according to the Alton Police Department, which investigated in partnership with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the Illinois Secretary of State Bomb Squad, and the FBI.
Madison County Sheriff John Lakin said he had been informed about the badges found in Johnson’s possession. He said they appear to be antiquated badges from the 1950s and 60s. “Lord only knows where they might’ve come from,” he said.
Lakin said under current policies, an officer generally must return a badge at the end of employment. “An officer who retires, we might allow to keep it and put it in a shadow box or something,” Lakin said. “But I have no idea what the procedures might have been back in the day.”
Lakin said there have been no contemporary badges reported missing or lost, and the appearance of the badges found in Johnson’s car is dissimilar enough that it is unlikely even a civilian would mistake them for a valid, current badge.
“The initial work by the responding patrol officers was crucial to this man being taken off the streets,” said Alton Police Chief Jake Simmons. “Then, as always, our detectives proved they are some of the best in the area and worked tirelessly to solve this incident. I am proud of all of our officers’ work and how well they are able to work with other agencies to bring cases to successful conclusions.”
Johnson was in federal custody Friday. His attorney could not be reached for comment.