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Former sheriff’s deputy sentenced to two years county jail

Ordered to register as sex offender
By: Jenifer Gee Journal Staff Writer
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A former Placer County Sheriff’s deputy who pleaded guilty to sexual acts with minors will face five years of formal probation, which includes a two-year sentence in county jail. Placer County Superior Court Judge Richard Couzens sentenced Michael Stuart Johnson Wednesday afternoon in the county jail courtroom. In May, Johnson pleaded guilty to five felony counts that included unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor, digital penetration with a foreign object with a minor, oral copulation with a person under the age of 18, unlawful use of computer access and harmful conduct exhibited to a minor. The charges involved three females all under the age of 18 at the time of the offenses. On Wednesday, Couzens said Johnson is not eligible for alternative sentencing nor can he receive time off for good behavior while in custody. Johnson must also register as a sex offender. He was ordered to pay a minimum of $2,440 to the state’s victim’s restitution fund as well as about $4,800 in additional fines and fees. Prosecutor Garen Horst had requested the maximum penalty of four years and eight months in state prison, but said he respected the court’s decision. “This was an onerous sentence,” Horst said. “Two years is not a slap on the wrist by any means.” Johnson’s attorney, Tom Leupp, said he believes Johnson’s sentencing was more severe because he was a peace officer at the time of the offenses. “There are very few offenders in any county sentenced to prison for consensual sexual relations with 16- and 17-year-old girls, particularly where they had no prior record,” Leupp said. Prior to announcing his decision, Couzens told Leupp and Horst that he was still weighing several factors. Couzens said Johnson’s early admission and candid statements were in his favor. “He seems to accept full responsibility for his conduct, and that’s in his credit,” Couzens said. He added that Johnson has no prior record and psychological assessments indicated that Johnson would not be a likely repeat offender. He added that he did not consider the victims “particularly vulnerable.” He further explained that he did not think the victims were “substantially different from any other 16- or 17-year-old.” However, he said Johnson would face different conditions in custody because of his past position. He said that Johnson did violate a “special” position of trust in the community. “The fact is a police officer holds a special place in the community, a special place of trust and he has unquestionably violated that in a number of respects,” Couzens said. He added that he did not think it was right that Johnson used his position as a law enforcement officer to make contact with the victims. Couzens said he also found it troubling that Johnson has committed his crimes with three different victims over a period of time. A brother of one of the victims, who only was identified as Josh, stood in court to address Johnson. He said he was sad to see Johnson go to jail, “because you seem to be better than that.” But, Josh said, “I’ll never forget what you did and the heartache you caused. It will always stay with me.” A victim’s advocate for the District Attorney’s Office also read aloud a letter from a victim identified as J.H. The victim’s letter said she felt Johnson took advantage of her during a weak point in her life and caused severe damage in her relationships with her husband, stepson and family. Horst also showed a picture of the 15-year-old victim to Couzens. “I hope it puts in context that we’re dealing with a real person,” Horst said. Horst then discussed how he felt Johnson knew what he was doing was wrong at the time. He pointed to Johnson’s history with the victims as another reason for a strong sentence. “His job was to uphold the law and he couldn’t do it so we need to be suspect if he’ll follow probation,” Horst said. He also disagreed with Couzens’ statement that the victims were not particularly vulnerable. Leupp also addressed Couzens. He said Johnson admits to “very grossly inappropriate behavior” and accepts that his life has been forever changed. However, Leupp requested that Couzens not sentence Johnson any harsher than any other offender. “Nothing in the penal code says he has to get extra punishment because he’s a police officer,” Leupp said. “Mr. Johnson is no better or worse than any of us and I don’t think it’s appropriate or fair to hold him to such a higher standard.” At the end of both statements, Couzens announced his decision to grant probation and county jail time, but “under conditions I’ve never done before.” Couzens then read through a list of strict probation restrictions. “Overall,” Couzens said, “I think there is a prospect of success for Mr. Johnson. The Journal's Jenifer Gee can be reached at jeniferg@goldcountrymedia.com or post a comment.