Killing of deputy leaves western Wisconsin with a familiar feeling of grief

Suspect in killing had prior kidnapping conviction

Blue ribbons are tied to downtown street lamps
In Glenwood City, Wis., blue ribbons are tied to downtown street lamps in Kaitie Leising honor on Monday.
Mark Zdechlik | MPR News

St. Croix County Sheriff’s deputy Kaitie Leising’s squad car was draped in flowers in the front of the parking lot, outside the county’s government center in Hudson, Wis. Flags stood at half-staff behind it.

It is the third such display in western Wisconsin a matter of weeks. Leising was shot and killed after responding to a call of a potentially drunk driver in a ditch on Saturday evening.

“I just can't believe it hit so close to home this time,” said Jonathan White who lives nearby in Somerset. He arrived in a white pickup truck displaying an over-sized black and blue flag near the tailgate.

Like so many, White is concerned about all of the recent law enforcement killings. Last month, two police officers were fatally shot during a traffic stop in Barron County, Wis. And in Minnesota, a Pope County sheriff's deputy was fatally shot while responding to a domestic violence call on April 15.

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White thinks he met Leising last year.

“I think she actually helped my son out of the ditch last winter … she's very nice very respectful,” he said. 

White says his 16-year-old son is grieving Leising’s death too.

“You know, it hits close to home you know, she helps her people she's in our community, [she’s] part of it.”

White says he has no direct connection to anyone in law enforcement.

In addition to placing flowers on Leising’s squad Monday, he turned out Sunday to an overpass above Interstate 94 to watch a procession of law enforcement vehicles return Leising’s body from a medical examiner’s office in the Twin Cities.

Leising joined the St. Croix County force in 2022, after serving two years with the Pennington County Sheriff's Office in South Dakota.

In Glenwood City not far from where Leising was shot and killed, blue ribbons are tied to streetlamps in the quiet downtown in her honor.

On a sidewalk outside a gym Mary Maes, who lives nearby in Downing, Wis., shared some of her thoughts about the latest killing of an officer of the law.

“It's a tragedy. It's just unbelievable,” said Maes. “It's hard to believe that something like that could happen anywhere.”

A man stands alongside a parked vehicle on a downtown street
Allen Fleming of Emerald, Wis.
Mark Zdechlik | MPR News

Eighty two-year-old Allen Fleming who lives in Emerald, was also trying to make sense of Leising’s death.

“[It’s] Pretty sad, what do we do if we didn't have them? You wouldn't be wanting to stick your head out the door.”

According to the FBI, four law enforcement officers across the Midwest were killed in what the agency calls felonious acts during the first three months of this year. That number does not include the one officer killed in Minnesota and three killed in western Wisconsin since April 1. Nationally the FBI says 20 officers have been killed in felonious acts nationwide as of May 8.

Like those of the three other officers Kaitie Leising’s memorial is certain to attract hundreds of public safety workers from throughout the region.

Law enforcement says Leising's killer, 34-year-old Jeremiah Daniel Johnson, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in a wooded area after fleeing the scene of the crime.

Johnson, who lived in Minneapolis prior to purchasing a home in Shakopee in November, Scott County property records show, pleaded guilty in 2015 to kidnapping an 18-year-old woman from St. Paul, driving her to his apartment in Stillwater and raping her.

A judge gave Johnson a 77-month sentence and ordered him to register as a predatory offender for 10 years. Minnesota Department of Corrections records show that Johnson had been under the supervision of Scott County Community Corrections, and the period of supervision was due to expire in 2029.

Court records show that Johnson also has gross misdemeanor convictions for DWI, second-degree assault and violating a domestic abuse no-contact order.