Town mourns sheriff gunned down in office

Shooter, who 'had mental problems,' killed by deputy

? Flags were flying at half-staff Friday in this northwest Kansas town in honor of Sheridan County Sheriff James Johnson, who was gunned down in his office by a man he was trying to help.

Johnson, 54, sheriff since 1988, died Thursday afternoon when Steven Paul Reitcheck, 35, of rural Hoxie, pulled a pistol from under his coat and fired several shots, according to Kansas Bureau of Investigation Deputy Director Kyle Smith. He said a deputy in the office, whom he declined to identify, returned fire and Reitcheck was killed.

Smith said initial reports indicate Reitcheck had come by the office and the two had been talking about Reitcheck voluntarily committing himself to a mental health institution.

“He was a guy in town who had mental problems. He said he agreed to go the facility and it went south real fast, real bad,” Smith said.

Johnson is the second sheriff killed in the line of duty in less than two years. In January 2005, Greenwood County Sheriff Matt Samuels was shot while trying to serve an arrest warrant. He’s the 22nd Kansas sheriff to die in the line of duty.

That Johnson died while trying to help someone came as no surprise to those who knew him in this farming community of 1,200 – and that’s just about everyone.

“He tried to help everybody he came in contact with,” said Mayor Lori Horesky. “Jimmy would have liked to solve everyone’s problems. Sometimes it couldn’t be done.”

The flags were at half-staff at the courthouse, City Hall and elsewhere in the town. Horesky said they will remain that way until after the sheriff’s funeral.

Arrangements for the funeral had not been made Friday.

“Not only did we lose a sheriff, we lost a great friend,” Horesky said. “His love of life and his wife and kids meant everything to him.”

Horesky said Johnson was so popular he didn’t have any opposition the last two times he ran for re-election.

She said Reitcheck’s family was “devastated” by what happened.

“There are no words to describe what they are going through,” she said.

Smith said Johnson managed to get off a couple of shots but wouldn’t say whether he hit Reitcheck. Smith also wouldn’t say what type of weapon Reitcheck had or other specifics about the shooting, pending the outcome of an investigation by the Kansas Bureau of Investigation and other law enforcement agencies. He said the investigation could take a couple of weeks.

“I was told he was disturbed by his father’s death and that he had a hard time accepting that,” Smith said of Reitcheck, adding the father was hit and killed by a drunken driver 2 1/2 years ago.

Smith confirmed there had been allegations that Reitcheck was caught earlier this week digging at his father’s grave and earlier this month had defaced his father’s tombstone.

“If these allegations are true, clearly he had problems dealing with his father’s death,” Smith said.

Johnson was a second-generation peace officer. His father was Hoxie police chief for about 20 years, and Johnson joined the department in 1979, about the time his father retired. He remained there until he became sheriff. He was married and had five adult children.

Sheriff Allan Webb of neighboring Gove County was sworn in as interim Sheridan County sheriff.

Officers from neighboring agencies were sworn in as temporary deputies and will take over regular patrol and dispatch duties while arrangements are made for Johnson’s funeral.

Tom Jones, who retired last year as sheriff of neighboring Thomas County, said he was “in shock” after hearing about the shooting.

He said Johnson, with whom he had worked cases, was “a good man, a good family man and a good Christian, but he was also a good cop. He did his job well.”