First In Country Saved By Bulletproof Vest — SPD Officer Dies 40 Years Later
SEATTLE, Wash. (KIRO) — Raymond Johnson was the first law enforcement officer in the United States saved by a bulletproof vest.
The longtime Seattle police officer and detective died last month in his sleep, 40 years after being shot multiple times while on-duty.
Johnson was working overtime at a convenience store on December 23, 1975 when an armed man held-up the store clerk.
He told the story himself in an interview with DuPont, the maker of Kevlar vests, back in 2006. “We fought over the gun and he eventually ended up shooting me four times,” Johnson remembered. “Once over the heart, once over the right lung. Fortunately at that time, I was wearing a bulletproof vest.”
His son, Chris Johnson told KIRO 7, his father disliked wearing the vest — provided to the Seattle Police Department as part of a test program — because it weighed 60 pounds.
“It was heavy, bulky, the fit was difficult. You couldn’t tuck anything in,” he said.
Not only did Officer Johnson survive the shooting, “my father popped up and ran after” and caught the suspect, his son told KIRO 7 from the Federal Way home he shared with his father.
The suspect was convicted and sent to prison.
Meanwhile, in the 40 years since Raymond Johnson was shot, the lives of more than 3,100 other law enforcement officers have been saved by bulletproof vests.
“The material is constructed in such a way that it absorbs the energy expended by the round, absorbs it in the fabric, and stops it from penetrating into the officer’s body,” Seattle Police Officers’ Guild President Ron Smith explained.
He told KIRO 7, Kevlar vests have been a standard part of the SPD’s uniform for decades. Smith said he wouldn’t wear his uniform without his vest, which now weighs just over 2 pounds.
Raymond Johnson recovered from the blunt force injuries he suffered that night in 1975. He retired in 1991 after 25-years with the SPD and died in his sleep last month, according to his son. Because of that vest, Johnson had 40-more years with his family.
“He was really proud of his grandkids,” the now-45-year-old Chris Johnson said of his dad. “He was there.”
As a U.S. Army veteran, Raymond Johnson will be buried at Tahoma National Cemetery on Friday with full military honors.
DuPont has a special Survivors Club for officers who are shot and survive because of their vest. You can access the club’s website here.