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The widow of a reserve Forsyth County deputy who was killed in the line of duty said that after four years she hasn’t received any of the more than $350,000 in death benefits she is owed.
Reserve Deputy James Johnson's widow, Pearl, said that the sheriff's department told her in 2004 that there weren't any death benefits available to her. Johnson died protecting his wife and grandson from a gunman outside their Kernersville home in November 2004.
Although Johnson was an unpaid, volunteer reserve officer, state and federal officials told WXII his family still qualifies for death benefits.
Pearl Johnson said that two months ago she learned that benefits were available to her, but that the sheriff’s department never applied for them.
"I remember James saying if anything happens to me I’d be taken care of," Johnson said. But "(the Forsyth County Sheriff's Department) told me there are no benefits."
Sheriff Bill Schatzman said his office did contact officials in Washington, D.C., about Johnson's death, and even filed an application to get Johnson's name on the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Wall, an honor reserved for officers who are killed in the line of duty, but admits that the department never applied for death benefits because he believed that applying to have Johnson's name on the memorial would automatically trigger the payment of the death benefits.

"We believe that would have triggered events that would have caused the Johnson family to receive benefits from the federal government due to the family of an officer being killed in the line of duty," Schatzman said. "Who’s to blame?" he added. "I’ll take responsibility for that."
The group that oversees the memorial wall is a private, nonprofit agency that doesn't oversee the payment of death benefits to the families of fallen officers.
The federal government contacted Forsyth County by letter in February 2005, and asked the department for information so it could begin the death benefits process. The department never responded to that inquiry. The department also failed to file an application for state death benefits on behalf Johnson's family.

The federal death benefit is worth more than $300,000, while the state benefit is worth $50,000 plus 400 weeks of workers compensation, which could add a maximum of $193,512 in value.
Johnson maintains that she isn't interested in the money. "This has never been about the money," she said. "It is about respect or lack of."
"We certainly do not disrespect Mrs. Johnson or her family," Schatzman said. "I don’t think there is any facts or basis to believe we were trying to disrespect anyone. It's just we were not knowledgeable enough. We thought we understood something that it turns out we didn’t understand fully."
Patricia Tucker, president of NC Cops, a group that works to help those who have lost a family member in the line of duty, said ignorance of how the system works isn't a valid excuse.
"There’s another agency they could reach out to, to find out what else they needed to do for this family," she said. Schatzman said his department has taken steps to avoid this kind of mistake in the future, and that human resources and internal affairs employees will conduct parallel investigations anytime shots are fired and an officer is injured.
The sheriff also said his department is working on the application for state and federal death benefits for the Johnson family. It isn't a sure thing that Pearl Johnson will be paid the death benefits, however in the past four years, North Carolina has not turned down a single family in more than 50 cases.
"I don’t want anyone else to go through what I had to go through -- jumping through hoops," Johnson said. "I sit in a room full of widows that all lost our husbands. Everyone has received benefits. My husband is just as wonderful as theirs. I give him credit for saving my life and our grandson."

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