Berner Johnson, the U.S. Senate staffer who died following an assault outside a Washington, D.C. bar and restaurant in May 2019, was a popular youth baseball coach who was a father of three.
His death was ruled a homicide due to blunt force trauma of the head on August 21, 2019, according to Metropolitan Police.
The 48-year-old Berner Richard Johnson III, was known as “Bud.” He was a longtime Senate employee.
Johnson was assaulted outside his favorite restaurant in the 100 block of K Street in Southeast, D.C. May 15, 2019 at about 11:30 p.m. and taken to an area hospital. Johnson died on Sunday, May 19, 2019 as a result of his injuries. The D.C. Office of the Chief Medical Examiner ruled the death a homicide Wednesday, August 21, 2019 due to “complications of blunt force injuries to the head with ethanol intoxication” a statement said. The manner of death was determined to be a homicide. His family has asserted on a blog that an argument inside the Scarlet Oak bar spilled out into an assault by a group of men outside.
Johnson was only a short distance from his home in Southeast, DC.
No arrests have been made in the case. The Metropolitan Police Department is offering a reward of $25,000 for information leading to an arrest. Anyone with information is asked to call police at 202-727-9099. Anonymous information can be texted to the department’s tip line by texting 50411.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Berner Bud Johnson Was a Senate Staffer Since Age 18
Berner Bud Johnson began working on Capitol Hill as a Senate staffer at age 18, working in the document room of the Hart Senate Office Building. The office provides copies of bills, resolutions, legislative reports and other documents. His LinkedIn page said he has been a deputy director with the U.S. Senate since February, 1989, or more than 30 years. He received his anniversary pin two weeks before his death.
Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) noted Johnson’s passing on the Senate floor. Schumer described Johnson as “beloved by his Senate family.” He said the death was “a reminder to all of us that life is fleeting and to hold tight to those we love.”
His family wrote on a blog they were amazed by the outpouring of support they received by family and friends at the hospital.
“Again, we are all in awe of the love shared by the friends and family who have come. It has been a huge testament to the man Bud is. He was well loved. The nurses in the ICU have said they have never seen anything like this. One nurse actually cried. All have been moved and touched,” they wrote.
2. Berner Johnson Was a Beloved Coach for his Son’s Little League Team
Berner Johnson was a coach for Capitol Hill Little League. His son also played for the team. The coach was known for his patience with the young boys, who could sometimes become rowdy and lose focus, The Washington Post reported.
His softball team had a game while he was in the hospital, and every team member came by to visit, his family wrote on a blog.
“Many, many friends and family members have stopped by today. His entire softball team stopped by after the game. So much love,” the family wrote.
3. Berner Johnson Was Married to a Teacher for More Than Two Decades
Johnson had two adult children from his first marriage, Cory Johnson, 29, and Brad Johnson, 28. He married Diane Johnson, a teacher, about 23 years ago. They had a son, Bo, who is 14.
Berner Johnson’s family started a blog following the assault where they posted updates, scheduled a vigil and gave an intimate look into the tragedy they were facing.
The family began writing on the page shortly after the assault, noting Johnson’s condition was serious. It took 19 minutes for police and paramedics to revive him, they wrote.
On May 18, they wrote they met with the doctor.
“His situation is grave with little hope,” they wrote.
His family thanked the many visitors who came to the hospital to visit Johnson and offer support. After his death, they wrote they were grateful for the four days they had with him after the assault.
“This has been a terrible event. We will miss Bud greatly. We do already. The miracle we wanted was for Bud to somehow come back to us in some way. The miracle we needed was for him to come back to life long enough for family, friends and loved ones to come together and be there for each other. We are thankful for that,” they wrote.
4. Johnson Was Remembered as a Low-Key Person Who Was Quiet & Nice
Those who knew Berner Johnson recalled his personality as low key but kind. One of those testimonials came from the owner of the Scarlet Oak, who said Johnson was a regular at the bar and described him to WUSA9-TV as a “perfectly nice guy.”
The owner of Scarlet Oak said he saw Johnson at the bar every Wednesday, and that he was a perfectly nice guy whom he looked forward to serving.
David Hrdy, a fellow Little League coach, described Johnson to the television station as “very low-key and very quiet…[and] though low-key and quiet, he would keep the boys busy, and he would say it was on us if the boys were out of line and he needed to keep them busier.”
Berner Johnson was an organ donor, and as his family members made the difficult decision to take him off life support, his organs saved at least two lives. His kidneys and organs were donated.
“With heavy hearts, we said goodbye to Bud on Sunday as he finally succumbed to the injuries he received when assaulted by a group of individuals just outside where he lived in Washington DC. He was never alone as we were there in spirit until the end. His organs have gone to a good cause and are helping at least two others live,” an event organizer wrote on a GoFundMe page to support his family.
The hospital’s medical staff lined the hallway forming an “honor wall” for Johnson as his body was escorted for the organ donation.
“Bud has offered his organs and there is someone who needs his kidneys in a life saving way,” his family wrote.
They later updated the blog saying his kidneys and liver were donated.
“He was able to donate his kidneys and liver to bless another family and allow another to live,” they wrote.
5. A $25,000 Reward Is Offered for Information Leading to an Arrest
The Metropolitan Police Department is offering a $25,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and prosecution of anyone involved with Berner “Bud” Johnson’s homicide. No arrests had been made as of Thursday evening.
His family shared a photo on a blog of the short distance between the bar and Johnson’s home.
His family described the bar as “Cheers for Bud,” saying it was across the street from his condo. Shortly after the assault, his family wrote they were expecting an arrest within a few days, saying police identified the suspects.
A police report immediately after the incident classified the case as an aggravated assault. Police wrote on Facebook Johnson “got into a dispute with a group of individuals, ultimately leading to the complainant being assaulted.”
Metropolitan Police Department released a statement on August 22, 2019, which said:
Detectives from the Metropolitan Police Department’s Homicide Branch are investigating a homicide that occurred on Wednesday, May 15, 2019, in the 100 block of K Street, Southeast.
At approximately 11:38 pm, members of the First District responded to the listed location for the report of an aggravated assault. Upon arrival, members located an adult male, suffering from injuries consistent with an assault. DC Fire and Emergency Medical Services responded to the scene and transported the victim to an area hospital for treatment of life-threatening injuries.
On Sunday, May 19, 2019, the victim succumbed to his injuries and was pronounced dead.
On Wednesday, August 21, 2019, the DC Office of the Chief Medical Examiner ruled the cause of death as complications of blunt force injuries to the head with ethanol intoxication and ruled the manner of death a Homicide.
The decedent has been identified as 48 year-old Berner Johnson, of Southeast, DC.
The Metropolitan Police Department currently offers a reward of up to $25,000 to anyone that provides information which leads to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible for any homicide committed in the District of Columbia. Anyone with information about this case is asked to call the police at 202-727-9099. Additionally, anonymous information may be submitted to the department’s TEXT TIP LINE by sending a text message to 50411.
Johnson was at his favorite restaurant that night, Scarlet Oak restaurant and bar on New Jersey Avenue SE. The restaurant is just a short walk from his home.
Johnson was involved in a verbal argument at the bar, which spilled outside and turned physical outside. He was placed in intensive care with severe head trauma at MedStar Washington Hospital Center, where he died following four days in the hospital.