By Ray Richardson
SOUTH LOS ANGELES — The reward for information related to the 2020 death of Mikeona Johnson in South Los Angeles has increased to $150,000, raising hopes among family members and investigators that the persons responsible for the apparent homicide will be brought to justice.
“I feel like we’re starting to get somewhere,” said Allisha Hillman, Johnson’s older sister. “The community can play a big part in getting justice for our family.”
Johnson’s mother, Shalissa Collier, was informed by the office of City Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson, that the Los Angeles City Council had approved a $100,000 increase for the reward.
An initial reward of $50,000 was established in February after Los Angeles Police Department detectives were unable to make significant progress in the case.
Johnson’s body was found near the corner of 94th Street and Western Avenue. Her death was classified by the Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office as “undetermined pending an investigation.” The classification has not changed.
LAPD Detective Curtis Morton, the lead investigator on the case, expressed optimism that the reward increase will lead to new evidence or prompt someone with knowledge of Johnson’s death to come forward.
“We’ve exhausted all of our investigative leads,” said Morton, a detective in LAPD’s South Bureau Homicide Division. “That’s why the reward is out there, and that’s why we’re asking for help. Somebody knows something about the circumstances of what happened to Mikeona. We need people in the community to step up. A lot of cold cases come back to life with this type of money involved.”
Johnson was 23 and the mother of two daughters, ages 1 and 5, at the time of her death. She was found in the back seat of her 2003 silver Mercedes Benz on Sept. 16, 2020 — seven days after she was reported missing. The father of Johnson’s year-old daughter told police Johnson left home on the evening of Sept. 9 to buy food but never returned.
By the time Johnson was found, her body was badly decomposed, preventing medical examiners from determining a cause of death. Hillman, 27, said the family had Johnson’s body cremated prior to a memorial service.
When asked if the lack of human evidence will hamper further investigation into the case, Morton said no.
“It doesn’t matter what the medical examiner’s findings are,” Morton said. “If a witness comes forward, or if somebody was there when it happened, or even if somebody admits to it, we have a case and can move forward. Maybe there’s somebody out there living with this on their conscience.”
Morton said he is one of two primary detectives in the South Bureau Division working on the case. Contrary to reports in at least two online publications in the spring of 2021, Morton confirmed that the investigation into Johnson’s death had not been “closed.”
Hillman said family members believed the case had been closed because of a lack of activity and progress in the investigation. The family had asked Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón to “open his own investigation.” News of the reward increase appears to have eased the family’s concerns.
“We’re very grateful that things look like they’re about to happen,” Hillman said. “We have a lot more confidence in the police now to get something done. When money is involved, everybody’s mouth starts to run like water.”
Hillman said she has had previous conversations with Morton about her sister’s case. She said she would like to meet with Morton “as soon as possible” to share more information with him.
Hillman participated in a press conference June 20 on the steps of the LAPD South Bureau precinct to promote the reward increase and to appeal for more diligence by investigators.
Najee Ali, executive director of Project Islamic Hope, coordinated the press conference and called for the LAPD and the City Council to give South Bureau officers more resources to fight the high crime rate in South Los Angeles. Ali welcomed the news of the reward increase.
“I agree wholeheartedly with what detectives and Black activists have been saying for years,” Ali said. “It’s up to us to stop these murders and break the code of silence.”
Morton declined to give specifics on what’s next in the investigation, but he indicated he’s expecting the reward increase to generate a response. When the $50,000 reward was announced in February, Morton said his department received no calls.
Morton advised anyone with information that could lead to an arrest in Johnson’s to call (323) 786-5113. Morton said people can remain anonymous.
“We’ll get as close to solving this case as the community lets us,” Morton said.
Ray Richardson is a contributing writer for The Wave. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.