St. Michael’s Catholic Church in the Old Town parishioner Pamela Dillon fights to ban homeless man who attacked woman at church


One day in 2018, a homeless man named Donald F. Johnson attacked a worker at St. Michael’s Catholic Church in Old Town.

Convicted of assault and battery and harassment, Johnson was sentenced to six months in prison and ordered by a judge to stay away from St. Michael’s for two years.

When the court order expired last July, Johnson, 63, began attending church. He sat on the pews, roamed the yard, and slept on the steps of the parish hall.

His presence alarmed a parishioner, Patricia Dillon, who asked St. Michael’s pastor, the Reverend Larry Sanders, to ban Johnson.

Dillon, an assistant public defender from Cook County, had in her spare time helped Johnson’s victim navigate the court process. She says it was a mistake to allow Johnson back to St. Michael and that he could pose a danger.

In August, Sanders refused her request to ban Johnson from the church, she said.

Since then, Dillon has tried to get the Archdiocese of Chicago to act and says she found herself threatened by Johnson, who was arrested for assault.

St. Michael’s Church in the Old Town, where Donald F. Johnson attacked a female employee in 2018.
Robert Herguth/Sun-Times

Dillon – who represents criminal defendants who cannot afford an attorney – had to appear in court, via Zoom, as a plaintiff witness, most recently this month after Johnson was arrested on charges of do.

As a result of this case, Johnson is temporarily banned from going near Dillon or St. Michael’s, 1633 N. Cleveland Ave.

Dillon says Sanders, his Redemptorist religious order and the archdiocese should have done it themselves.

“They neglected or refused to act or take it seriously,” she says.

Sanders says he consulted with the police and the archdiocesan legal department and “did what I can do here. I think she blew that way out of proportion.

Regarding Johnson, the priest says, “I wouldn’t say he’s harmless.” But the pastor says Johnson suffers from mental illness and “it’s not all going to be there, and you have to accept that.”

“We’re supposed to take care of the abandoned,” Sanders says. “She is going after one of the vulnerable members of our community.”

The woman Sanders was convicted of assaulting in 2018 says she is disappointed but not surprised to hear the priest’s comments. The woman, who spoke on condition not to be named, says that after she was attacked, some people in the community tried to make her feel guilty for making the complaint. She says that was one of the reasons she quit her job at St. Michael before Johnson’s court order expired.

“If I was attending mass there, I would expect that they wouldn’t allow someone like that to hang around,” she says.

She was working to “close the church” when she opened a bathroom door and saw a naked Johnson, who “urgently beckoned” her to come in, according to records kept by Dillon, which have been confirmed by interviews and court records. “She closed the door for him” and, when he came out, he “grabbed her by the waist and tried to kiss her,” according to the records. She “pushed him away, then he grabbed her arm and tried to kiss her again.”

The vestibule of St. Michael's Church in the Old Town where Donald F. Johnson attacked a female employee in 2018.

The vestibule of St. Michael’s Church in the Old Town where Donald F. Johnson attacked a female employee in 2018.
Robert Herguth/Sun-Times

He was interrupted when other people entered the building. The woman says he seemed to be on drugs.

Johnson, currently being held in Cook County Jail, will not comment.

He has arrests dating back to 1981, including convictions for criminal damage to property and drug possession.

Dillon says Sanders’ predecessor as St. Michael’s pastor, knowing his legal background, asked him to help the woman through the legal process.

Johnson pleaded guilty to assault and battery, a misdemeanor, and was sentenced to two years probation and ordered to undergo a sex offender evaluation.

He did not complete this assessment and was later charged with harassing the victim, sentenced to 180 days in jail, and ordered to stay away from St. Michael’s for two years.

Donald F. Johnson after being arrested this month for failing to appear in court in his misdemeanor assault case.

Donald F. Johnson after being arrested this month for failing to appear in court in his misdemeanor assault case.
Cook County Sheriff’s Office

The woman Johnson attacked “was very traumatized by the experience” and ended up moving with her husband out of the neighborhood, records show.

Dillon says she was surprised to see Johnson at St. Michael’s last July 13 after an 8 a.m. mass and found out her court order had expired.

“My thoughts were anger that this guy who hurt ‘the woman’ would have the nerve to come back,” she says. “I was also afraid that he would hurt someone.”

She says that although a few archdiocesan employees tried to help her, she faced months of inaction from church authorities.

Dillon says she first reported to Sanders on July 19 about Johnson and days later emailed the priest how another parishioner, a former sex crimes prosecutor, suggested Johnson to be informed that he was no longer welcome on St. Michael’s property.

The next day, according to an email provided by Dillon, Sanders wrote to him, “Is it possible to get copies of the court order and charges with his plea? I want to have them in hand if he [tries] to refute them. »

On August 17, Dillon wrote to Sanders that she had seen Johnson at church. “I seek clarification on your political position regarding Mr. Johnson?”

Six days later, Dillon says Sanders told him he wasn’t going to ban Johnson.

Two days later, Sanders emailed Dillon to let him know he was referring the matter to Cardinal Blase Cupich’s “legal office.”

On September 1, Dillon says, she had an appointment with Bishop Mark Bartosic, one of Cupich’s auxiliary bishops, about Johnson but, when she called to confirm, she was told there was no had no appointment.

On Sept. 3, Sanders wrote to him, saying, “We have heard from the Archdiocesan Legal Department and are working with ‘Chicago Police Department’ to resolve your issue.”

On September 6, she wrote to an archdiocesan official: “For the father. Larry Sanders to continue to allow ‘Johnson’ to hang out in the church after his own employee was sexually assaulted is ‘unacceptable’ and it is ‘also unacceptable that she was not supported by staff’ at St Michael’s.

Reverend Larry Sanders.

Reverend Larry Sanders.

On September 19, Dillon emailed the manager, saying, “I left three voicemails for the child and youth welfare officer,” a branch of the archdiocese that deals with accusations of sexual misconduct. “In addition to the urgent security issue, there is a complete breakdown in the Archdiocesan system. . . . Is the Cardinal aware of the malfunction?

On October 5, Dillon spotted Johnson outside St. Michael’s as she left Mass.

“I’m going to mess you up, b—–,” Johnson told her, according to an account read in court during a hearing this month in which her lawyer said Johnson had schizophrenia.

Dillon filed charges and was granted a protective order – which police served on him on Nov. 11 on the steps of St. Michael’s.

On November 12, Dillon wrote to church officials, “I have never heard from the church hierarchy, including the Cardinal and Bishop Bartosic, after repeatedly receiving reports from police, Don Johnson’s criminal history and 2018 victim impact statement. “It’s really disappointing that after trying since mid-July 2021 to alert the church to the danger, no one seems to care.”

Archdiocesan officials did not return calls seeking comment.

Sanders says he has since informed Johnson that he was not allowed to enter the church but could not bar him outside.

The pastor says a lawyer for the archdiocese told him a few weeks ago that he was drafting a letter to inform Johnson that he could not enter the church. But Sanders says he doesn’t know if the letter was written or delivered.


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