Yet Johnson wasn't a full-time deputy. He was a civil deputy, a position with no law enforcement power.
Ken Cardinal, an assistant Mahoning County prosecutor, said he isn't sure if he would've known the difference.
"How would the average person know? How would I tell the difference?" said Cardinal. He also expressed concern that civil deputies might show their identification and perform searches and other law enforcement duties on unwitting local residents.
"I'd say, 'Well, he had a badge,'" Cardinal said.
What happened: Sheriff's reports state that Johnson, 61, of North Union Street in Salem, showed full-time deputies his badge and identification card in December after he drove his car into a ditch in Canfield. The deputies realized the identification was for a civil commission and arrested Johnson on a charge of driving under the influence.
Johnson works for U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr. of Poland, D-17th, and is the chairman of the Columbiana County Democratic Party. His pretrial hearing is set for 6 p.m. Wednesday in county court in Canfield.
Sheriff Randall Wellington said he feels the difference between the identification cards for a full-time and a civil deputy should be clear. He noted that the civil card states that the card holder has no law-enforcement powers.
The description of duties on a civil deputy's card states that the card holder "is a sworn civil deputy" who is authorized to perform, "all civil, nonlaw enforcement duties."
"I don't see a cause for concern," Wellington said. "It spells out what their activities are."
Similarities: Yet the identification cards for full-time and civil deputies also share many of the same features: The sheriff's signature, a sheriff's badge graphic in the background, and the words deputy sheriff across the top in capital letters.
On a civil deputy's card, the words deputy sheriff and the sheriff's name are in green. On a full-time deputy's identification, the words and the sheriff's name are in black.
Wellington said civil deputies could use their identification cards to buy badges identical to those of a Mahoning County deputy sheriff's at law enforcement supply stores.
Cardinal said that until recently, he wasn't sure of the differences between a civil and a full-time deputy. Austintown Police Chief Gordon Ellis noted that he had never seen a civil deputy's identification card until one was shown to a police officer in September.
The holder of that card was arrested on a charge of impersonating a police officer. Ellis, who has worked as a deputy sheriff in Hamilton County and on police forces in Warren and Licking counties, said before the arrest he wasn't aware of the differences between full-time and civil deputies.
Money-saving issue: Bob Cornwell, the executive director of the Buckeye State Sheriff's Association, said it is very common for Ohio sheriffs to issue part-time, special, or volunteer commissions such as a civil commission. He said sheriffs find they can save money by asking volunteer deputies to perform some duties that would otherwise be performed by a full-time deputy, such as helping out in a jail.
Cornwell said the Ohio Revised Code does not allow special deputies to have more responsibilities than a full-time deputy. He added, however, that the deputies can perform whatever duties they are assigned by a sheriff.
Wellington said that in Mahoning County, civil deputy identification cards are typically issued to people who "just want to be associated with law enforcement," such as block-watch members. He noted that civil deputies often call the sheriff's office to report crimes such as drug dealing and speeding.
"They are an extension of the sheriff's department," Wellington said. "They feel they're a part of us."
Wellington said that to receive a civil commission, a local resident must fill out an application at the sheriff's department and submit to a criminal background check. He said there are nearly 100 civil deputies in the county.
State law requires the sheriff to record the names of civil deputies with the clerk of county common pleas courts. However, as of late last week, the clerk did not have the names on record.
Wellington said that he had only recently learned the names were not on file with the clerk. He said he would find out why they weren't on file, and that they will be placed on file this week.