In the community, Local government

Castro plea delivers closure but death of police officer will resonate in Nyssa

VALE – When Rene Castro pleaded guilty last week to aggravated murder in the shooting death of a Nyssa police reserve corporal, the final chapter in a year-long legal procedure ended.

Yet the fallout from the murder of Joseph Johnson, shot while he sat in his patrol vehicle, will linger for Nyssa officials, police officers and residents.

Castro admitted he killed Johnson in a video appearance in Malheur County Circuit Court on Wednesday, March 20. He is scheduled to be sentenced at 3 p.m., Friday, April 5.

Johnson died after he was dispatched to a call regarding a violent person damaging property and threatening others on April 15, 2023. Johnson was pursuing a vehicle that came to a stop in the driveway of Castro’s home at Third Street and Locust Drive. Johnson drove in behind Castro’s vehicle. Castro hopped out of his vehicle and shot Johnson multiple times. Johnson died at the scene.

The murder touched off a two-day manhunt that ended in Ontario when police arrested Castro, 37. Castro, trailed by a long list of interactions with the police and the county judicial system, was charged with aggravated murder and four other felony counts.

Castro’s guilty plea was welcome news touched with a sense of tragedy, said Nyssa Police Department Chief Don Ballou.

“It is a step forward to get past this and heal,” said Ballou.

Johnson was the first Malheur County police officer to die in the line of duty since 1957, when officer Alfred C. Evans of the Nyssa Police Department died after he was struck by a car.

Johnson had been a reserve officer for Nyssa since 2018. He also worked as a behavioral health specialist at Snake River Correctional Institution in Ontario.

“He needs to go to prison and needs to go there for a long time so I’m happy about that,” said Travis Johnson, Malheur County sheriff.

Ballou said he thought the judicial process regarding Castro was “fair.”

“I think our DA did a fair job and overall it is a step in the right direction as far as moving forward for us. The only downside I see is the fact he does get a possibility of parole,” said Ballou.

Castro is expected to be sentenced to life in prison with parole possible after 30 years.

Before he killed Johnson, Castro was familiar to local police.

Rene Castro pleads guilty in Malheur County Circuit Court on March 20, 2024, to killing Nyssa reserve officer Joseph Johnson.

Court records reveal Castro had disputes with police off and on for years and repeatedly pleaded guilty to domestic violence crimes involving his girlfriend, who court records show is the mother of his two sons.

His first appearance in adult court was in 2004 when he was 18 when he was convicted of contempt of court. Court records also showed Castro had earlier criminal cases when he was a juvenile.

In June 2006, Castro opened fire outside an Ontario home after a dance, injuring three women. He pleaded guilty to three counts of second-degree assault and was sentenced to prison. He entered the Oregon Department of Corrections system in October 2006 and was released in 2012.

During the next 11 years, Castro was frequently involved in criminal activity and faced charges of attempted assault and criminal mischief.

Johnson, a popular police officer, received the Nyssa Police Department’s Outstanding Performance Awarded in December 2022. Johnson also taught criminal justice classes at Treasure Valley Community College. He acquired an associate’s degree from Treasure Valley Community College in 1999 and earned a bachelor’s degree in 2006 and a master’s degree in 2020.

 “There was a lot of damage done to family and friends that will probably never go completely away. But it helps to see someone to receive justice,” said Johnson.

Johnson said Castro “earned the death penalty.”

“Unfortunately, we don’t see that in Oregon,” he said.

Ballou said the police department, and Johnson’s wife, Carissa, plan to mark the anniversary of the shooting with a special event focused on hope and fun.

Ballou said Nyssa Police Department Sgt. Greg Armenta and his wife are planning a softball game for the community at 5:30 p.m., Monday, April 15, at Corporal Joe Johnson Memorial Park.

“We want to put on some smiles rather than some sorrow. He liked baseball so we’ll have a softball game. The community is invited,” said Ballou.

For more information on the event, Ballou said interested individual can reach out to Armenta at [email protected]

News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected]

Previous coverage:

Nyssa reserve officer killed in Saturday shooting, gunman being sought

Castro charged with aggravated murder in death of Nyssa reserve officer

In Nyssa, a community pauses to honor a fallen officer – one of their own

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