FCCI Insurance Group has terminated Craig Johnson as president and CEO of the $840 million insurance firm and removed him from the board, effective immediately, for his role in an alleged battery on two Sarasota police officers during an incident at a Sarasota restaurant.
Johnson’s May 12 firing comes five days after he was arrested, stemming from an incident at the Wicked Cantina, just north of downtown Sarasota. It also comes four days since the Lakewood Ranch-based company’s board announced its support of the CEO, saying, in a May 8 statement, “We have no doubt in Mr. Johnson’s integrity and ability to lead the company.” That initial May 8 statement added that Johnson “vehemently denies the allegations and expects to be fully vindicated from any wrongdoing. The board has spoken directly with Mr. Johnson and has accepted his denial.”
The firing, additionally, comes one day after another statement from the company announcing Johnson would be taking a leave of absence — not be terminated.
The quick turnaround from support to firing Johnson, the company's CEO since April 2011, says FCCI interim board chairman Jack Cox, comes from the reputational damage to FCCI — a company often recognized in national surveys as a best place to work. Cox, in a May 12 interview with the Business Observer, says he filed a public records request with the city of Sarasota to see any video recording of the incident. While the officers don't have body cameras, there was video from security cameras and Wicked Cantina patrons, says Cox. The video, Cox says, support the allegations in police reports and confirmed for him that Johnson's actions warranted a different course than a leave of absence. The board, he adds, agreed with that assessment.
"Craig is a nice guy, a good family man and was a great CEO for this company for a long time, but this just never should have happened," Cox told the Business Observer. "FCCI is bigger than any one person. It's bigger than the board. When you are here, you are part of an 800-person family. This kind of behavior isn't what the company is about."
Johnson, 51, was charged with two counts of battery on an officer and related charges, including resisting arrest. The alleged incident began, according to police records, when Johnson, his 22-year-old son and one other person with them refused to leave the Wicked Cantina after being asked to by the manager for being “extremely intoxicated and aggressive.”
The affidavit for probable cause filed by Sarasota police officers alleges, among other contentions, that Johnson swung a closed fist at one officer, missing contact, and then shoved two officers. At one point, officers say Johnson told them they would “pay” because he’s friends with the Sarasota sheriff.
“Johnson continued to rant,” the Sarasota Police affidavit says, “and stated to officers, ‘I’m going to knock you out,’ and that officers ‘were responding like they were going to a black neighborhood.’”
In a May 10 letter emailed to FCCI board members and employees, Johnson, in announcing he would be taking a leave of absence says, in part, “I love my entire FCCI family and I’m truly sorry for the embarrassment and reputational harm inflicted.”
“I’m confident the truth will unfold as the process moves forward and I will be fully vindicated,” adds Johnson in the emailed letter, which was copied to Derek Byrd, a prominent Sarasota criminal defense attorney. Byrd couldn't be reached for comment.