Man accused of assaulting Jacksonville officer outside Walmart in February found not competent for prosecution

The man arrested and charged with aggravated battery in the brutal assault of a Jacksonville police officer that happened outside a Walmart Supercenter in February was ruled not competent for prosecution in October.

Joseph Merrill, 40, who was initially charged with attempted murder — also, a first-degree felony, was arrested after police said he assaulted Officer Jennifer Johnson, who was called to the store on Phillips Highway about a reported shoplifting on Feb. 23. Police said Merrill knocked the officer down and was beating her when a detective arrived and subdued Merrill.

In March, Merrill pleaded not guilty. He’s also charged with resisting with violence, possession of weapon by convicted felon, depriving an officer of means of communication and shoplifting.

Johnson said the beating nearly killed her; she was hit so many times that she was knocked unconscious. Her bottom teeth were shifted into two rows from the hits to her jaw. She suffered significant face swelling, massive headaches and other facial fractures.

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According to an arrest report, Merrill had swiped at least $176 worth of merchandise from the Walmart Supercenter on Philips Highway. Johnson confronted him on the sidewalk in front of the store. That’s when, police said, he knocked Jonhson down, started beating her and snatched her radio off her uniform.

Sgt. Steve Rudlaff was driving past the Walmart when he saw the assault and intervened. Prosecutors credit Rudlaff with lifesaving action and Johnson calls him her angel.

Merrill is scheduled for a competency review on April 4, 2024. Merrill faces up to 30 years in prison if convicted.

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