Rockford, Illinois News

Serial entrepreneur rebuilding brands while appealing criminal conviction

LOVES PARK – A local entrepreneur is rebuilding his brand after losing nearly everything when he says he was racially targeted and jailed for something he didn’t do.

Elijah DeLorean Johnson, 32, who made more than $5 million from online business ventures in just six years, found himself selling his jewelry and living in a hotel after he was charged with a felony. And it wasn’t just an ordinary felony, he said, nor was it an ordinary arrest.

After Johnson had an argument with his ex girlfriend in September 2018, his Boone County home was surrounded by police, something that would have been warranted had there been a violent crime committed. That’s not what transpired though.

Johnson said he told his ex to leave the house during the argument, and she complied. But she left belongings behind. Instead of returning for them, she called 911 and asked for assistance. What happened next, he said, marked what he, a black man, never thought he would experience since moving to the Rockford area from the west side of Chicago a decade ago.

“There were over 20 officers pointing guns,” he said. “It was a scary moment in my life. They surrounded my house as I came outside.”

Johnson said although the argument never got physical nor was property destroyed, he was charged with felony domestic battery. He said police also accused him of initiating a standoff, something he also denies. He said he missed several calls from police while he was asleep. His girlfriend, who resided there, could have entered the house at any time.

“How is it standoff when I had no knowledge they were even outside?” he said. “But I came out and they took me to jail.”

Johnson posted a $5,000 bond after spending a weekend in the Boone County Jail. Expecting to return home, conditions of his bond dictated something else. Johnson was barred from his property.

Living out of a suitcase at a local hotel, he attempted to run his businesses, but it became increasingly difficult as professional and personal relationships dwindled in light of his pending charges. The land contract to purchase his 5,000 square-foot, three-bedroom house was also terminated by the seller.

“Different people–neighbors and entrepreneurs–kind of wanted to stay away from me because of what happened,” he said. “It caused a huge financial tragedy in my life.”

At the time of his arrest, Johnson’s network of businesses–Art of Clout, a clothing line called Millionaire Vision, AOC Podcast, and a branding firm called Get It Crew, Inc.–were revenue machines that in 2015 paid him $1.8 million. But, like other businesses owners, he had bills to pay, including sizable ones from the IRS.

By 2019, things were again looking up. Although he took significant financial losses, Johnson managed to rebound and was moving towards resolution in his criminal case. He hoped to have the charges dismissed as more exculpatory evidence began to emerge, including security-camera footage that shows a police officer doing something unspeakable.

“They turned my camera toward the sky as I was sleeping inside,” he said. “You can see the police officer. He tried to hide his face, of course. But you can see his arm turning  my camera.”

Then came the day after Christmas 2019.

“A man kicked in my door,” Johnson said. “I had to use my firearm to protect myself and my girlfriend.”

A concealed carry permit holder, Johnson shot and wounded the intruder, who was arrested at a local hospital and charged with home invasion. Johnson was not charged. But it’s not where the ordeal ended.

After wounding the intruder, Johnson’s life was upended again when he learned he missed a court date in his criminal case and there was bench warrant issued for his arrest. He spent next four months in jail while his attorney, who’s now seemingly nowhere to be found, advised him to plead guilty to domestic battery as part of a plea agreement. That left him with the Class 4 felony he initially intended to fight.

Johnson has now obtained a new lawyer and has begun the post-conviction process. He’s seeking exoneration or another chance to defend the case, one he says was sparked by racism and abuse of power.

“It shouldn’t take 20 police officers with guns for someone who wasn’t posing a threat or doesn’t have a criminal history,” he said. “I wasn’t doing anything to cause the police to react to that extent. They knew I was a black man living in this nice house. It was racial profiling. That’s it. What explanation can they give for turning my cameras? Why turn my cameras toward the sky–in the event that I come out of my house and do something like scratch my head and (they) shoot me dead and are able to lie and say I reached for a gun or something?”

Johnson said he’s now heard the 911 call, during which his girlfriend made no mention of a hostile situation, only a request for assistance.

“She did not say anything about an altercation,” Johnson said. “She just simply asked can the police come and help her retrieve her things because I had put her out. That’s it.”

In light of recent cries for cities to defund and abolish police, Johnson, who has relatives who have served as officers, stands somewhere in the middle. On one hand, our communities are safer when trained, dedicated officers patrol the streets. On the other, when they abuse their power, everyone suffers.

“Officers need better training and more mental health evaluations,” he said. “If they had that, then whoever hires them would hopefully make better decisions on who they decide to give that type of authority to. At the end of the day, we are all human beings. And I understand that enforcement needs to be enhanced in certain situations. But  when police officers abuse their authority, it’s not fair to us as taxpaying citizens. It’s not fair that we get treated like garbage, no matter what race you are.”

Johnson has also founded DeLorean’s Heart Foundation, a nonprofit with a mission of “rebuilding local communities, developing and motivating the youth, and being a blessing to those in need.” He said while he will continue to run his for-profit businesses, he is dedicating more time to that mission.

Last week, through DeLorean’s Heart Foundation, Johnson donated $10,000 worth of clothing to kids on the city’s west side.

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