Investigations

The Louisville Metro Police Department has formally closed its sexual assault investigation into the late Kentucky state Rep. Dan Johnson, roughly five months after his death.

This marks the second time police have investigated the claim that Johnson molested a then-teenaged girl in the basement of his church in 2013. The probe was reopened last summer after the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting sought details on the investigation. A case file released by LMPD last week shows that, even after the case was reopened, detectives did little investigating until the day before KyCIR published a sweeping investigation of Johnson.

Both inquiries lacked basic and expected elements of a thorough investigation, according to criminal justice experts who reviewed the case files at the request of the KyCIR. Police never attempted to interview the suspect, his family or other church members. They also failed to gather additional evidence that would confirm Richmond’s story, like school records or interviews with her friends.

The sexual assault accusation was first made public last December in “The Pope’s Long Con,” a five-part story and podcast released in December that found Johnson’s life was pocked with lies and deceit — including claims he served as chaplain to three U.S. presidents, administered last rites to all the victims of the 9/11 terror attacks and more. Johnson died by suicide two days after the story published.

That report included multiple interviews with Johnson’s accuser, Maranda Richmond, and corroborated with police documents, therapist’s notes and interviews with Richmond’s parents.

Maranda Richmond

Richmond, now 22, said in an interview last week that she was disheartened by the scope of the renewed police investigation. Police sought her out, she said, to reopen the case. This time, she thought the outcome would be different.

But it wasn’t.

“It’s just not fair when the people who are supposed to help you let you down,” she said.

The detective that closed the case, Stacey Roby, did not respond to a request for an interview. Police Lt. Glenn Simpson, who oversees the department’s Crimes Against Children Unit, declined an interview for this story and directed questions to the agency’s Public Information Office.

Jessie Halladay, the police spokeswoman, refused last week to provide additional details about the investigation.

“I think you’re looking for some explanation that we are not going to provide to you,” she said.

Reopened Case, But Little Done

The 2013 investigation was closed four months after it was opened, citing a lack of cooperation from the victim. Richmond said she never wanted to drop the case.

After KyCIR’s series published, Mayor Greg Fischer called for a review of the police investigation, but retracted that request after learning the case was already reopened.

Police officials provided an incomplete case file for that renewed investigation; the department didn’t turn over recordings, photographs and some correspondence mentioned in the 89 pages of heavily redacted documents it provided.

The narrative of the investigation shows that Detective Bryan Edelen reopened the case in August and met with Richmond in September. He asked Richmond to send text messages to Johnson, but the exchange didn’t produce any evidence.

Edelen handed the case off to another detective when he was promoted in October.

Documents show that the new detective, Stacey Roby, did not contact Richmond until December 10 — the day before “The Pope’s Long Con” was published. That conversation came after Roby learned “the victim in this investigation had provided information/given an interview to a local media outlet,” according to the case file.

Though Richmond heard virtually nothing from LMPD for almost two months, detectives met twice with Richmond in the two days that followed the story. Roby also spoke on the phone with Richmond’s mother, Cathy Brooks.

Roby referred the case to the Jefferson Commonwealth’s Attorney office on December 11 for review.

On December 12, the day after KyCIR published “The Pope’s Long Con,” Johnson held a news conference at his church. Detectives scrambled to document the event.

Ryland Barton | wfpl.org

Dan Johnson during a December 2017 press conference

The police department’s Video Forensics Unit was unavailable. So a detective from the department’s Sixth Division was dispatched to the Heart of Fire Church.

There, Johnson dismissed the calls for him to resign from his post in the Kentucky State House. He also denied any wrongdoing and said the sexual assault allegation against him “has no merit.” The next morning, on December 13, the detective asked Jefferson County Public Schools for Richmond’s school records. JCPS asked for a subpoena. But Roby said Johnson was dead before she could obtain one.

Johnson killed himself around 8 p.m. that night.

Roby contacted Richmond the day after, “as soon as I got into the office, to check on her,” according to the case file. Extra police patrols were ordered near Richmond’s home.

The city’s Real Time Crime Center was ordered to monitor social media about Richmond and Johnson, the document shows.

Roby met with Richmond’s mother the following week. She talked with Richmond twice more in December, and once in early January. It appears that was the last time Roby contacted Richmond about the case.

By that point, little more was done in this investigation than in the initial inquiry, the documents show.

Later in January, Roby conducted one more interview: she called Richmond’s former boyfriend, who Richmond said he was the first person she told about the alleged assault. This interview is one experts consider crucial to corroborate Richmond’s allegation, but detectives didn’t call him during the first investigation.

Police department policy allows for posthumous charges to be levied against individuals. That decision requires prior approval from the assistant chief of police, per the policy.

A department spokesperson said there were no records indicating LMPD has ever sought a posthumous charge.

Jeff Cooke, a spokesman for the Jefferson commonwealth’s attorney’s office, said the office officially declined to prosecute the case due to Johnson’s death, and sent a letter to the police department last week saying so.

“There would be no reason to pursue it following a person’s death,” Cooke said.

‘What’s the point?’

Richmond is still struggling with the impact of Johnson’s suicide.

She’s fearful whenever she goes out, that she might run into Johnson’s family, someone from the church or strangers who might recognize her from the stories about Johnson.

She also fears her story could make other victims of sexual assault apprehensive about speaking out.

“It’s almost like, ‘What’s the point?’” Richmond said. “And I don’t blame them.”

Inadequate investigations can have a chilling effect that deters victims from speaking out, said Eileen Recktenwald, the executive director of the Kentucky Association of Sexual Assault Programs.

It can also send a troubling message to perpetrators, she said: “That you can do this, because nothing happens to you.”

Anne Munch, a former prosecutor and trainer for the International Association of Chiefs of Police, said suspect interviews are a foundational piece of sexual assault investigations. She said suspects’ social circles should also be examined — who did they spend time with, where did they hang out, did they have access to victims?

Johnson operated a church with a bar that sold alcohol without a license. Raucous parties were frequent, as was underage drinking, according to former members interviewed by KyCIR. But there is no clear evidence in the case file that detectives ever reached out to anyone associated with the church.

Tania Tetlow, a former law professor specializing in violence against women and now the president of Loyola University in New Orleans, said the issue of sexual assault and harassment is an epidemic and the public is beginning to see that as true.

Tetlow said the recent outpouring of sexual assault and harassment accusations across the nation — from Hollywood moguls to political leaders — is turning the focus on to the perpetrators and holding violators accountable.

However, she said widespread victim-blaming still exists. This makes speaking up difficult, she said, as does the fact that sexual assault crimes often go uninvestigated.

“Sexual assault is one of those crimes that perpetrators know they will probably get away with – it is so rarely punished,” she said.

Richmond said she’s frustrated that she’ll never have her day in court, or real closure.

“There’s nothing I can do about it now. It’s just not fair,” she said. “When the people who are supposed to help you let you down, and there’s no one left to help you, it just really sucks.”

Jacob Ryan is a reporter for the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.
R.G. Dunlop is an investigative reporter whose work has exposed government corruption and resulted in numerous reforms.