A Republican state representative from Bullitt County has been accused of sexually abusing a girl in his church, among other misdeeds, in a new investigative report from the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting and Louisville Public Media.
Rep. Dan Johnson, a preacher and freshman lawmaker from Mt. Washington, had yet to respond to the allegations as of noon Monday. A receptionist at his legislative office said he was not available.
Johnson, who is known as “the Pope” and pastor of Heart of Fire Church in Louisville’s Fern Creek neighborhood, has previously drawn attention for posting racist comments and images on Facebook.
According to the KyCIR report, a woman alleges that Johnson groped and molested her after a New Year’s party in 2012, when she was 17 years old. (Read “The Pope’s Long Con“)
Louisville police opened an investigation. The report states that police reopened the probe earlier this year amid reporters’ inquiries. On Monday, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer called for an internal review of the police department’s handling of the case.
The article also details years of deception and alleged criminal activity from Johnson.
The Republican Party of Kentucky called for Johnson to resign after the report was published.
“Following today’s extensively sourced and documented story from the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting, we once again find ourselves in a position where we must call for him to resign, this time, from the Kentucky General Assembly,” said Republican Party of Kentucky chair Mac Brown in a statement.
The state Democratic Party also called for Johnson to resign.
“Given the seriousness of these allegations, Rep. Johnson should step down immediately,” said Mary Nishimuta, executive director of the Kentucky Democratic Party.
“This is indicative of a corrupt culture in Frankfort that the Republican Party continues to accept. Kentucky’s families deserve better.”
Johnson was disavowed by the Kentucky Republican Party during his campaign last year after posting racist pictures and comments to his Facebook page, but ended up defeating incumbent Democratic Rep. Linda Belcher by fewer than 200 votes.
He posted images portraying President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama as monkeys, a cartoon car running over Black Lives Matter protesters and calling for states to “ban” Islam. He eventually removed the posts.
The Republican Party of Kentucky called for Johnson to suspend his campaign at the time, though after the election, then-House speaker Jeff Hoover said that Johnson would be “welcome in our caucus.”
On Monday, leaders of the House Republican caucus joined calls for Johnson to step down.
“The allegations made public in today’s media accounts are shocking,” House Republican leaders said in a statement.
“The victim’s statements, made on the record in her own name, are compelling and deeply troubling. Based on the information presented in this report we are calling on Representative Johnson to resign.
“When credible, well-documented allegations surface it is imperative that they be taken seriously,” the statement continues. “We hope the relevant law enforcement agencies took this matter seriously when it was initially investigated, and that follow-up steps are being taken to ensure nothing was missed that might materially change the course of the case.”
When asked about the Johnson allegations, Gov. Matt Bevin’s communications director Amanda Stamper said that officials should step down if abuse claims are “settled, proven or admitted to be true.”
“Governor Bevin has been consistent from the beginning,” Stamper wrote.
“Any elected Kentucky official who has a sexual assault or harassment claim that has been settled, proven or admitted to be true, should resign.”
“I don’t want to talk about all this nonsense, gracious, lets wait until we get all the facts,” Bevin said. “You guys are like ricochet rabbits on this stuff.”
Bevin did reiterate his position that lawmakers in Frankfort need to be held to a higher standard when it comes to inappropriate conduct.
“There is an expectation of a higher moral authority. Is that fair? Maybe, maybe not. But the reality is, it has ever been thus,” he said. “There is a moral authority, there is an expectation of integrity, there is an expectation of following the law, there is an expectation of setting the standard of behavior.”
House Democrats also called for Johnson to resign and for an investigation to be conducted.
“The allegations of felony sexual abuse and other crimes against Rep. Dan Johnson are deeply troubling and demand his resignation from the House of Representatives,” House Democratic leaders said in a statement.
“All of his unlawful acts should be investigated to the fullest extent, but we particularly urge the appropriate law enforcement agencies to carefully re-examine accusations of sexual misconduct so that justice is secured for his alleged victim.”
The KyCIR report comes amid an unfolding sexual harassment scandal involving four other House Republicans and staff members. Former House Speaker Jeff Hoover resigned his leadership position after admitting to exchanging sexually charged text messages with a female staffer.
First reported by the Louisville Courier-Journal, Hoover and GOP Reps. Brian Linder of Dry Ridge, Michael Meredith of Oakland and Jim Decesare of Bowling Green secretly settled a complaint filed by the woman earlier this year.
Bevin has previously called for all members accused of sexual harassment to resign their elected positions.
Johnson has proposed several controversial pieces of legislation this year, including a total ban on abortions and a requirement for internet-enabled devices sold in Kentucky to have porn-block software.
This story has been updated.