Alex Blaze

Officer who held Duanna Johnson down testifies

Filed By Alex Blaze | April 09, 2010 11:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Living, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: black, Duanna Johnson, Memphis, police brutality, Tennessee, transgender, woman

Updated after the jump with contact information for the newspaper.

It's been almost two years since that disturbing video of one cop holding down while another cop beat a black trans woman, sending her to the hospital, was released. Both cops were fired and Duanna Johnson was later found dead in an unrelated murder.

As you may recall, the officer who beat Johnson filed an assault charge against her even after he used the handcuffs as brass knuckles, had his buddy hold her down, and pepper sprayed her:

McRae filed an assault charge against Johnson. In his report, McRae said Johnson swung at him and threatened to shoot the officer in the head. He said he was punched repeatedly in the head and neck by Johnson, whose first name is listed as Dwayne in the report.

Well, former officer Swain testified both that the "beat down" was one-sided (as the video showed) and that he had initially lied about it to protect his cop buddy. This is exactly why police shouldn't be policed only through internal investigations, a lesson other people who are the victims of police violence learned too late.

From the local paper (and boo on them for both referring to Johnson with "he/him" pronouns and captioning her picture with "Dwayne Johnson"):

Prosecutor Steve Parker and defense attorney Frank Trapp each questioned Swain at length as they went through the security videotape of the incident in slow motion and nearly frame by frame.

Swain said Johnson was passive and defensive during the incident, but refused Swain's plea to get down on the floor so McRae would stop hitting him and using pepper spray.

Actually, that's exactly what appeared to have happened in the video. Why didn't Swain say that before?

Swain said he initially lied to police internal affairs investigators in telling them that Johnson was the aggressor.

"I didn't want to be the police officer to be the rat or the snitch on another police officer," said Swain, who changed his account when he learned there was a videotape of the incident. "(Authorities) said if I tell the truth I would not be prosecuted."

Well, finally he said it. Apparently you have to fire a police officer before they're willing to tell the truth about the way things work there.

Then again, Americans are all too willing to accept police violence against them. Check out some of the comment on the article:

I might be wrong on this, but my first thought is that prisoners need to obey the instructions that police officers give them. If they obey the requests of the police officer and still get beaten, then they have a gripe. If they disobey a police officer, then it's their own fault.

I think you make a good point. I strongly suspect this incident was a meeting of jerks. A jerk punk who wanted to give the officer as hard a time as possible and a jerk officer who loves to fight. Neither is totally innocent, the trick is figuring out who was the most guilty. In every conflict, humans like to think one side is all good and the other is all evil, but that is rarely reality.

Americans are fine and dandy with people being shot full of electricity just for not complying with a police officer's order fast enough, so it's only logical that they'd start defending cops just beating people.

It's the stuff of fascist states, when people just don't care about how violence and authority gets used against others because they don't think it can happen to them.


Abby in the comments reminded me that the journalist in this case could use a heads up. He used "he/him" pronouns to refer to Duanna Johnson, referred to "Duanna" as her "feminine name" (as opposed to just her name), and referred to her by her birth name. Personally, I would have liked him to also mention the fact that the prostitution charge was dropped and that she denied that charge (her lawyer said it was more like being arrested for "walking while trans"), not only because she was probably not a prostitute (not that there's anything wrong with that) but because it's part of the story: it might explain why she was already justifiably mad at the cops and make people evaluate the cops' actions in light of that transphobia.

He has a web contact form. Please be polite! He's a local beat reporter and might just not be familiar with LGBT issues. He's probably been assigned to follow this trial so he'll need some education. Here's the executive news editor, the managing editor, and the editor.


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Alex, it's absurd how little coverage this trial is getting.

Also, I have yet to hear any information from Memphis police about their "ongoing investigation" of Duanna's execution in 11/08. Could it be they don't want to delve too deeply into who might have had a grudge against her?

What? The police not telling the truth? Shocking!!!

And y'all wonder why POC's have no love for the po-po's?

Btw, there's another murder, similar to Duanna's in Baltimore.

This is a link to a story about it, but it's an *ahem* very interesting article which basically blames the victim's "lifestyle" for her murder... which is very much what police almost immediately said about Duanna.

http://weblogs.baltimoresun.com/news/crime/blog/2010/03/arrest_made_in_transgender_kil.html

In Brazil (and other parts of Latin America) police are often involved with many murders of trans women. But something like that could never, ever, possibly *cough-cough* happen *cough* in a free *cough-cough* country like this one.

Allison Sinclair | April 9, 2010 3:17 PM

Its sad but many police departments use this type of tactic where they will claim that they were the victims of assault to cover their footprints of police brutality. Most of the time they get away with it because the law usually sides with the police.

Alex, can you provide a link to the Memphis newspaper you quoted from? It sounds like they need to hear from some of us (and GLAAD) about how to respect trans people.

Thanks! I saved the link where I usually save them and then I forgot to insert it. I updated with contact info, since this article.... yeah.

Interesting to read the AP news story on today's testimony.

Evidently, the stringer who's reporting it doesn't even know Duanna Johnson was murdered??:

"Swain said it began when prisoner Dwayne Johnson — a biological male who lives as a woman — refused to be fingerprinted unless McRae called her by her feminine name, Duanna."


http://www.whnt.com/news/sns-ap-tn--policebeating,0,7736777.story

I hope they throw the book at them.

Btw - your 1st and 2nd blockquotes are the same. I missed your point about the 2nd blockquote since it wasn't the right one.

Alex, I don't think we know enough to say her murder was "unrelated." In fact, a lot of us have suspected the contrary all along. I think that's a pretty irresponsible thing to assume.

I still need to write my post about this on QT, and was going to cover this: I don't think there's enough evidence to definitively state that the murder is unrelated. In fact, I would go so far as to say that it is highly suspicious that she was murdered after her beating at police hands was publicized.

Also, I've heard there's been no real investigation into her murder. It's almost like no one cares.