Alex Blaze

Duanna Johnson: The tip of a "tremendous number" of cases in Memphis

Filed By Alex Blaze | June 24, 2008 3:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: Bridges McRae, Duanna Johnson, GLAAD, HRC, Memphis, police, police brutality, prostitution, Tennessee

I just got off the phone with Murray Wells, the lawyer representing Duanna Johnson. You might remember Johnson from the video last week of her being held down by one cop and beaten by another.

After the incident she was charged with assault for defending herself against officer Bridges McRae (the one who was beating her with the handcuffs). That was dropped. The prostitution charge, what she was originally picked up for, was also dropped.

The officer who held her down was let go because he was still in his first year of work. McRae will have a hearing tomorrow about his future at the department. The FBI is investigating a possible civil rights violation, and Wells said, "I'm optimistic that he'll be indicted." If charged, he'll face prison time.

Regarding the original prostitution charge, Monica Roberts reminded us last week that we can't assume that just because she was picked up for prostitution that she is a prostitute. The evidence against her, according to her attorney, was that she was walking down a street frequented by transgender people. She never offered to exchange sex for money. This is the second time that she was picked up for prostitution by the same officer.

So, like Monica said, she was a transwoman of color and the police felt like picking on her. And then it just went from bad to worse.

After the video leaves off, she was taken to a trauma center in Memphis (incidentally, the officer who beat her up was supposed to be the one to accompany her down there, but she objected to that). They didn't want to treat her head wounds because they didn't want to touch her weave, and she says she felt like they just didn't want to touch her at all.

In all, she suffered from lacerations and contusions on her head, scarring and bruising on her side, and permanent nerve damage on the left wrist from the handcuffs.

After that, she was held in jail for several days until she could post bond.

All this, for what? Because she was presenting the wrong gender, had the wrong skin color, and walking down the wrong street?

Since the release of the video last week, Wells said that he received a "tremendous number" of phone calls from people who had gone through similar incidents, with McRae and other officers. Looking at the case history, he said that the department's constant defense in the few cases that make it to trial is that this is just one bad cop.

You know, after a while that defense starts to sound a little hollow.

But that's exactly what the Memphis Police Department is using in this case, as recently as last Friday:

"It made me sick," Godwin said Thursday. "I was infuriated. I notified the FBI because they needed to investigate to see if this person's civil rights were violated."[...]

Since Godwin became director in 2004, at least 40 officers have been fired or resigned following investigations, he said.

"There are going to be issues," Godwin said. "I'll deal with those issues. We don't have some code of silence here. If an officer does wrong, there are consequences because it taints the other 99.5 percent of the men and women in the department who work hard for the city."

The Tennessee Equality Project has the right idea on this. They're calling for mandatory sensitivity training and a GLBT community liaison in the police department. These problems can't be addressed by looking at this one officer anymore - they're obviously too big for that.

Wells said that he's been in contact with GLAAD, HRC, and Lamda Legal to see what they can do to help. When I asked if any African American organizations have offered to help, he mentioned a group of pastors in Memphis but didn't specify what they were planning to do.

In the end, this is looking a lot less like a horrific, freak incident and a whole lot more like the one that got caught on tape. The pressure on the police department needs to be kept up so that more brave people like Duanna Johnson can come forward.

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personally, i would be terribly surprised if this turned out to be an isolated incident. remember, NO ONE in the video came to ms. johnson's assistance. the policeman's behavior was tolerated if not ACTIVELY encouraged.

in DC, the man who made jokes and degraded Tyra Hunter as she lay dying was never reprimanded. he has even been promoted to lieutenant. and DC has some of the best non-discrimination laws in the nation. each department has to be dissected and put under a microscope if you want to cut out the cancer of bigotry that exists within. there is a lot of work to do....

colinspeaks | June 24, 2008 11:55 PM

I totally agree with jerindc. This is not an isolated incident. These things happen every hour of the day in this country. The legal system from cops to judges to juries are all stacked against LGBT people. LGBT people need to wake up to this fact and start doing something about it. Duanna deserves justice and I hope she gets it.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | June 25, 2008 4:45 AM

As stated I came from a family with police and sheriff officers in it. Probably 90% of the officers are fine upstanding enforcers of the law. The remainder loaf or get into mischief whenever they can and these were two cops who fed on one another's brutality. Alex, I would love to know if Duanna is safe and employed in Memphis. Is there an address we could use to donate toward her recovery and day to day expenses?

"Probably 90% of the officers are fine upstanding enforcers of the law."

This could well be.


(1) The remaining 10% are still cops;

(2) A significant variable regarding what constitutes the 90% is: what they actually see as being the law. If all 100% are told that policy 'X' - whatever it may be - is legal, when its not, then how are they to be judged?; and

(3) With respect to all conduct of cops, one must distinguish between 'sloppy' and 'evil'. A lot of the bad arrests/searches that get thrown out may be seen as evil/corrupt, but, based on my experience, actually are the result of sloppiness (yes, there also are plenty that result from open disregard for the law.) That doesn't make them any more constitutional, but it does mean the cops involved aren't inherently evil. What happened in Johnson's case, however, is nothing but evil; the only question is how far the roots of it extend.

I think he meant, "The 95% of officers who are rogue cops make life difficult for the 5% who aren't."

The jail has a history you might want to know about. Type in your Internet browser - wrongful death of larry neal

I tried to leave the message at enough places I hoped a transgender woman might look online and warn her about Shelby County Jail, but she may have been someone who did not use the Internet much. I doubt if Duanna Johnson ever knew what she was up against. When her lawyers had only a few months to actually file her lawsuit that had gotten so much publicity, she was executed. I called Duanna Johnson's attorneys in June 2008 and discovered that Julian Bolton worked there. He was managing partner of The Cochran Firm when that law office tricked my family into believing we had wrongful death attorneys for my brother Larry Neal, who was secretly arrested in Shelby Co. Jail for 18 days and returned to his family as a corpse in 2003. Julian Bolton was Chairman of the Shelby Co. Commission, which owns and operates Shelby Co. Jail.

I knew Duanna Johnson was in trouble as far as her lawsuit was concerned when I learned that man worked at the law office she contracted with, but her murder on November 9 was a surprise. I started being followed right after successfully serving a lawsuit against The Cochran Firm for defrauding my family after the secret arrest and death of Larry Neal. The firm lied for 10.5 months about working as our wrongful death attorneys while it actually did zero.

We sued them first in Georgia Superior Court in Fulton Co., but the firm denied having any Georgia offices, although we served the suit to the same Cochran Firm office we originally went to with the case, at 127 Peachtree St., Atlanta. Judge Wendy Shoob agreed with the law firm that no Cochran Firm existed in GA. So we were in USDC in a federal lawsuit when I started being followed all the time. It went on throughout 2008, until I finally realized how dangerous the people were and now stay home.

Poor Duanna Johnson was out walking alone on Nov. 9, not realizing how serious her situation was.

About a six weeks before Duanna Johnson was executed, four cars and a US DOT truck waylaid me at a neighborhood Chevron station. I called 911 emergency, but police did not come to the rescue of my little 6-yr-old grandson and myself. Men got out of the vehicles and just milled around talking on cellphones. They had followed me for about three miles from Kroger Grocery and I had hoped that when I reached the busy Chevron they would leave like they did in the past when they followed me. But they did not.

I called my niece to come escort us home. When we tried to leave the drive to the Chevron, the US DOT truck came right behind us. I decided we should go back and park at the store. The USDOT truck and all the cars went back and parked also. I told all the customers the men were after me and some agreed to wait in their cars for the police. But the cops never came. I suppose it was all arranged. I called more relatives and they sandwiched me in between their cars and I made it home safely where I stay for the most part, especially after Duanna Johnson's murder. They got her a few weeks later.

Our federal lawsuit ended on Feb. 9. Judge Batten ruled that everything that The Cochran Firm did to defraud my family after Larry's secret arrest and death was "immaterial." He gave The Cochran Firm summary judgment.

Shelby Co. Jail was under USDOJ supervision at the time that my brother was secretly arrested and murdered there, but the feds refuse to investigate his demise. In fact, the DOJ helped with the coverup. That happened when Gonzales was Attorney General. He was indicted last Nov. for protecting county jails in TX after abuses of inmates, but he never stood trial.

I bet you thought it was only War on Terror camp detainees who were secretly arrested and abused or killed, right? Well, you are wrong.

See Cochran Firm Fraud 1 and 2 videos on YouTube.

See Mary Neal's FIOA Request to the USDOJ online.

See - look at the documents tab

Did you think it was only rich people whose deaths were followed by elaborate cover-up conspiracies? I used to think that.