Monday, October 22, 2007

The death of Richard 'Jabo' Johnson, Pt. 2

The Greenville Journal, a free weekly newspaper mostly specializing in real estate advertising, photographs of squeaky-clean high school kids who win scholarships, and notices about new businesses colonizing the area, has actually attempted some investigative journalism. Unfortunately, no link (!), so I actually have to type this out of the newspaper, the old-fashioned way.

I also apologize for not having a photo of Jabo, but I still can't locate one.

The suspicious death of Richard 'Jabo' Johnson
continues to divide the small hamlet/quasi-suburb of Fountain Inn. The Greenville Journal article (by Lyn Riddle) is titled A City Divided (I think it's something of a stretch to call Fountain Inn, population 7500, a city, but you get the idea) and subtitled: Young man's death stirs unrest in Fountain Inn.

A disturbing account of racial discord lying just beneath the surface, suddenly and forcefully brought out into the open:

...the death of a young black man in city jail cell No. 1 has peeled back the neat facade of Greenville County's southernmost city and exposed a lingering division between its people.

It would be too easy to say the divide was between blacks and whites, for there have been whites who have complained about the Police Department and its tactics. Some, like the Rev. David Kennedy, who years ago waged a successful public relations campaign against the Redneck Shop and its Ku Klux Klan Museum in Laurens county, believe it is more about the haves and have-nots.

"I've had whites to call me and ask me to fight for them," he said.

Residents have claimed they have been harassed routinely by police, insulted and threatened. City administrator Eddie Case declined to comment until a State Law Enforcement Division investigation into the death is complete.

The town of about 7500 people has experienced two protests against the police and more are planned. The Rev. Jesse Jackson and 20 local residents, including the mother of the man who died, toured the jail, measuring its bars and trying to see how a healthy man of average height could hang himself from them.

"This has exposed some problems on the fundamental level," said Wanza Bates, the city's only female, only black Council member.
The SLED investigation into Jabo's death continues. As I reported earlier, the Justice Department is in town, taking statements about the July 29 death of Jabo while in police custody. I heard numerous rumors when I attended the September 27th rally, including one account that the police had wanted Jabo as an informant, and that he had repeatedly refused.

And then, there were the counter-demonstrators (see above link), who have gone on the offensive:
It has been a point-counterpoint battle of wills, from the streets to the Council chambers. Councilwoman Bates circulated a letter seeking information on how the police deal with residents. Police officers' wives have gone door-to-door; asking for positive comments. City Council meetings, in part, have turned into a slugfest.
The Greenville County Coroner's office ruled Jabo's death a suicide in September. Most in Fountain Inn's black community do not believe that Jabo intentionally killed himself, particularly in such a short period of time (allegedly an hour or less) after being locked up. His mother says it just wasn't him:
His mother has said he had much to live for, including a fiancee and a job he was to start the day after he died. Jackson and Kennedy say Johnson had suspicious marks on his body, especially, Kennedy said, on his back and arms.
Official details of the bust (for marijuana and cocaine possession) are as follows:
Johnson was booked at the Fountain Inn Law Enforcement Center at 10:57 pm July 29, according to a police incident report obtained through the Coroner's Office. He and a friend had been picked up outside his grandmother's house on Boyd Street in an area known as Sanctified Hill, a predominantly black neighborhood on the southern side of the city.

The friend, Andre Pendermon, was released. Johnson was put in one of the city's four jail cells.

In their incident reports, the two police officers who arrested Johnson said they searched him and put him in a cell while they talked to Pendermon. When Officer Brian Steele returned at about 11:40 pm, he found Johnson hanging by a t-shirt, his back against the bars. He lifted him off and attempted CPR, according to his report.
EMS arrived at 11:44 pm, and Johnson was taken to Hillcrest Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 12:25 am. The autopsy (performed by Dr. Erik Christensen at Greenville Memorial) found that Johnson died of asphyxia due to hanging, complicated by acute intoxication with alcohol, cocaine and marijuana.

The article does not mention Hattie Anita Johnson's (Jabo's mother) claims that she was not permitted to see her son for almost three days after his death, as she said at the rally. The rallies have been pretty rowdy events, and the one I attended nearly turned into a confrontation between (white) police supporters and (black) protesters, in front of the Fountain Inn Law Enforcement center. Rev. Kennedy's initial application for a protest on August 30 was denied. He claims the white counter-demonstrators did not apply for a permit, as he was forced to do:
"They should go by the same rules I do," he said.

Meanwhile, at the September 13 meeting of the City Council, Judy Ladnier, whose husband is a Fountain Inn police officer, challenged Bates' right to circulate a letter on city stationery asking for complaints about the police.

"Ms. Bates, if you don't trust any of these employees, then you don't need to be here with them. You need to move on out of town," Ladnier said, according to the meeting's minutes.

She said townspeople are fed up. Officers have been slandered, cursed at and flipped off, she said.
Which townspeople are those? You mean the white townspeople?

Is it true what I heard at the rally, that there are NO black police officers in Fountain Inn, a town with a sizable black population?

Why doesn't this article tell us that? (Well, baby steps, I guess. I am still amazed they attempted to cover this story at all.) Back to Judy Ladnier:
"My husband jogs and he's been chased down by carloads that are screaming out the windows," she said, before calling Bates an embarrassment.

Sarah McBride, also the wife of an officer, said she was ashamed to call herself a citizen of Fountain Inn because of what she termed slander against officers and the protests that have taken place. She called Johnson's death tragic, but said his death was not the fault of officers.

"The fact that no one seems to have taken into consideration that this person was a local drug addict being arrested and charged with several narcotic-related charges several times, just really confuses me," she said.
Okay, mini-civics lesson for the confused Ms. McBride, who doesn't sound like a fan of LAW AND ORDER, in any of it's many incarnations:

1) Just because someone uses drugs, does not make them an addict or a dealer, or "dangerous" at all.

2) All people, drug addicts/dealers included, are entitled to rights under the law, and that includes the right not to be hanged.

How many phone calls was Jabo allowed? What precisely were the charges, and why did they decide to pick him up when they did? Did these particular police officers already know him and talk to him previously, and if so, what about? Did any other police officers ever talk to him, and what about? Why was his mother not contacted immediately? (At the rally, it was said that they did not contact her, although Fountain Inn law enforcement claims that they did.) Is SLED going to share this information, when they discover it, or not?

Wisely, Councilwoman Wanza Bates did not respond to the outbursts directed at her during the Council sessions. She has continued in her work to find out the truth, and to empower local people. South Carolina Law In Action recently sponsored a legal seminar for Fountain Inn residents, explaining their rights.

And the DoJ investigation continues, also. Let's hope we get to the bottom of this.

Can we all handle the truth?

Listening to: The Clash - The Guns of Brixton
via FoxyTunes


Bryce said...

awesome post, D. reinforces my decision never to go to FI for any reason.

Scott said...

Daisy's AIR ain't dead Quite yet.
---ProfHib (aka

george said...

always good to opportinuity



New Jersey Drug Addiction