Dan Johnson, the Republican Representative for Kentucky’s 49th district, was found dead Wednesday night near a bridge on Greenwell Ford Road in Mount Washington. Bullitt County coroner Dave Billings confirmed that Johnson’s cause of death was a single, self-inflicted, shot to the head from the .40 caliber pistol found near his body.
Rep. Johnson had recently been accused of forcing himself on a 17-year-old girl back in 2012. He denied the claims Tuesday, but then killed himself the next night. Johnson had faced pressure from the leaders of his party to step down as soon as the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting (KCIR) released their story. The Lexington Herald Leader reported Tuesday:
“The Republican Party of Kentucky and leaders of the House Republican Caucus called for Johnson to step down Monday after the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting published a lengthy article saying that Johnson allegedly forcibly kissed, groped and used his finger to penetrate Maranda Richmond, then 17, despite her asking him to stop, on New Year’s Eve 2012.”
This wasn’t Johnson’s first clash with his party leadership. The 49th district elected him to the state legislature in 2016, but Republican leaders refused to support him and urged him to drop out of the race over controversial social media posts that, whether he intended them to be or not, were widely interpreted as being racist.
ABC News reports that shortly before 5 p.m. Wednesday, Rep. Johnson posted a message on Facebook that is no longer available asking people to take care of his wife and describing PTSD as “a sickness that will take my life, I cannot handle it any longer.” The post went on to say that PTSD had won this life, but that Heaven is his home.
Thursday morning, the Lexington Herald Leader reported that while the Republican Party of Kentucky had denounced Johnson for his racist posts and the allegation of sexual assault, they “expressed their sympathy for his family.”
Louisville Public Media, which produced the KCIR article that quite possibly led Rep. Johnson to take his own life, expressed their sympathy as well:
“All of us at Louisville Public Media are deeply sad to hear that State Representative Dan Johnson has died, apparently of suicide. We grieve for his family, friends, church community and constituents,” Michael Skoler, the president of Louisville Public Media, said in a statement. “Our Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting released a report on Johnson this week. Our aim, as always, is to provide the public with fact-based, unbiased reporting and hold public officials accountable for their actions.”
For those of you wondering what “fact-based, unbiased reporting” looks like, take a gander at CYIR’s “The Pope’s Long Con: A Kentucky preacher-turned-politician’s web of lies,” by R.G. Dunlop and Jacob Ryan.
Johnson may have been a controversial figure in Kentucky politics, but he was a helpful friend to former House Speaker Jeff Hoover, who said that Johnson had offered encouragement after Hoover stepped down as speaker over his own sexual harassment allegation scandal. Hoover, saddened by Johnson’s passing, tweeted that the lawmaker and minister had reached out to him, encouraged him, and prayed for him. Hoover then made a point that, unfortunately, it seems the nation has all but forgotten:
“In America, those accused of wrongdoing are presumed innocent until proven guilty. Persons posting accusations on social media as truth, and those who are self righteous and indignant over mere accusations must do better. Personal attacks don’t have to be part of politics.”
Mr. Hoover is right: Personal attacks don’t have to be part of politics. But they are. Unproven allegations of heinous crimes are now an effective and oft-used tool for defeating political opponents. Left unchecked, it was only a matter of time before the trend led to resignations, firings, and even stress-related trips to the hospital. Now a life has ended – quite likely as a direct result of such allegations and personal attacks. Where will it end?