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Investigation of girl's allegations against Kevin Johnson raises questions

By Terri Hardy and Dorothy Korber - thardy@sacbee.com

Last Updated 6:22 am PDT Friday, April 25, 2008
Story appeared in MAIN NEWS section, Page A1

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After a Sacramento High School teacher's report last year that a 17-year-old student told him she was inappropriately touched by Kevin Johnson, Johnson's personal attorney and business partner investigated the complaint for the campus.

State law requires that authorities be notified immediately when school officials learn of such an allegation. But – before police were called in by the teacher – Johnson's attorney, Kevin Hiestand, questioned the girl during an internal investigation, according to interviews and e-mails obtained by The Bee.

Following the school's internal investigation, the student recanted. (The Bee is not naming her because of her age and the nature of the allegation.) Sacramento police investigators, who never interviewed Johnson, later found "no merit" to the allegation and declined to pursue the case in part because the girl recanted.

At the time of the April 2007 allegation, former NBA star Johnson served as a teacher, interim principal and head of St. HOPE Public Schools, which oversees the Sac High charter school. Currently, he is challenging Sacramento Mayor Heather Fargo in the June election.

Erik Jones, the teacher who made the report to police, resigned over the way the matter was handled by the school.

"St. HOPE sought to intimidate the student through an illegal interrogation and even had the audacity to ask me to change my story," Jones wrote in his May 15 resignation letter.

In response to a detailed summary of issues raised by this article, the Johnson campaign released a one-paragraph statement late Wednesday:

"St. HOPE takes any claim of harassment seriously, particularly in the case of a minor. In this case, St. HOPE acted swiftly to follow its federally mandated requirement to investigate. An impartial three-person panel found that the allegation was unfounded, a finding that was later confirmed by law enforcement. We consider the matter closed given the findings of law enforcement and out of respect for the minor involved."

When a Bee reporter asked about the matter at a Sacramento Press Club lunch Thursday, Johnson responded briefly.

"I think the allegations at the school were handled in the way that you would want them handled," he said. "Immediately they followed all the normal protocols that they were supposed to follow … . I think it was pretty clear there was nothing there."

Pressed for more information, Hiestand e-mailed answers to some questions late Thursday. He said the three-person impartial panel included him, the school's principal and a St. HOPE staff member and that they proceeded "in accordance with the law." He said he did not recall whether the investigation began before police were notified.

Police Chief Rick Braziel said that the police report confirms that the attorney had contacted the girl before they got involved.

"We knew there was an internal investigation done before the date we were notified," Braziel said. "We did ask the young lady whether anyone had influenced her – her answer was no."

Classmate questioned

Jones, who heard the girl's original account, and a classmate who also was there, told The Bee that Hiestand suggested they alter their versions of what they heard. Both said they refused.

The classmate, Dora Bromme, said Hiestand pulled her out of class and told her the girl making the allegation had recanted. In an interview, Bromme told The Bee that Hiestand said he was from "human resources" but did not identify himself as a lawyer.

She said Hiestand told her that the student "told us that (Johnson) just kissed her on the forehead and gave her a pat on the shoulder and left."

"I said to him 'I can tell you for a fact that's not what she said,'" Bromme said. "He was changing around the story."

St. HOPE classifies the incident as "harassment," and Hiestand said he participated as the school's federal Title IX officer. Police, however, investigated it as a child sexual abuse case because the minor alleged Johnson had touched her breasts.

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About the writer:

  • Call The Bee's Terri Hardy, (916) 321-1073, or Dorothy Korber, (916) 321-1061. The Bee's Mary Lynne Vellinga contributed to this report.

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Lawyer Kevin Hiestand says St. HOPE's investigation of the teen's allegation against Kevin Johnson proceeded "in accordance with the law." Lezlie Sterling / Sacramento Bee file, 2007

Click on photo to enlarge

 

Reports on mayoral candidate Kevin Johnson

Child abuse report filed by a Sacramento High teacher in 2007 against Johnson

Phoenix police sex-crime unit investigation report of Johnson from 1996


PREVIOUS STORIES

April 16: Opponent releases 1996 complaint

April 18: Johnson says no charges were filed over teen's '96 allegations



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