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Sexually assaulted by Little Rock officer, woman tells jurors

by Tess Vrbin | May 11, 2022 at 7:04 a.m.

A woman who accused a former Little Rock police officer of sexually assaulting her in 2018 testified Tuesday that she has been to "hell and back to fight this" alleged crime.

"I was putting my life into [his hands]," she told a jury and Pulaski County Circuit Judge Leon Johnson. "I thought I was going to go home safely, and this happened."

The judge and jury heard opening statements from attorneys and testimony from five witnesses, including the victim, in the case against Brandon Johnson, who was arrested and charged with third-degree sexual assault in September 2018 after the victim told police that Johnson coerced her into oral sex in return for him not arresting her for public intoxication.

Prosecuting attorney Michael Wright told the jury that the evidence would show them what happened between Johnson and the woman during nine minutes that the two people were apparently outside Johnson's squad car and his body camera was inside.

"You will know that a man who was sworn to serve and protect the citizens of this community took advantage of a very vulnerable person," Wright said in his opening statement.

Degen Clow, one of Johnson's defense attorneys, said that Johnson simply gave a ride home to a woman who was intoxicated "on the verge of incoherence" and that he had no intention to arrest her, but "no good deed goes unpunished."

Clow said the victim's story varied between her 911 call and her conversations with police and a nurse who examined her for evidence of sexual violence. He also tried to tie the victim's accusation to "Me Too," the movement that began on social media in 2017 in which women shared their stories of sexual assault.

"The facts [of her account] change, and the only thing that remains the same in each statement is that she says, 'I had oral sex with him,'" Clow told the jury.

The victim testified that she had been walking through her northeast Little Rock neighborhood around 3 a.m. after returning from a night out drinking with a friend. She said she reached the parking lot of AFCO Steel Inc. at the corner of Sixth and Thomas streets and asked an employee of the company if she could sleep in his car. He agreed, but he later called the police after she slept in the car for more than half an hour and did not want to leave, she said.

Johnson responded to the call, and attorneys for the state played 15 minutes of audio and video from Johnson's body camera for the jury.

According to the audio, Johnson said "Get your crap and get out [of the car]" to the victim. When she cooperated, Johnson asked the car's owner and his colleagues, "Anybody want a girlfriend for the night?"

Johnson told the victim he would give her a ride to her house a few blocks away. The victim said he pulled the car into the parking lot of Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church.

It was at this point that Johnson is alleged to have removed the camera and microphone from his body. The final nine minutes of audio did not pick up any voices but ended with some fumbling sounds.

Ayeisha Lee, a Little Rock police officer who handles body cameras, testified that the equipment did not experience any technical failures and must have been deliberately moved.

The victim said Johnson did not mention to her the possibility of her going to jail until after he got out of the car in the church parking lot. She said he asked her to give him oral sex and she complied even though she did not want to do it.

"I was scared, not knowing what he was going to do, being out at that time of night," she said, adding that she feared a public intoxication charge.

The encounter went on for several minutes before the victim stopped because she was tired, she said, adding Johnson did not take her to her house but instead drove away from the church parking lot.

She went inside her house and "wasn't feeling right," she said, so she woke her husband and told him she believed she had been sexually assaulted.

Her husband tried to go back to sleep, and when Clow asked her why her husband did not seem concerned about the alleged assault, she said they were "basically like roommates" at the time. They are now separated.

She called 911 to report the assault at her husband's suggestion, she said.

The prosecution played the jury the audio recording of the 911 call, in which the victim's voice was emotional. She said she didn't "feel safe" after performing oral sex at Johnson's request.

Clow told her he was not convinced she felt unsafe because of Johnson, since he was no longer present.

Sgt. Steven Montgomery was one of the Little Rock police officers who responded to the victim's call. He testified that she told him and other officers about the coerced sexual encounter.

"She said, 'I can still taste him in my mouth,'" Montgomery said.

An ambulance took the victim to the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences Medical Center, where she was examined by Ashley Connors, a sexual assault nurse examiner.

Connors testified that the victim "wasn't very cooperative" at first because she was afraid, but she eventually calmed down, agreed to be examined and told Connors the same story she told the 911 dispatcher and the police.

The victim testified that she felt embarrassed and ashamed to have to be physically examined.

DNA swabs from the victim's clothing tested positive for a protein found in seminal fluid, and DNA from Johnson's underwear matched that of the victim, according to court documents.

Employees from the Arkansas State Crime Laboratory who handled both sets of clothing are scheduled to testify in the trial.

The victim's DNA on Johnson's underwear came from bloodstains, and the victim had small cuts on her fingers that were bleeding when she was examined, the prosecuting attorneys said.

"I don't remember [where they came from], but I didn't have them when I got in the vehicle," the victim said.

In the affidavit for Johnson's arrest, the victim said he "propositioned" her. She said Tuesday that Johnson used more vulgar language to refer to the oral sex act, and she repeated his words in the 911 call and in her initial statement to police but was not comfortable with the language and rephrased it later.

While questioning the victim, Clow claimed she told a detective at one point that Johnson did not ask her for oral sex, citing one of several conversations between the victim and the detective. The victim maintained that she has always said Johnson did ask for oral sex.

Clow asked if she might have been "confused," and she said she was not.

Chief Deputy Prosecuting Attorney John Johnson asked the victim if she felt like she had any control of her circumstances around Brandon Johnson.

"No, I felt like I didn't," she said.

The trial will continue today.

Print Headline: Sexually assaulted by Little Rock officer, woman tells jurors

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