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Jury hangs in ex-officer’s assault case

by Tess Vrbin | May 13, 2022 at 1:00 a.m.

LITTLE ROCK — Jurors did not reach a unanimous decision Wednesday after deliberating for five hours in the trial of a former Little Rock police officer accused of sexually assaulting a woman during a response to a call.

Pulaski County Circuit Judge Leon Johnson declared a mistrial after the jury’s 9-3 deadlock did not change after a recount.

Chief Deputy Prosecuting Attorney John Johnson told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette his impression was that the majority of the jurors considered former police officer Brandon Johnson guilty. Johnson was accused of coercing a woman into oral sex in return for him not arresting her for public intoxication Sept. 28, 2018.

The fact that a swab of Johnson’s genital area, taken hours after the alleged assault, did not find any of the woman’s DNA might have been what convinced some jurors he was not guilty, said Degen Clow, one of Johnson’s defense attorneys, after the judge’s ruling.

Johnson denied in his two hours of testimony Wednesday that he engaged in any sexual activity with his accuser or that he abused his position as a police officer at any point while interacting with her. He said it was “just another call” and he gave her a ride home from the parking lot of AFCO Steel Inc., where she was asleep in a car that did not belong to her.

He said it was not the first time he drove someone home at night instead of making an arrest.

“[Police] get a bad rep, so I always tried to leave somebody in good standing,” he said.

Johnson parked his police car in the parking lot of Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church, near the woman’s house, and let the woman out of the car.

The woman, who testified Tuesday and Wednesday, told the jury she did not want to comply with Johnson’s request for oral sex, but she did because he said he could take her to jail and she felt threatened by his position of authority.

Audio from Johnson’s body microphone that night did not pick up the nine minutes in which the victim said he assaulted her, while Johnson said he simply had a conversation with her. The two were outside the car while the microphone was still inside.

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

The victim said she called 911 and reported the incident to Little Rock police immediately after it happened. She was then examined by medical professionals, and police collected tissue samples from Johnson and sent his clothing to the Arkansas State Crime Lab.

Two crime lab employees testified Wednesday the victim’s DNA was on Johnson’s pants and underwear. The DNA came from bloodstains, and the victim had small cuts on her fingers that were bleeding at the time she was examined, the prosecuting attorneys said.

Johnson said during his testimony that the blood was his own. He also said he gave the woman a hug before she went inside her house and he drove away. He then parked a few blocks away and used the bathroom, he said.

Based on testimony from crime lab employees about the transfer of DNA between surfaces, Clow said the victim’s DNA on Johnson’s hands came from the hug and transferred to his pants and underwear when he used the bathroom.

The victim’s medical exam revealed male DNA in her mouth that did not rule out Johnson as the source, said Jonathan Kordsmeier, a DNA analyst with the state crime lab.

Clow said all the DNA evidence was “circumstantial,” which he said was a “dangerous” argument for the prosecution to employ.

“It leads to miscarriages of justice,” Clow said. “It leads to wrong results.”

John Johnson, the prosecuting attorney, said it was interesting that the genital area tissue sample did not find the DNA of the defendant’s wife, Robin Johnson, who testified Wednesday that she and her husband have almost daily sexual contact.

This raised the possibility that Brandon Johnson “might have been cleaning himself up” at the time he said he used the bathroom after the alleged assault, John Johnson said.

Audio from Brandon Johnson’s body microphone, played for the jury Tuesday, revealed him telling the victim to “get your crap and get out” of the car she was sleeping in.

John Johnson pointed out in his closing argument that the audio evidence did not support the officer’s statement that he tried to interact with civilians in a way that would give them a good impression of the police.

Brandon Johnson also did not ask the victim if she needed medical help. He then asked a group of men, including the car’s owner, “Anybody want a girlfriend for the night?”

The question was a “crude joke” and he did not intend to sexualize the woman, Brandon Johnson said during his testimony.

John Johnson asked the defendant if it was “a crazy, wild coincidence” and “just bad luck” that the woman accused him of assaulting her minutes later.

“Extremely bad luck,” Brandon Johnson responded.

The victim could have kept the encounter to herself but reported it because she “didn’t feel right,” she said in her testimony.

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