Kentucky lawmaker Dan Johnson, who has been accused of molesting a member of his church when she was 17, has died, an official said.
Bullitt County Coroner Dave Billings said the Republican state representative – and self-proclaimed “Pope” of his Louisville church – most likely killed himself Wednesday. His body was found near a bridge on Greenwell Ford Road in Mt. Washington, in a spot called the River Bottoms. He had a single gunshot wound to his head.
Billings plans to release more details Thursday after an autopsy is done.
Wednesday afternoon, Johnson, 57, again denied the allegations against him in a now-deleted Facebook post, adding that “I cannot handle it any longer . . . BUT HEAVEN IS MY HOME.”
State leaders from both parties had been calling for Johnson’s immediate resignation after the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting (KyCIR) published an expose Monday detailing allegations of how Johnson woke his daughter’s friend during a sleepover in 2013 and forced himself on her, slipping his hands up her shirt and bra and putting his fingers in her vagina.
“What you did was beyond mean, it was evil,” the victim said wrote in a Facebook message to him shortly after the incident, according to KyCIR.
Johnson on Tuesday denied the accusations.
“This allegation concerning this lady, this young girl, absolutely has no merit, these are unfounded accusations, totally,” he said, according to the Courier-Journal.
The victim, now 21, told KyCIR that for years she had considered Johnson to be a “second dad.” She became close with his daughter, Sarah, and familiar with the boozy weekend parties Johnson would throw at the “Pope’s House” – the fellowship hall next to the Heart of Fire Church. Those parties, KyCIR reported, featured scantily clad women, body shots and costumes.
In the first hours of 2013, as a New Year’s Eve party came to an end, the victim, then 17, was spending the night with Johnson’s daughter in the apartment under the fellowship hall, according to the report. The Post does not identify victims of sexual assault without their consent.
Johnson entered, drunk and stumbling, so the victim helped him navigate the stairs. She thought he was putting his arm around her for balance. Until his hand allegedly slipped up her shirt, KyCIR reported.
The victim then woke up later that night on the sofa. She found Johnson kneeling above her. She told KyCIR that he kissed her forehead and then slipped his hands up her shirt and bra. The report said he groped her, stuck his tongue in her mouth and put his fingers in her vagina. She begged him to stop and tried to force the man, who weighed twice as much as she did, off her without waking Johnson’s daughter, KyCIR reported.
“He told her she’d like it. She said no, she didn’t. She pleaded with him: go away, go away,” KyCIR reported. He eventually did.
The KyCIR report highlights how Johnson – known in his church community as “Danny Ray Johnson” – painted a picture of himself over the years as a pro-gun, pro-life “patriot,” which helped propel him into the Kentucky legislature in 2016, when he won the House’s 49th District seat. But the seven-month investigation, comprised of more than 100 interviews and thousands of pages of public records, alleges the Republican’s persona is orchestrated to mask a series of concerning incidents – including sexual abuse, arson and false testimony.
In the wake of the allegations, David Osborne, the acting Kentucky House speaker, called the report “compelling and deeply troubling,” according to the Associated Press. Gov. Matt Bevin, R, said he had not read the report and wanted to “wait until we get some facts” before commenting.
Bevin said in a tweet Wednesday that he was saddened by the news of Johnson’s death: Saddened to hear of tonight’s death of KY Representative Dan Johnson. . .My heart breaks for his family tonight. . .These are heavy days in Frankfort and in America. . .May God indeed shed His grace on us all. . .We sure need it. . .
At a news conference at the church Tuesday alongside family, campaign members and other church members, Johnson acknowledged that the woman accusing him was close to the family.
“I don’t want to blast this girl, I have a lot of compassion for her,” Johnson said. “I’m very sorrowful that she’s in this dark place in her life.”
Johnson could not be immediately reached for comment.
The accusations against Johnson come as dozens of high-profile men have been fired or have resigned from their jobs in politics, media, entertainment and business after facing allegations of sexually harassing or assaulting women and men. They include Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein and broadcaster Charlie Rose. Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., and Rep. John Conyers Jr., D-Mich., both said last week that they would leave Congress over sexual misconduct allegations.
Other Kentucky House Republicans facing scandal in recent months remain in the state legislature. Former Kentucky House speaker Jeff Hoover, after admitting he paid to settle a sexual-harassment claim made by a woman in his office, resigned from his leadership position last month but is still a state representative. Three other lawmakers involved in the secretive settlement had their committee chairmanships taken away from them but also still serve as representatives.
It’s not the first time leaders have called for Johnson to step down. In 2016, while running for office, he posted racist photos on his Facebook page that compared President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama to monkeys. He disregarded calls for him to drop out of the race – and won.
During Tuesday’s news conference, Johnson said the woman accusing him was motivated by his political opponents, according to the Courier-Journal. The woman supported Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election, he said, and disagrees with his conservative stance on abortion rights.
“This is an assault on all real people, there’s no perfect people and you get into office and all of sudden political hacks come against you and start accusing you after you’re in office,” Johnson said.
He added that there is a “season” of sexual abuse allegations in politics, referring to the accusations against President Donald Trump and Republican U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore of Alabama. Johnson said he didn’t think all the women who’ve spoken out about abuse across the nation were lying, however.
The woman accusing Johnson told KyCIR that she never returned to the apartment below the fellowship hall. When she didn’t show up to the church for service the following Sunday, Johnson allegedly sent her a Facebook message. In the message, he said his daughter told him he had been “mean” to her, the victim and his son, Boaz, the night of the party.
“Sarah said I was mean to Bo You and Her by telling you all to go to bed so sorry don’t remember I was told we all got drugged at TK’s anyway so sorry if I sounded mean, you know you are one of my favorites, love you sorry! Boaz did Great Sunday! Your future Husband!” the message read, according to KyCIR. TK’s refers to T.K.’s Pub, a local bar.
The victim responded the next day, and said, according to KyCIR:
“Drugged or not, I think you know what happened that night and that’s why you’re sending this message. I never thought something like that would happen to me, especially by someone like you. I looked at you as a Dad, but now I sincerely hope I don’t see you again, but I might try to maintain a relationship with your kids. And there is no point in responding to this message either because I don’t want to talk about it ever again.”
Louisville Metro police said they closed the case after investigating the allegations, according to KyCIR.
On Tuesday, Johnson acknowledged that he sent the victim a Facebook message shortly after the night she stayed over, but again said he did not remember what happened on the night of the alleged abuse because he was “drugged” at the bar, according to the Courier-Journal. He said he didn’t file a police report about the alleged drugging because he did not want to bring accusations against a bar.
He later said at the news conference that he did recall what happened on that night – and said he never approached the victim while she was sleeping, according to the Courier-Journal.
The KyCIR report also detailed other incidents from Johnson’s past. A grand jury indicted him for complicity to commit arson and making a false police report in 1987, according to the report, which suggests Johnson may have been linked in another arson incident 13 years later in which his own church was burned down.