The death of a state representative -- who apparently committed suicide Wednesday after being accused of molestation -- sent more shock waves through a Kentucky Statehouse already rocked by other sexual misconduct scandals.
State Rep. Dan Johnson, 57, appeared to have shot himself just days after a woman reportedly alleged that he had sexually assaulted her on New Year’s Day in 2013 when she was 17, according to police and the local coroner. An autopsy was planned for Thursday.
The accusation against Johnson was published Monday by the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting (KyCIR), which also cast doubt on the Republican’s claim that he had set up a morgue at Ground Zero after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
According to KyCIR, Johnson forced himself on his accuser.
Johnson said at a news conference at his church Tuesday that the claim “absolutely has no merit,” before adding he was “very sorrowful” that his accuser was “in this dark place in her life.”
The former pastor who reportedly called himself the “pope” initially said that he did not remember what happened on the night in question because he had been “drugged” at a bar.
He later backtracked and said he did recall that he never entered the accuser’s room, according to the Louisville Courier Journal.
Fiery Facebook post
On Wednesday, Johnson again denied the accusation in a fiery final Facebook post.
“The accusations from NPR are false GOD and only GOD knows the truth, nothing is the way they make it out to be,” Johnson apparently wrote. “AMERICA will not survive this type of judge and jury fake news. Conservatives take a stand. I LOVE GOD and I LOVE MY WIFE, who is the best WIFE in the world, My Love Forever!”
Johnson also wrote that post-traumatic stress disorder was “a sickness that will take my life, I cannot handle it any longer. It has won this life, BUT HEAVEN IS MY HOME.”
After Johnson’s death, Louisville Public Media, which oversees KyCIR, said it was “deeply sad” to learn of Johnson’s death and would “grieve for his family, friends, church community and constituents.”
The episode unfolded less than two months after at least four Kentucky lawmakers, as well as the chief of staff to the state’s House speaker, were linked by the Courier Journal to a confidential settlement of a sexual harassment claim by a female staff member.
The newspaper’s report prompted Gov. Matt Bevin in November to call upon "every individual” in the Kentucky Statehouse involved in wrongdoing to resign.
Of the five individuals named by the Courier Journal, two have acknowledged some wrongdoing.
Rep. Brian Linder admitted to signing the settlement and apologized for causing “grief and embarrassment" and acknowledged that he had made "some mistakes," the Courier Journal reported.
'Saved by God's grace'
Jeff Hoover, Kentucky’s Republican House speaker, resigned his leadership position shortly after news of the settlement broke.
He acknowledged in a news conference that he was “wrong” to send what he said was consensual text message “banter” to a female colleague.
“I have asked for and received forgiveness from God, my family, my wonderful wife, Karen, and my daughters,” Hoover said.
The Courier Journal published some of the text messages apparently sent by Hoover, who described himself on Twitter as a “Sinner saved by God’s grace.”
“If you decided to send a photo of the black lace g string, I won’t share. For my eyes only,” read one of the texts.
After Johnson’s death, Hoover exhorted his followers on Twitter to treat accusations of misconduct with healthy skepticism.
“I am very sad over the passing of Rep. Dan Johnson,” Hoover tweeted. “Over the past few weeks in some of the darkest days of my life, he reached out to me, encouraged me, and prayed for me. Prayers for his wife, children, grandchildren and all affected by this sad event.
“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,” he continued.
In 2015, Thomas Clay, the lawyer who represented Hoover’s accuser, won a $400,000 settlement for three women in a sexual harassment and retaliation case involving Kentucky House Democrats, the Courier Journal reported.
The women worked at the state Legislative Research Commission, a state agency that heads administrative functions in the Kentucky Statehouse.
Clay said at the time that he was “not optimistic” that the settlement would fix the culture at the state Capitol, WFPL reported.
“We still have the same people,” Clay said.