‘I cannot handle it any longer’: Suicide suspected by Ky. lawmaker accused of molesting teen

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Kentucky state representative Dan Johnson (R) was found dead on Dec. 13, after allegations surfaced that he had molested a member of his church when she was 17, an official said. (WDRB, WHAS/AP)

Kentucky lawmaker Dan Johnson was found dead Wednesday, just two days after allegations surfaced that he had molested a member of his church when she was 17, an official said.

Bullitt County Coroner Dave Billings said Johnson —a Republican state representative and self-proclaimed “Pope” of his Louisville church — most likely killed himself. His body was found near a bridge on Greenwell Ford Road in Mount Washington, in a spot called the River Bottoms, with a single gunshot wound to his head.

Officials discovered Johnson’s body after they were made aware of a concerning Facebook statement and tracked the besieged lawmaker’s phone to his location, Billings said.

A gun was recovered at the scene, said Bullitt County Sheriff’s Lt. Scotty McGaha.

More details will be released Thursday, after an autopsy is completed; but the coroner’s office said Wednesday that it was a “probable suicide.”

Johnson had denied the molestation allegations and rejected calls to resign.

On Wednesday afternoon, the 57-year-old took to Facebook and again denied the allegations, saying they were “false … and only GOD knows the truth, nothing is the way they make it out to be.”

He added, in the since-deleted post, 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 published an exposé 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 she wrote in a Facebook message to him shortly after the incident, according to KyCIR.

Johnson denied the accusations.

“This allegation concerning this lady, this young girl, absolutely has no merit, these are unfounded accusations, totally,” he said on Tuesday, 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.

Kentucky State Rep. Dan Johnson. (Timothy D. Easley/Associated Press)

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.

Michael Skoler, the president of Louisville Public Media — which operates KyCIR — said in a statement to The Post that the organization was “deeply sad” to hear about Johnson’s death and was grieving “for his family, friends, church community and constituents.”

“Our Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting released a report on Johnson this week,” Skoler said. ’Our aim, as always, is to provide the public with fact-based, unbiased reporting and hold public officials accountable for their actions. As part of our process, we reached out to Representative Johnson numerous times over the course of a seven-month investigation. He declined requests to talk about our findings.”

In the wake of the allegations, David Osborne, the acting Kentucky House speaker, called the report “compelling and deeply troubling.”

Gov. Matt Bevin (R) said he had not read the report and wanted to “wait until we get some facts” before commenting.

Bevin said Wednesday that he was saddened by the news of Johnson’s death.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) also tweeted about Johnson’s death, saying: “I cannot imagine his pain or the heartbreak his family is dealing with.”

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.

After the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke, more women and men have come forward against a growing list of well-known male figures with similar stories of harassment and assault. (Erin Patrick O’Connor,Nicki DeMarco/The Washington Post)

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 Obama and first lady Michelle Obama to monkeys. He disregarded calls for him to drop out of the race — and won.

At a news conference at the church Tuesday, alongside family, campaign members and other church members, 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 disagreed 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 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.

With friends and family standing behind him, Kentucky state Rep. Dan Johnson speaks at his church on Tuesday. (Timothy D. Easley/AP)

This post has been updated.

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