Unfinished Lives

Remembering LGBT Hate Crime Victims

Judge Rules Mistrial in Duanna Johnson Civil Rights Case: One Juror Hangs Federal Jury

Duanna Johnson, slain transwoman

Memphis, TN – A federal judge in Memphis has ruled for a mistrial in the case of former Memphis Police Officer Bridges McRae, on trial for violating Duanna Johnson’s civil rights.  Memphis LGBT advocates are calling the decision “a failure of the justice system,” according to myeyewitnessnews.com.  Johnson, a transgender woman of color, was repeatedly punched and beaten by McRae with handcuffs wrapped around his knuckles and pepper-sprayed as she was being processed for a prostitution charge at a Memphis police station on February 12, 2008.  The beating was captured on a police surveillance tape, and reaction to the video prompted an immediate investigation resulting in the firing of McRae and a second officer, James Swain.  Johnson had filed suit against the city on the basis of the videotape and the testimony of witnesses who declared that the brutal beating was unprovoked.  Nine months later, as the New York Times reports, Duanna Johnson was shot to death with a bullet to the head on the night of November 9, 2008.  Johnson’s murder, which remains unsolved, prompted intense scrutiny on the original beating case, and charges were filed in federal court for violation of the transwoman’s civil rights.  Besides the controversial videotape of her beating, five witnesses testified in court that the attack on the 6’5″ 250 lb. Black transwoman was wanton, there being no reason for it in her behavior.  Will Batts of the Memphis Gay and Lesbian Center, who had watched the surveillance tape repeatedly, said to myeyewitnessnews.com, “[The beating] looked to be unprovoked. It looked to be excessive on the part of the police officer. It looked to be just an attack on someone in a police station with other people standing around. And it was just incredibly violent.” McRae’s attorney argued that his client was simply exercising necessary force to subdue Johnson, blaming her for resisting arrest.  Eleven jurors were convinced of McRae’s guilt.  One was not, however, and after the jury deadlocked, the judge declared the mistrial. The Memphis LGBT community refused to take the news lying down.  A rally in protest of the judge’s ruling will take place April 20 in front of the Federal Courthouse.  “Would it have been different if Duanna were not transgendered,” Batts asked in a press interview. “If it were just an average person from the suburbs that happened to be sitting in that jail room on that day and had this kind of response from the police, would the decision be different?”  Both the prosecution and the defense are to meet with the judge to determine a date for a new trial for McRae.

April 20, 2010 - Posted by | African Americans, Anglo Americans, Anti-LGBT hate crime, anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Beatings and battery, Blame the victim, Hate Crimes, Law and Order, police brutality, Protests and Demonstrations, Tennessee, transgender persons, transphobia, Unsolved LGBT Crimes | , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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