March 18, 2011

Truth in the Death of Billey Joe Johnson - Suicide or Murder-by-Cop?

Billey Joe Johnson
Soulclap to African American Pundit for informing us about the murky circumstances regarding the death of 17-year old Billey Joe Johnson. Billey was a star football player with a bright future in December 2009 when he was stopped for a traffic violation by George County (MS) deputy sheriff Joe Sullivan. At this point we only have one side of the story -- Sullivan's patrol car did not have a camera and the young victim in this story is dead.

The George County Sheriff’s Department claims that on that fateful morning, Billey Joe attempted to break into the home of an on-again, off-again girlfriend in the nearby city of Lucedale. According to the sheriff’s department, he left the scene and ran a red light at 5:34 a.m. After a 1½-mile pursuit, Billey Joe got out of his truck, met sheriff’s deputy Joe Sullivan and handed over his license. Then Billey Joe returned to his truck, put a 12-gauge shotgun he used to target deer to his head and committed suicide. It was 5:40 a.m.

Billey Joe’s friends and family don’t believe the story. His father is convinced someone forced Billey Joe on his knees, shoved the shotgun barrel in his mouth and pulled the trigger. [SOURCE]
They must’ve tortured my baby,” Billey Johnson, Sr. says.

Community members (and others)are renewing their efforts because Johnson’s death and subsequent investigations leave more questions than answers. Given the long history of corruption and cover-ups in George County law enforcement, many community members feel law enforcement and the District Attorney’s office colluded to execute a wide spread cover-up. Community members also point to what they call a pattern of racial profiling and the use of fear and intimidation on behalf of law enforcement.
Law enforcement’s investigation left a lot of holes and many of us believe there was foul play. Because of the amount of discrimination we experience every day, we have little faith in the local justice system,” said Mr. Bobby Perryman of Immaculate Heart Community Development Corporation.
Johnson’s family is calling on the Lucedale community to come forward with information about the case and believe many have stayed quiet for fear of retribution or being shunned by friends and family members.
Nobody wants to tell on their neighbor, but the fact is that a young man was killed and his family and this community need closure,” said Pastor Garrett of Prince Garrett Ministries
George County is a very small community and is still very segregated. A few large families and their extended networks own most of the businesses and play influential roles in city and county government. George County, where the incident occurred, is 89% white with very few Black residents.
We know there are good folks in George County who have knowledge about the incident. We know you are afraid but we need you to come forward. Black or white - none of us are free when there is a suspicion of murder,” Garrett added.
“We are tired of the corruption, the cover-ups and the abuse we suffer at the hands of police,” said Ms. Lucy Wilson, President of the Human Rights Taskforce of George County. The Human Rights Taskforce was established as a result of the travesty of justice felt by many around the Johnson case as well as growing tensions between the Black community and law enforcement.

The young teenager died over a year ago ... and yet there still isn't closure for the family or the community.  This blog is hopeful that a true investigation would sort out fact from rumor. But we can't be sure that Johnson's family will get the investigation it deserves. In the case of the Jena 6 we saw a District Attorney and a judge incapable of carrying out justice in a racially charged environment. In the recent case of the murder of Oscar Grant by police (and many like it), we see how unlikely it is for District Attorneys to do their job when the suspect is an officer of the law. But in both these cases, public pressure has made all the difference by shining a spotlight on local authorities.

In the case of Billey Joe Johnson, we're looking for the truth and for justice.  I encourage all villagers to take a minute of your time to help ensure his family get both.

Please let us know if you learn of any new information.   Suicide?  or Murder?


AfricanAmericanPundit said...

Villager, Thank you for highlighting this very important case. The truth regarding the death of Billey Joe Johnson will come out. It's bloggers such as yourself that will make it happen.
Soul claps back at you for a great and informative post.

Villager said...

AAP - I'm sorry that the Johnson family lost their son in such a manner. It is a sad story all the way around.