City Desk

WaPo: KJ’s Mom Says He Wasn’t a Womanizer in NBA

Sweeping negative statements are a minefield for journalists. Say you're interviewing a guy for a profile, and you ask him if he's ever gotten into any trouble. "Never been arrested," he replies. Before including such a claim in a story, you've got to hit the databases covering the entire country. And then you'll have to check the subject's overseas escapades.

Lesson: Stay away from categorical negatives at all costs. And when you do use them, make sure you have ironclad sourcing behind them.

Yesterday's Washington Post contained a nervy categorical negative. The story in question was a feature on the love affair between former NBA star and current Sacramento Mayor Kevin "KJ" Johnson and D.C. public schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee. Written by the prolific and wonderful Wil Haygood, it was a timely and well told piece, full of insights on this now-very-public relationship.

Yet it stopped me dead in my tracks when it vouched for KJ's bona fides in the fidelity department. The fleet-footed point guard spent 12 seasons in the NBA, and here's how the story characterized his romantic record over that period:

"Unlike some, he was no womanizer in the NBA."

Now that's a whopper of a categorical negative. Saying someone didn't fool around over more than a decade in the NBA is like saying someone went to a beer festival and had nothing to drink. The NBA culture of fucking everything in sight is too well established to belabor here.

So what testimony does the Post display for this stunning contention? That of KJ's mom: "He had always said it was too hard in the NBA with all the traveling to have a serious relationship," the mother is quoted as saying.

Time to take this thing apart, piece by piece.

No. 1: The quote from the mother doesn't even support the contention that KJ wasn't a womanizer. In fact, it supports the possibility that he was. After all, if it's too hard to have a "serious relationship" in the NBA, what the hell do you do? Right: You womanize.

No. 2: Since when does a journalist rely on a mom to substantiate whether her son is a good man? Sydney Trent, Haygood's editor on the piece, responded as follows when asked about the reliance on KJ's mom: "While we quoted his mother we also verified the information from other sources."

And then, under a subhed that reads, "Negative Publicity," Haygood delves into some events that occurred at the St. Hope Academy, a nonprofit that founded to create a network of charter schools. Haygood writes the following:

Then came the darkness: The local press wrote about a 1995 case in Phoenix in which a 16-year-old accused Johnson of fondling her in a sexual manner. Police declined to bring charges following an investigation. In 2008, there was a similar allegation made against Johnson by a high school student at his St. Hope Sacramento High School. Rhee considered herself familiar with the inner workings of St. Hope High and didn't believe the charges against Johnson.

"It was a hard thing for me," she says. "I actually knew firsthand about the accusations. I knew them not to be true. Kevin just said, 'If people want to throw stones, let them.' " Johnson's accuser later recanted and no charges were filed.

There's no way Johnson could have asked for a more favorable treatment of these events. As City Desk reported last November, the details of the St. Hope episode raised far more questions about the protagonist than Haygood even comes close to acknowledging. Here's a more definitive abridgment:

Rhee didn't merely "consider herself familiar" with the "inner workings" of St. Hope. Oh no, that way understates her role in KJ's alleged misdeeds. According to a federal investigation into shoddy management practices at St. Hope, Rhee performed "damage control" when KJ came under fire. When inappropriate touching complaints against KJ surfaced, for example, Rhee essentially pulled an Al Haig, telling a school worker that "she was making this her number one priority and she would take care of the situation." After that, the administrator discovered that KJ's lawyer had contacted the woman who'd accused KJ of the sexual misconduct, and the accuser dropped the complaint.

In perhaps the most blatant instance of whitewashing, Haygood's story suggests that there was only one instance in which Johnson stood accused of inappropriate sexual moves at St. Hope. In fact, the allegations form a much larger, stinkier pile than that. Three separate instances of KJ advances appear in the federal report. Here are excerpts from the investigation (Note: the excerpts refer to "members," code for members of AmeriCorps, the national volunteer group that had placed workers in St. Hope):

Accuser No. 1:

One Member, [REDACTED] (Ex. 19 hereto), reported that, in the February/March 2007 time frame, she was entering grades into the SAC High database system per Mr. Johnson's instructions at the St. HOPE office at night, purportedly as part of her AmeriCorps service. [REDACTED] contacted Mr. Johnson to inform him that she had completed the grades and wanted him to review them. About 11:00 pm, Mr. Johnson arrived at St. HOPE and instructed [REDACTED] to gather her things and come with him. Mr. Johnson drove to [REDACTED] apartment, which is managed by St. HOPE Development and houses its AmeriCorps Members, purportedly so that they could review the students' grades. While in [REDACTED], in which another AmeriCorps Member had a separate bedroom, Mr, Johnson laid down on [REDACTED's] bed, [REDACTED] sat on the edge of the bed to show him the grades, at which time Mr. Johnson "layed down behind me, cupping his body around mine like the letter C. After about 2-3 minutes or so, I felt his hand on my left side where my hip bone is." Further, although not detailed in her written statement, [REDACTED], during the interview, demonstrated, while explaining, that Mr. Johnson's hand went under her untucked shirt and moved until his hand was on her hip.

The report alleges that Johnson subsequently tried to pay off the woman.

Accuser No. 2:

Another former Member, [REDACTED] (Ex. 20 hereto), reported that, while attending a St. HOPE sponsored trip to Harlem, NY, from June 26 to July 16, 2006, Mr. Johnson, on three occasions, "brushed [her] leg with his hand," including once "flip[ingj up the edge of her skirt. Other times, she stated, Mr. Johnson kissed her cheek, brushed up against her as he walked past, and massaged her shoulders. ([REDACTED] reported another incident that occurred in Sacramento, CA, in which Mr. Johnson touched [REDACTED's] inner thigh with his hand while enroute to a restaurant. [REDACTED] said she did not report the incidents to AmeriCorps officials at that time because she feared she would be terminated from the program and because Mr. Johnson was assisting her in obtaining acceptance into the United States Military Academy, where she subsequently enrolled.

Accuser No. 3:

In addition, former SAC High teacher Mr. Erik Jones (Ex. 12 hereto) reported that a former AmeriCorps Member, [REDACTED], reported to him, sometime in 2007, that, while at SAC High, Mr. Johnson had inappropriately touched her. Mr. Jones stated that [REDACTED] had reported that Mr. Johnson started massaging her shoulders and then reached over and touched her breasts. (Attempts to interview [REDACTED] have been so far unsuccessful.)

How could the Post have simply overlooked this publicly available testimony? When asked about the wider body of evidence against KJ at St. Hope, Trent responds: "The accusations were investigated by police and Johnson was exonerated. We made decisions that balance fairness and space."

There's every reason to chronicle this fascinating relationship—this city has needed an authoritative take on the matter for some time now. Bits and pieces in gossip columns do only so much to fill out the tale. Yet why suppress the most delicious parts? Why not put it to Rhee: A federal report cites three instances of inappropriate sexual behavior by your fiance toward young women. What say you?

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  • eli

    to me there are two separate alleged offenses here. there is a difference between making sexual advances on an underage student and making advances on an Americorps member, who is most likely out of college.

    this post doesn't really make the distinction between the victimization of a student and sexual harrassment of an employee.

    although both are reprehensible, it seems like an important distinction to make and you are lumping it all together.

  • joe

    The problem with the post reporting is that the federal investigaion is available for anyone to see, and the post is covering up a good portion of it by acting as if it were a minor problem. Also, there is an allegation that KJ paid the girl in Phoenix a good amount of money to keep quiet. The Post did a half-assed job with this story.

  • Adrian Bent-Me

    So he wasn't a womanizer but might be a child molestor, interesting.

  • Erik Wemple

    Good point, Eli. Great point. Here's the deal with that: I could find no evidence in the report that KJ had ever made an advance on a student, as alleged in Haygood's piece. So that may well have been an error in the story. I would bet it is. But I didn't go there because I am very, very careful when it comes to calling out people on mistakes, because they may have more information than I do. Perhaps there's some documentation somewhere of an allegation that he approached a student sexually. But what's in the report is a series of allegations that he tried to make moves on AmeriCorps members, who are presumably much older than students at St. Hope. So by saying that he made advances on a "student," Haygood may be unwittingly making the picture look worse for KJ.

  • trulee pist

    The claim that KJ is no womanizer might be a whopper, might not, although there are questions about it that maybe, in the balance of fairness and space, WaPo should have at least mentioned.

    Then there are simple facts that cannot be disputed. KJ's St. Hope Academy misappropriated funds and Americorps and the Federal government took action, banning KJ from seeking further Federal funds and requiring him to promise to pay back millions (including an immediate cash down payment of nearly $1 milion). There was pressure for KJ to sign the settlement over misappropriation of funds because there were serious questions being raised about whether the entire City of Sacramento would be banned from seeking Federal funds the moment this miscreant and embezeller was sworn in as Mayor.

    On the board of the organization during these misappropriations of funds: Michelle Rhee. Who then had the audacity to suggest the same pilfering crew of thieves should be brought in to run a couple of DCPS high schools. Cooler heads prevailed and that proposal died a quiet death.

    And yes, the balance of fairness and space required WaPo to report on that cozy little collaboration in crime by our love birds.

  • Grumpy

    Womanizer and abuser, come on now...Dude is a Sociopath for real

  • Lea

    By the way Americorp is after high school and before college.

    KJ also has had Massa type allegations about him as well. But there is no way of substantiating that. It is just odd that I here that one so consistently

  • Samantha

    Seems as though Rhee has her own Personal Pedophile.

  • Sue

    Now, I see why Rhee protected the teacher who impregnated the student. She has a history of protecting pedophiles! SAD!

  • Woodley Parker

    Good job of journalism, Erik. Don't let him off the hook quite so easily as the Post seems to do.

  • sactown

    Thanks for seeking the truth. As someone who lives in Sacramento, I can tell you, KJ did approach young girls, one of whom was in Americorps at the age of 18. Even though he touched her inappropriately, she's 18 and the school can't do anything about it other than report it to Americorps which they certainly didn't do. The student that complained of KJ touching her breasts was indeed a high school student and she told her teacher and a counselor. When the teacher told administration, they had KJ's lawyer talk to the girl and her mom and all of the sudden, she recanted. The police didn't file charges because she recanted. No one knows what took place between KJ's lawyer and the girl and her mom, but she sure changed her tune fast. This was illegal because no one is supposed to talk to the girl before the police (So that the student doesn't get intimidated or paid off to recant)This was illegal because they (Rhee) didn't inform authorities like they're supposed to and KJ's friend and personal attorney intervened before authorities were called. This is why no charges were filed. His attorney was the fixer, Michelle Rhee was the fixer, etc. He's full of dirty deeds and has a large bevy of "fixers". It's really quite disgusting.

    KJ has a history of doing whatever he wants- mostly because he's been adored his whole life. He is not accostomed to the word "no". I have never in my life encountered such a narcissist

  • Long Time Rez

    "He is not accostomed to the word "no". I have never in my life encountered such a narcissist"

    That's because you live in Sacramento, not in DC. We have more narcissists per square foot than anyplace in the country... 'cept maybe Hollywood. It seems to infect elected officials--particularly our mayors--disproportionately.

  • cynthia s

    To whom it may concern

    i find mayor johnson to be questionable. i believe that he has women followed. he has menfriends approach females,such as myself,and tries to get close to them i asked for his help regarding some racial harassment awhile ago.he soon became weird,and i had some guys (black law enforcement) supposedly help me out-- followed me into walmart one evening. one had a berkeley sweatshirt on. after one phone call to mayors office i realized he would not help me.

    months later i was on my bed in my apt talking to a friend and i mentioned kj's name, i received a crank call from this mr johnson on callwaiting--a fellow parishioner from kj's church,supposedly. i am a single lady,disabled, and seeking a cool guy.

    so i go on phone datechats sometimes. over several weeks to months i noticed basketball players approaching me there. more and more of them knew personal things about me that i hadnt told them at all. specifically this'jerry' supposed apt manager in no sac. i met him just to see what he was all about. at same time kj was on my facebook doing weird things (hadnt seen him on my wall for a while--i had not ask for help in awhile.) it seemed very odd after 'jerry' approached kj had sexual gestures in his new pics on my website--i madeout with jerry. im honest. turned out he was lying about everything,he was not the manager,but helped HIS MOTHER AS MAINTENANCE.it wasnt his apt,but his mother's!!!! can u say LOSER!?!

    another guy i met 4months ago also had sherriffs around when i met him n knew too much about me. (jerry did too). on th bible i believe the mayor to be weird and very questionable in his private dealings. im 44yrs old and nothing could make me change my mind. (another guy off the chat 10m ago said he was kj cameraman at espn,another 'kim' says he worked at espn or some cable news show,and still another is a cbs ex newscaster).

    kj needs to stop his shananigans... i thought he was married?!!!! or engaged? does she know how he and his friends carry on? im a nice gal and come from a political family myself and i had to ask other city council for help because kj is weird!

    cindy

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