(Content warning: sexual assault)
by A. Big Country
Kevin Johnson’s eight-year run as the mayor of Sacramento, California, ends on Tuesday. In his time as mayor, he used his connections and position of power to get things done, which often meant the alleged sexual assault of myriad women, including underage girls.
Johnson’s veil of do-gooding often took the form of his work with St. Hope schools in the Sacramento area. Johnson could be seen frequently at the schools, helping children with their education and using his connections to get them into colleges.
Many girls either then, or since, have reported sexual misconduct. In addition, many reported being unsure what to do, since Johnson was not only well-respected in the community, but was also helping them. The awkward position they found themselves in was no accident.
Johnson founded the school, and for some time served as the principal. Girls (plural) in the school reported that he massaged their shoulders and then moved down to grope their breasts. One girl reported that he tried to get into her bed.
Amanda Thomas, one of the accusers and a former student at St. Thomas, told HBO’s Real Sports, “We were terrified of disappointing Mr. Johnson.”
These accusations were declared “unfounded” by an “impartial” three-person panel, according to Johnson’s mayoral campaign team. The panel was headed up by Kevin Hiestand. Hiestand’s father, Fred, is Johnson’s long-time lawyer and confidant, was Johnson’s treasurer while in office and later became the chairman of the board at St. Hope.
The most glaring allegation came from Mandi Koba. In 1996, Johnson was the star point guard of the NBA’s Phoenix Suns. Koba was 15-year-old girl without a father. She met Johnson while filming a commercial. Johnson pursued a relationship with Koba, even going to meet her and her mother at their home. Johnson said he saw potential in her and he wanted to help. The family had season tickets and a poster of Johnson up in their home; for them, this was a dream come true.
Johnson reportedly began molesting her shortly after that. Koba’s report to the police details the first incident, where she was watching TV in Johnson’s home when he got on top of her and groped her. Her statement to police detailed that they both ended up naked in his bedroom, and that they showered together. This was one of a number of incidents that took place before Koba found the courage to speak up. She told a therapist who, in a mind-boggling move, informed Johnson before telling the police.
The therapist wasn’t the only one who protected the star athlete. The district attorney in the county did not wish to pursue the case; a staffer in the office told her it was because of a lack of physical evidence and “because of who he is,” according to Koba.
Eventually, Johnson settled with Koba for $230,600.
In 2014, in his time as mayor, he was alleged to have sexually assaulted a former aide to the city manager.
The repeated assaults are made even more devastating when you look how calculated they were. Founding a school, giving him unfettered access to children. Doing seemingly nice things for these children in order to gain their trust and make it more uncomfortable to report him.
What’s more, many of these assaults are brushed under the rug. In a story this week, the Sacramento Bee reflected on his time as mayor, going over his successes headlined by his efforts to keep the Sacramento Kings NBA team in town by helping fund their stadium. The city is on the hook for $18.3 million a year until 2050 for the stadium. (Wear Your Voice wrote about how bad a deal a city-funded stadium can be, looking at the case where Seattle chose not to move forward with public funding).
The article touches on the sexual misconduct, but ends with, “His city owes him its gratitude.” While the flood of assault allegations already make that statement offensive, the allegations also led Johnson to be pretty bad at his job. Toward the end of 2015, he announced he would not seek re-election, and after that either did not attend or left early for over 80 percent of his city council meetings.