NAACP investigates high schooler’s death as potential ‘hate crime’

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JACKSON, Miss.–The explanation given by a George County sheriff‘s deputy in the death of high school football star Billey Joe Johnson Jr. has the George County Mississippi NAACP throwing yellow flags all over the pavement in the small communit

JACKSON, Miss.–The explanation given by a George County sheriff‘s deputy in the death of high school football star Billey Joe Johnson Jr. has the George County Mississippi NAACP throwing yellow flags all over the pavement in the small community of Lucedale, Miss.

If foul play has occurred, the NAACP says the penalty could go as far as being identified as a hate crime. The Johnson family has asked the NAACP to step in to investigate their son’s death. George County NAACP president Willie Gaines and Curley Clark, second vice president of the Mississippi State Conference NAACP, are the lead investigators.

In part, the statement by the George County Sheriff’s office reads, “He (the deputy) was sitting in his patrol vehicle…when he heard a gunshot and saw the victim laying on the ground by the driver’s side door of the vehicle that Johnson was driving. A shotgun was lying on the victim.’’

The NAACP has learned that Johnson, an African American, was dating a white female who has a relationship with someone at the George County Sheriff’s office.

“For this reason, we have alerted the FBI to possible civil rights violations. If the autopsy report reveals that Billey’s death was not an accident, we want Johnson’s death treated as a hate crime,” Clark stated.

Autopsy reports from the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation and State NAACP’s independent pathologist won’t be available for another few weeks. But the NAACP has already ruled out suicide. “It can only be accidental death or homicide,“ Curley Clark said.

At first, local authorities were only trying to decide if the death was by suicide or by accident.

“We recreated the scene. Using a full choke, 12-gauge shotgun, there’s no way Johnson could have committed suicide. Billey was shot in the left, back part of his head. He’s right-handed,” said Clark.

The NAACP also agrees with the family that the 17-year-old had everything to live for. Johnson was one of the highest rated high school athletes in the state with offers to Auburn, Alabama and Mississippi. He was excited about attending a football awards banquet that was to take place the evening of Dec. 8. The tragic incident occurred around 6 a.m., well before sunrise.

“Nothing supports the notion that the junior running back was in the state of mind to kill himself. He was not suicidal or depressed,” Clark said.

“It was dark so the officer should have had a flashlight to look inside the vehicle with,” Clark said.

The NAACP’s investigation has uncovered that a 911 call occurred shortly before the traffic stop, which brings into question if the sheriff’s deputy was pursuing Johnson based on the 911 call or a traffic stop. The 911 call involved a report from a local resident of an apparent break-in at a trailer park. “The statement the deputy gave is suspect. You mean to tell me that an officer of the law is going to walk up to a truck with a guy in it with a shotgun and turn his back on him?”

Clark said he’s also not sure if Billey was outside the truck when the deputy approached him or was asked to step out of the vehicle before asking him to return to his vehicle so he could run his license.

“It matters if the deputy was pursuing Johnson on a 911 burglary call or minor traffic violation. Police procedure would dictate he act differently,” noted Clark. There are also reports that shots were heard in the same area on the morning Johnson died.

At the request of George County Sheriff Garry Weford, the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation is looking into Johnson’s death. George County Distric Attorney Tony Lawrence has thus far refused to meet with the NAACP to discuss the case. Lawrence has met with the Johnson family to inform them that the investigation will be completed in January and the case presented to a grand jury in February.

“The NAACP wants to ensure that this case is not swept under the rug. We’re going to make sure the D.A. does a thorough investigation,” Clark said.  Special to the NNPA from the Jackson Advocate

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Copyright 2008 NNPA. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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