Connect with us

News

Longtime Assistant to Former Senator Lowell Barron Has Allegedly Attempted Suicide

Bill Britt

Published

on

By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

MONTGOMERY—According to family friends who wish not to be identified, Rhonda Jill Johnson allegedly took a lethal overdose of prescription medication over the weekend.

Johnson was reportedly taken to a hospital in Scottsboro where she was placed on life support.

Those with knowledge of the incident say that Johnson left a suicide letter for her family. The contents of the letter are unknown and the two-page document is believed to be in the hands of law enforcement. See her last Facebook post here.

Johnson was taken off life support and her vial signs are functioning yet she still remained unresponsive over the weekend.

In April, Barron and Johnson were charged with a total of six counts of ethics law violations and violations of the Fair Campaign Practices Act.

Barron has spoken out several times through his attorney Mr. Joe Espy. Ms. Johnson, however, had remained silent until she spoke with the Alabama Political Reporter in August.

Public Service Announcement

In a two-part series Johnson recounted how her life had been turned to ruins since an Attorney General’s investigations began over a year ago.

This may be the only first hand report of Johnson’s experience.

In an exclusive to alreporter.com, Ms. Johnson tells her story.

ADVERTISEMENT

Part-one

“While Lowell was standing on the Ft. Payne Courthouse steps, I was sitting behind bars waiting for my daughter to borrow the money to post my bail,” said Johnson.

Johnson says she doesn’t understand why Barron was notified to turn himself in to authorities while police barged into her home without notice and handcuffed her in front of her daughter and 81-year-old mother.

According to Johnson, she has never had any problems with the law, yet was treated like a common criminal. However, Barron was treated with kid gloves:

“Why didn’t Sheriff Jimmy Harris give me the same respect…allow me to turn myself in?” Johnson asked. “I was driven from my home in Jackson Co. to DeKalb Co. in handcuffs.” In fact, WAFF Channel 48 was notified and filmed Johnson in a “perp walk,” while Barron was allowed to stagecraft a news conference with family and supporters on the courthouse steps. Johnson says her jailing was unfair in comparison to Barron’s and not representative of equal treatment under the law. 

“It bothers me,” said Johnson. “I think about the whole incident everyday.”

Johnson, 47, says she has a lot of time to think about what has happened to her since she first stood before a grand jury almost three years ago.

Penniless, unemployed and desperate is the way she describes her life since being dismissed from Barron’s staff in 2010.

Johnson said she worked for Barron as district coordinator helping to identify the needs of constituents, and for that work she was paid out of his senate office fund. “He paid me out of the office…. I couldn’t get anything out of the campaign funds unless we were working on the campaign.”

It is her time working for the campaign and subsequently receiving a $50,000 bonus that is at the heart of the indictment—not her work in the district.

According to Johnson, she was called before a grand jury shortly after Barron lost his 2010 senate campaign to Shaddrack McGill.

Johnson said she appeared before the grand jury six times, once in Jackson Co. and five times in DeKalb Co.:

“Oh, Lord, it was horrible…I tried to tell them about all the good work we did, how many we helped…showed them pictures of different community centers and fire departments, schools and teachers [we helped]. I told them I could bring in every single teacher, mayor, supervisor, superintendent…and show them we were working together for the betterment of the community. But, they [prosecutors] didn’t care,” said Johnson.

Johnson says she feels like she had been hounded by the Attorney General’s office. “They have gone after me because I am weak… I think they want me to have a nervous break down,” said Johnson.

She says her life is in ruins over the accusation leveled at her. “I have not done anything wrong,” she said.

“I live in a small town, I can’t get a job, I can’t afford an attorney…I had to borrow money on my house just to eat,” Johnson said.

Her home is at the center of the state’s case against Johnson and Barron.

Barron helped Johnson acquire her home in Scottsboro. Johnson then made monthly payments to Barron for the property.

According to the indictments, Barron gave Johnson a $50,000 bonus for her work on the campaign. Johnson then turned around and wrote Barron a $50,000 check to make final payments on the home he had financed for her.

It is believed the state will claim that this was a scheme by the pair to pay off Johnson’s home and repay Barron, solely using campaign funds. She gets a free and clear title, while Barron gets his money back on the loan.

Johnson says there was no agreement between her and Barron to use the bonus to pay off the home. But, that is exactly what she used the money for:

”Yes sir, I did do that. He did not tell me to do that. That was on my own…I knew he was gonna give me a bonus, I didn’t know how much it was gonna be. He had told me during the campaign…I had worked so hard…he told me you can do anything you want with this money, vacation, shopping, you can blow it. But after this campaign, it’s gonna be hard for you to get a job because you were on the front lines and a lot of people will remember that. They will recognize you. It’s gonna be hard for you to get a job. He was 100 percent correct.”

Johnson is represented by a court-appointed attorney named, Tony Jennings. Johnson says she worries that because she can’t afford a lawyer that she is going to be railroaded.

She said her attorney has had conversations with the prosecution, and when she asked him what it was about he told her, “It was nothing.” But Johnson says she “wants to know,” but can’t get answers.

She fears that because Barron is wealthy and has a high-priced attorney that she will not receive the same treatment or consideration given to him.

Johnson says that she is a small town girl, whose goal in life was to help others less fortunate. She believes that working for Barron made that goal a reality.

Part-two

Jill Johnson spends most of her days locked inside her home. Far from the headed days when she traveled Northeast Alabama as assistant and district coordinator for democrat powerbroker former Senator Lowell Barron.

Charged with six total counts of ethics law violations and violations of the Fair Campaign Practices Act, Johnson, 48, if convicted, could spend the rest of her life behind prison walls.

Johnson says she met Barron in 2006 when she was raising money for a community center. Barron told her, “I’ll match what you raise dollar-for-dollar up to $10,000.” So, Johnson went to work organizing an event for the center and was able to stage a fundraiser that “raised over $10,000.” She said, “He did what he said and matched us.”

She says that it was then that Barron recognized her organizational skills saying, according to Johnson, “I want you to work for me.”

Johnson said it was a big step for her, but one she was excited to take. “You gotta understand, I wasn’t a democrat or a republican. I was just someone that loved everybody. I didn’t care what side of the fence you were on…if you were in need, I believed you needed help.”

Johnson says her salary was paid from Barron’s Senate budget, except when she was working on his campaign. To assist in her job, she said Barron gave her the use of leased 2007 Toyota Camry. Johnson said (to her knowledge) that the Camry was paid for out of the campaign fund. In the State’s case against Johnson, it is charged that Barron improperly transferred the vehicle to her after he lost his senate seat in 2010.

Johnson says that Barron did give her the car after the 2010 election. When Barron’s office began disposing assets, it was found that only an $11.00 payment remained on the three year old vehicle, so it was decided to let Johnson keep the car rather than retuning it to the leasing company. Johnson said she didn’t see anything inappropriate about her accepting to car as it was “ the same vehicle I’d been driving all the time.”

In total, the Attorney General’s office has accused Johnson of improperly receiving $58,000 in cash and the Toyota from Barron.

Johnson, who is single, lives in Scottsboro, a town of around 14,000 people. Johnson says it has been difficult because everyone knows what has been said but few know the whole story. “Three years of going through all this…It’s been horrible on me and my family,” she said.

As with any small town, scandals involving high-profile men such as Barron tend to initiate an abundance of rumors. Most poignantly has been the rumor that Johnson was Barron’s paramour.

When Johnson first met Barron she was married, but later divorced her husband of 10 years in 2008. Johnson says that Barron was divorced from his second wife, Susan, when she met him. When asked if she and Barron had an affair Johnson said, “Anyone who really knows me knows that…I worked for Barron…and another thing I’d like to say is, I’m not married and neither is Barron so even with that right there it wouldn’t even matter.”

Beyond the turmoil of the State’s case against Johnson, her son committed suicide in the middle of the investigation. Johnson said it was too painful to talk about the loss of her son.

Johnson said she believes she did nothing wrong and that she is proud of the work she did while in Barron’s employ.

She admits that her relationship with the 71-year-old former senator is strained. Johnson says she is constantly concerned about her exclusion from major developments in the case and is worried that she is not fully informed about activities that will impact her future before the court.

Bill Britt is editor-in-chief at the Alabama Political Reporter and host of The Voice of Alabama Politics. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

Advertisement

Elections

Trump Truck and boat parades this weekend

Brandon Moseley

Published

on

Trump boat parade

As Election Day draws near, Alabama Republicans are excited about promoting the re-election of Donald J. Trump as President and the election of Tommy Tuberville for U.S. Senate. This weekend two pro-President Trump events are happening in the state. There will be a truck parade from Ashland to Phenix City on Saturday sponsored by the Clay County Republican Party, while there will also be a boat parade on Wilson Lake in the Shoals sponsored by the Colbert County Republican Party on Sunday.

The pickup trucks will assemble at the Ashland Industrial Park in Clay County, 8240 Hwy 9, Ashland. There is a pre-departure rally at 10:00 a.m. central standard time. The trucks will depart at 11:00 a.m. and then proceed on a parade route that will take them into the bitterly contested swing state of Georgia. The Trump Pickup Parade will wind through east Alabama and West Georgia traveling through LaGrange and Columbus before concluding near the Alabama/Georgia line in Phenix City, 332 Woodland Drive, Phenix City at approximately 2:00 p.m. central time. Speakers will begin at 3:00. Trump flags will be on sale at the event.

The Phenix Motorsports Park will be hosting what sponsor hope could possibly the world’s largest Pickup Tuck parade in U.S. history that is routing over 50 mile through Georgia in effort to “pickup” President Trump’s numbers in GA.

A number dignitaries have been invited to address the Phenix City rally, including Coach Tuberville. Former State Sen. Shadrack McGill, Trump Victory Finance Committee member former State Rep. Perry O. Hooper Jr., and Paul Wellborn, the President and CEO of the largest Family owned Kitchen Cabinet manufacture in the USA are among the featured speakers who have committed to speak at the event.

Entertainment will be provided by: Charity Bowden, an up and coming country music singer who was the runner up on “The Voice”. Charity will sing ‘I am Proud to be an American’ as well as songs from her Voice performances. The McGill Girls will also perform. The three beautiful and talented sisters will be singing patriotic songs in three part harmony. Geoff Carlisle, a professional DJ will be keeping the crowd pumped with music and entertainment.

Following the speakers and the entertainment there will Trump truck-vs- Joe Bidden truck races down the drag strip for the finale.

The Northwest Alabama boat parade will be on Sunday. The boats will gather at 2:00 p.m. near Turtle Point and then the flotilla will parade around the open waters of Wilson Lake til 3_00 p.m.. There will be a contest for best decorated Trump boats.

Public Service Announcement

Trump supporters have held a number of large boat parades across the state to show their support for the re-election of Pres. Trump.

Boat parade sponsors say that this parade will be: pro-American, pro-law enforcement, pro-military.

Continue Reading

Health

COVID-19 hospitalizations, new cases continue to rise

Eddie Burkhalter

Published

on

COVID-19 Corona Influenza Virus Molecules Image Stock Photo

The number of rising hospitalized COVID-19 patients in Alabama is a concerning sign of a possible coming surge of the disease, state health experts said Friday. Alabama hospitals were caring for 888 coronavirus patients Friday, the highest number since Sept 9. 

UAB Hospital was caring for around 80 COVID-19 inpatients Friday afternoon, said Dr. Rachael Lee, an infectious disease specialist at UAB, speaking to reporters Friday. UAB Hospital hasn’t had that many coronavirus inpatients since Aug. 18, when the disease was surging statewide.

“We have been dealing with this since March, and I think it’s easy for us to drop our guard,” Lee said. 

Alabama added 3,852 new coronavirus cases on Friday, but 1,287 of them were older positive antigen tests, conducted in June through October and submitted to ADPH by a facility in Mobile, according to the department. Still, Alabama’s daily case count has been increasing, concerning health officials already worried that as the weather turns colder and the flu season ramps up, Alabama could see a surge like the state had in July.

Alabama’s 14-day average of new daily cases was 1,247 on Friday, the highest it’s been since Sept 4. Over the last 14 days, Alabama has added 17,451 new COVID-19 cases.

Public Service Announcement

Friday’s inclusion of those older positive test results throws off the day’s percent positivity, by Thursday the state’s percent of tests that were positive was nearly 16 percent. Public health officials say it should be at or below five percent or cases are going undetected.

The state added 16 COVID-19 deaths on Friday, bringing to total confirmed deaths statewide to 2,859. Over the last two weeks, 206 deaths were reported in the state. Alabama’s 14-day average of new daily deaths on Friday was 15.

ADVERTISEMENT

Alabama state health officer Dr. Scott Harris told APR by phone Friday called the rising new cases and hospitalizations “worrisome.”

Harris noted the data dump of older confirmed cases in Friday’s data, but said “but nevertheless, I think it’s clear our numbers are going up.”

Harris said it’s not yet clear what’s causing the continued spread, but said it may be due at least in part to larger private gatherings. ADPH staff has mentioned a few outbreaks association with such gatherings, but Harris said it’s hard to know for certain if that’s the major driver in the state’s rising numbers.

“It’s football season and the holidays are coming up and school is back in session,” Harris said. “I think people are just not being as safe as they were.”

Harris noted that on ADPH’s color-coded, risk indicator dashboard, red counties, which denotes counties with rising cases and percent positivity, the 17 red counties on Friday were distributed across the state.

“So there’s not one event, or even a handful of events. It seems like there’s just a lot of things happening in a lot of places,” Harris said.

Alabama’s rising numbers are mirrored in many states. The U.S. reported more than 71,600 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, nearing the country’s record highs, set in July.

Continue Reading

News

Birmingham approves $1.3 million contract for real-time crime center technology

Woodfin repeated that facial recognition capabilities will not be used in accordance with the contract.

John H. Glenn

Published

on

(STOCK PHOTO)

The Birmingham City Council approved a five-year, $1.3 million contract with Motorola this week to provide new technology for the police department’s real-time crime center amid unease and public concern over the potential use of facial recognition software within the new systems.

Mayor Randall Woodfin insisted in his remarks made before the council that the new technology is meant to integrate existing hardware and technology inside the real-time crime center. “You’re not buying any additional new equipment,” he said, “You’re buying something to integrate all those systems.”

The software suite includes Motorola Solutions’s CommandCentral Aware, a system that aggregates video, image and other data information into one interface, and BriefCam, a “video synopsis” system that will further integrate and analyze information from Birmingham’s ShotSpotter systems, public cameras and police body cameras.

Briefcam offers facial recognition capabilities, which was the main concern of community members speaking before the council, and the risk that use of the technology could disproportionately affect Black people. Facial recognition technology has a record of racial bias and misidentifies Black people at rates five to 10 times higher than white people.

“Despite assurances that there will not be facial recognition implemented at this phase that does not prevent it from being implemented in the future,” said Joseph Baker, Founder of I Believe in Birmingham and one of the Birmingham residents voicing concern on the proposal. “I believe that this software, if fully implemented, can easily lead to violations of unreasonable searches.”

Another resident who spoke against the resolution was Byron Lagrone, director of engineering at medical software solutions company Abel Healthcare Enterprises. Lagrone pointed to IBM and Amazon as examples of companies that have halted or abandoned facial recognition and object tracking software altogether over racial bias concerns.

“The prevailing attitude, among technical people is this technology is not effective, and it causes high amounts of harm for next to no gain,” Lagrone said.

Public Service Announcement

Woodfin repeated that facial recognition capabilities will not be used in accordance with the contract.

“It’s explicit in this contract that facial recognition will not be used,” Woodfin said, “[If] facial recognition wants to be used in the future of this city. It would have to be approved by this body. … The mayor’s office or the police department doesn’t have unilateral power to use facial recognition. That is not part of what our contractual relationship is with Motorola.”

Woodfin also clarified that the total $1.3 million price of the contract will not be paid as a lump sum but spread out over the five-year commitment.

ADVERTISEMENT

The city council voted 8 to 1 to approve the contract, with District 8 Councilman Steven Hoyt speaking in favor of the use of facial recognition capabilities.

“You can’t say, ‘I’m going to build a house but I’m not going to use the restroom,’” Hoyt said. “If it’s in the house, you’re going to use the restroom. … If it has the capability of facial recognition, guess what’s going to happen? You’re going to use it. I’m going to vote for it because I know we’ve got to have every tool we can garner to fight crime, because it’s out of hand.”

Hoyt also suggested a review of the information collected by the new system apparatus.

“I do think, for the public’s sake, we need to have some way we review that and see how it’s being used,” Hoyt said. “We need that to go along with this.”

District 3 Councilwoman Valerie A. Abbott — who said she was the victim of a burglary the day before the vote — echoed the mayor’s insistence that the facial recognition capabilities would not be deployed unless authorized by the city council, reading a letter from Motorola stating “in order to enable facial recognition, Motorola will require an addendum or change order to the contract,” which would have to come before a public meeting of the city council.

“I too would not want facial recognition,” Abbot said, “I’m voting in favor of this because the majority of my constituents are telling me they want more and better policing, capture of criminals, prevention of crime.”

District 5 Councilman Darrell O’Quinn was the lone no vote among the near-unanimous city council, stating that he had “some reservations about how we’re doing this and will vote my conscience.” 
Later, O’Quinn was quoted in BirminghamWatch, saying his vote reflected his concerns about “taking on a new debt obligation in the midst of a projected $63 million shortfall in revenue.”

Continue Reading

Elections

Opinion | Doug Jones’s pathway to victory: Substance over lies

Jones said his work in the Senate should prove to the people of the state that party matters less than productivity. 

Josh Moon

Published

on

Alabama Sen. Doug Jones speaks during the Democratic National Convention.

Alabama Sen. Doug Jones believes voters will ultimately see through Tommy Tuberville’s lazy campaign and lies, and that enough of them will be moved by his work over the last two years to send him back to D.C. 

Jones’ comments came during a lengthy interview on the Alabama Politics This Week podcast. He also discussed his plans to address some of Alabama’s most pressing issues and also praised Sen. Richard Shelby, an Alabama Republican.  

But it was Jones’ comments about Alabama voters — and whether too many of them are incapable of moving away from the Republican Party — that were most interesting. Jones still believes there are open-minded voters in the state, and that there isn’t enough attention being paid to polls showing a growing dissatisfaction in Alabama with President Donald Trump. 

“There are a number of things that Donald Trump has done that people (in Alabama) don’t agree with,” Jones said. “There are a number of things that he’s done that’s hurt Alabama and that they’re not OK with. That’s where I come in.”

Jones said his work in the Senate, where he’s sponsored the most bipartisan legislation over the last two years, should prove to the people of the state that party matters less than productivity. 

“I tell everyone, you owe it to yourself to look at every candidate and every issue,” Jones said. “I do that. I’ve been a Democrat all my life but I don’t think that I have ever pulled a straight lever. Because I look at every issue. I will tell you that there have been times that I didn’t vote for people who are Democrats for whatever reason — I just couldn’t do it. I think we owe it to ourselves to do that.”

Jones had the perfect example to drive the point home. 

Public Service Announcement

“Y’all all know our state auditor, Jim Zeigler? Jim wasn’t always a Republican. Jim’s first runs for office were as a Democrat. 

“I rest my case.”

You can listen to the full interview at the Alabama Politics This Week website, or you can subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts. 

ADVERTISEMENT

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Advertisement