Justice For Lamar Johnson
Originally posted at Change.org ~ Sign The Petition Justice For Lamar
The family of Lamar Johnson, who died while in custody at the EBR Parish Prison following a minor traffic arrest, simply wants an honest accounting of what happened to Lamar and why.
We demand an uninterested, third-party investigation into the series of events that led to Lamar’s death.
From Linda Franks, Lamar Johnson’s mother:
Lamar… my baby, my son.
His story is not a new one; it is actually horrible how common it is now. A young black man is arrested for a minor infraction and his whole life is altered. Or worse.
On May 26, my son, Lamar, was pulled over while going to pick up his grandmother from her dialysis treatments. The car he was driving had tinted windows so he was pulled over. He voluntarily admitted to the officer that he had an outstanding traffic warrant from 2011 in another parish.
How would she know this information, you may be asking yourself? By the grace of God, the arresting officer called me on his cell phone and told he was going to have to arrest him.
I said to him “Lamar is a good man.”
He replied “I can tell, ma’am. He is going to be ok, it’s just a minor traffic thing.”
He then said, “Keep my number and call me if you need anything.”
I felt relief. I thought, “OK, thank God he is with a decent cop.”
Lamar called me and, as always, he comforted me, telling me “Momma, I am OK and I am actually glad because now I won’t have this hanging over me.” He was prepared to either face the judge and do a few days or, should the fines be manageable, cover those costs.
That was Tuesday. By Wednesday morning, I was concerned about the fact that no progress had been made as far as moving him to the parish where the original traffic warrant was outstanding. I began making phone calls and reached out to a lawyer. Everyone, even Lamar himself, told me Lamar’s case was small potatoes. This only further concerned me considering no bail had been set yet and even the charges remained to be filed. As minor as everyone, including Lamar, was convinced his situation was, we remained in an inexplicable limbo.
By Friday, I became truly concerned. I had been calling everyday, multiple times a day, to see if bail had been set or even if I could find out what the charges where. Nothing. Finally, later that day, I found out that the other parish, where the warrant was outstanding, was going to pick Lamar up.
“What a relief,” I thought to myself. “Surely, after 5 days sitting in a jail cell, he should be able to just walk for time served.”
On Monday, I went to New Orleans and awaited a call. When none came, I called the parish for any kind of update or information. Still, no change in his status.
On Tuesday, I woke up early and started to make more phone calls, seeking any information to explain why this minor situation was so delayed in the processing process. At this point, the agencies knew exactly who I was, so they told me that when the parish went to pick him, they were informed that he wasn’t ready for transport.
So I called to the facility where he had previously been held and that’s when I learned that Lamar was in the hospital.
I was told which hospital he was in but they told me they couldn’t give me anymore information. So I called the hospital and found out he was in the trauma neuro critical care unit. I was not allowed to see him and they had him under armed guard. What started as simple process for a traffic ticket was now horribly at a place where my baby was under armed guard at a hospital where he was being treated for a brain injury. I couldn’t believe how this had deteriorated so quickly.
I was told I would have to request permission from the Warden to see him in his hospital room. We contacted the Warden, who told me over the phone that Lamar had suddenly acted out while in custody and was put in an isolation cell; by lunchtime on Saturday, the Warden said, he had tried to hang himself in his cell. Then he told me, “I can’t let you see him until you prove that you are his mother.”
I cannot describe the absolute horror, fear and panic that was racing through my mind and coursing through my body. When I arrived at the parish prison with Lamar’s immunization records and old tax returns proving that Lamar was indeed my son, the Warden began aggressively questioning me, clearly trying to intimidate me into simply taking his word about the series of events that led to Lamar’s hospitalization. In talking with him for only a few minutes, he contradicted himself at least 3 times regarding the series of events. I knew, at that point, they were, at best, withholding something about what led to this tragic turn of events while Lamar was in their custody. They were reluctant to let us see Lamar and the Warden kept saying that in these kinds of cases, people often get angry so he’d rather for just me, his mother, to see Lamar first.
Shortly after my meeting with the Warden, we found out that the original warrant that started all of this was not even going to be acted on and that all charges would be dropped.
Around this time, the officer who originally arrested Lamar and had assured me everything would be OK, called to check on Lamar and make sure everything had been taken care of. When he found out what had happened and Lamar’s condition, he immediately began to weep. He asked if he could come to Lamar’s bedside, and when I told him yes, he arrived, in tears, and prayed with us. We actually had to console him; he was guilt-ridden because he said didn’t have to arrest Lamar. He told us of the 35 minute conversation he and Lamar had while he was taking Lamar in, where Lamar told him the whole ordeal was a blessing in disguise, a chance to finally get the tickets and fines behind him. The officer said had he known this would happen, that this would ultimately result in Lamar fighting for his life over a such a minor incident, he would have never brought him in. The officer was convinced that Lamar couldn’t possibly have tried to take his own life, not the Lamar he had arrested and taken a liking to during the process.
When Lamar entered the hospital, they diagnosed his condition as a total brain injury, caused by a lack of oxygen to the brain. While he maintained life in his brain stem initially, he was breathing only with the assistance of a ventilator. On Monday, June 8, he began to show signs of brain herniation.
On June 10, at 1:17 P.M. my son, Lamar, was pronounced dead.
By all accounts, from everyone involved prior to his hospitalization, Lamar was in good spirits and cooperating fully with the process. I don’t understand how we got from a routine stop for a traffic violation to my baby, who loved life and everyone that was a part of his, trying to take his own. No one is offering any explanations yet. No one wants to talk about this. I just want to know how and why my baby, Lamar, was taken from me, his family and all that knew and loved him.
All I, and the rest of Lamar’s family, want is an honest accounting of what happened. How did things go so wrong? What, if he indeed did “act out,” caused his behavior? How did he manage to hang himself? Where was the guard? The arresting officer says the ceilings are far too low in the parish prison to hang oneself. And finally, what the authorities did not know prior to this incident was that Lamar had a shoulder injury that would have rendered him incapable to doing what they have said he did. I just want answers. I will get answers.