September 22, 2014

A Story of a Gay Death and police Inertia Due to Homophobia and Crooked cops


This story was posted on the Australian blog magazine smith.com.au. It is a sad reminder of the police homophobia in every single country and thinking of one less fag for whatever means was one less fag to have to see. In the millennium this thinking has changed and cities like NY, LA, SF and London just to name a few, have specialized police units that are assembled when a crime is categorized as a hate crime. They don’t stay in an office waiting for a crime to occur but instead are police detectives that assemble once a crime is suspected to be a hate crime. This is the story of one death which has the attributes of fiction except it is not and it looks and smells like there was no police intentions of finding out what really happened once they discovered it was a gay young man and there was no one near him that they could see, then it had to be a self kill or suicide. Once their minds was made up it was a suicide they didn’t even bother to proof that it was a suicide. They instead showed what crooked lawyers show to bill a client.  Ledgers of hours accumulated by cops investigating. Investigating what? No questions were asked of the family or questions to see if the young man had any reasons besides begin gay to commit suicide. Why was his wallet missing? Why his clothes were neatly folded in  a corner while he was naked?Why the cops assigned to the case where known to be crooked cops? Who was this gifted young man who was about to get a doctorate in mathematics in a few days? Well he was gay. The machinery stopped there and even the cops complained of wasting time. If you are in Australia or were in Australia in 1988 please read the whole story and see if you could help. if not read on and make sure it does not happens where you are.

Scott JOhnson: Found at bottom of 50-metre cliff.
Scott Johnson: Found at bottom of 50-metre cliff.
Freddy was the lure. He was a skinny teenager from the northern beaches. His hard-knuckle mates, a little older, a lot bigger, would collect him in a car. "Let's go and bash a few poofs," they would say.
It was what they did to let off steam on Friday and Saturday nights in the late 1980s. They had a few haunts for gay-bashing – Manly, Long Reef, or up on the Manly side of North Head, near Blue Fish Point.
Gay-hate murder?: Scott Johnson was about to receive a doctorate in mathematics when he died in 1988.
Gay-hate murder?: Scott Johnson was about to receive a doctorate in mathematics when he died in 1988.
Freddy remembers: "They'd tell me, 'Just go and walk around the place.' So I did, and the next minute these guys would be   
These guys were the homosexual men who frequented gay beats. Freddy's mates would move in for their sport and assault their targets, "hit and run". Little Freddy wouldn't do the bashing. He was there for the adrenalin.
"Of course, I don't think like that now," he says.
Steve Johnson: Still seeking answers.
Steve Johnson: Still seeking answers.
Freddy, not his real name, has come forward to help the family of Scott Johnson, a brilliant 27-year-old American mathematician who plunged to his death from a 50-metre cliff near Blue Fish Point almost 26 years ago. Johnson's body was found naked on the rocks below on December 9, 1988. Police said they found his clothes in a "neatly folded bundle" on the cliff-top. Johnson was gay.

Within days, a news brief appeared in The Manly Daily. There were no suspicious circumstances, police said. That meant suicide. Within a few months, a coroner agreed. Steve Johnson, Scott's older brother by two years, never believed it.
But at the time he had never heard the term "gay beat" – a place where men met for sex, often anonymously. Nor did he twig to the significance of the evidence given to Coroner Derrick Hand by then Detective Sergeant Doreen Cruickshank from Manly police.

Looking for answers: Journalist Daniel Glick at North Head. He has come back to Australia from the USA to follow up on a police investigation looking into gay hate crimes towards Rebecca Johnson's brother.
Looking for answers: Journalist Daniel Glick at North Head. He has come back to Australia from the USA to follow up on a police investigation looking into gay hate crimes towards Rebecca Johnson's brother. Photo: James Brickwood
Cruickshank had told the court the area where Johnson died was not frequented by homosexual men. If it had been, she said, it would also have been frequented by people who disliked them and who would "assault them or rob them or cause them some harm". Police would have come to know, she said, and yet his area was not known for violence.

There was no mention of a case prosecuted two years earlier. A 45-year-old gay man had been sunbaking at Blue Fish Point. He met a stranger and they had sex. The stranger then stabbed the sunbaker, who fled with the knife in his back.
Had young Freddy and his crew been following the Johnson coronial inquiry, they would have been surprised to hear that homosexuals did not frequent their stomping ground.

The case might have rested with the police version of history had it not been for another coroner's findings in 2005 about the deaths of three gay men around the Bondi and Tamarama cliff-tops in the late 1980s, when gangs of youths went on "poofter bashing" rampages. 
Deputy state coroner Jacqueline Milledge was scathing about the "lacklustre", "disgraceful" and "shameful" police investigations which concluded John Russell and Ross Warren had fallen accidentally to their deaths. Russell was thrown, she found, Warren was murdered and Frenchman Gilles Mattaini was likely to have met a similar fate. Their deaths joined a succession of gay-hate assaults and murders in that era, amid the “ rim Reaper" advertising response to the HIV alert and soon after homosexual sex was decriminalised in NSW in 1984.

Scott Johnson's long-term partner, Michael Noone, contacted Steve Johnson after the Milledge findings. "Maybe that's what happened to Scottie," Johnson recalls him saying. That call precipitated nine years of campaigning and self-funded investigations by Johnson, an IT entrepreneur who has spent almost $1 million trying to establish the truth about his brother’s death.

That campaign led to deputy state coroner Carmel Forbes, in June 2012, throwing out the original suicide finding. With a new open finding, police were compelled to go back to the drawing board to investigate whether Scott Johnson fell, jumped or was pushed. The state government intervened with a $100,000 reward.

But the family's determination led to tensions with police. The Unsolved Homicide Team has more than 700 cases on its books. In August last year, the unit's Detective Chief Inspector Pamela Young sent Steve Johnson and his sister Rebecca a scorching email. She said she and her team found it "offensive" that they wanted to make their own inquiries after investigations by experienced and trustworthy police.
"The Johnson family's needs and mission is very clear and I do admire the effectiveness of your strategic approach on our politicians and hierarchy," Young wrote. "Whilst I am the subject of directions flowing from that influence the mission, approach and principles of my team and I remain the same. That is, to investigate whether or not Scott died in suspicious circumstances and if so, are we able to identify sufficient evidence to charge any person.

The short answer, it appears, is no. After an 18-month investigation, Young delivered a 445-page report to State Coroner Michael Barnes in June this year so it can be "independently assessed", according to the State Crime Commander, Assistant Commissioner Mark Jenkins. Young led Strike Force Macnamir, the re-investigation of the case, with Detective Sergeant Penny Brown.

 "Between them, these two officers have more than 50 years of policing experience," Jenkins says. "Since February 2013, they have worked tirelessly … putting in thousands of hours and gathering as much evidence as possible in an effort to determine how Scott Johnson died."
Police will not pre-empt the coroner by disclosing their findings, but the Johnson family has been given the bottom line: the force’s efforts have been unable to reach any determination about how their brother died.

Steve Johnson filed his own report, a searing complaint to NSW Ombudsman Bruce Barbour about the police handling of the case over the past quarter of a century. Even since Macnamir, it claims, police have demonstrated open hostility and "repeatedly expressed their indignation to me about being forced to investigate this case and vigorously complain about being 'pawns in a political game' ".
Young's email asserted that other families were "deserving of equitable treatment" and: "Sadly no amount of money, lobbying or influence can create evidence for these families either where it does not exist."
Where it does not exist, Johnson retorts, police failed to gather it in the first place. And that, he says, is symptomatic of a long history of police inquiries into the unexplained deaths of gay men in the 1970s, ‘ 0s and '90s – and his campaign is as much for them and their families as his own.

Steve Johnson arrived in Sydney two days after Scott's body was found. Police escorted him to the cliffs but later he would learn they took him to the wrong spot. They showed him a ledge beyond the car park above Fairy Bower and Shelly Beach. They should have led him through a hole in a wall and onward for another two hundred metres or so.
The young Steve Johnson, back in the United States, wanted answers. He was a graduate student at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, and Scott had worked at Harvard. Their professors informed Senator Ted Kennedy, who inquired with the then NSW police commissioner, John Avery.

Soon Cruickshank was on the case. Today she is commander of the northern region.
In early March 1989, Cruickshank concluded: "I am of the opinion that the deceased … went to the 'Blue Fish Point' area, North Head, where he has undressed and jumped to his death." He had left no note to explain why. "However it has been ascertained from family members and friends that the deceased was extremely brilliant in the field of mathematics." Friends had considered him shy and “introverted".

As if these traits were synonymous with suicidal, suggests Steve Johnson.
This report did not refer to the one potentially compelling lead on the suicide theory. In a statement to police immediately after the tragedy, Scott's long-term partner, Michael Noone, had referred to the "possibility" that his boyfriend had belonged to a group at high risk of AIDS, and that he had mentioned a suicide attempt five years earlier. Noone's one-page statement did not elaborate but he had given police the limited information he had. Scott had mentioned the Golden Gate Bridge, but police did not explore this further.

"They certainly didn't ask his family," says Steve Johnson. "They did not conduct one interview with a single member of his family. They did not ask any of us about his mental state or whether we thought he might have committed suicide. If they had, we would have told them ‘absolutely not'.

"It would be 24 years before police conducted their first formal interview with anyone from the family. That was with me, and at my request. Even then, over five hours, they did not ask about my view on Scott's state of mind or if he could have been suicidal."
In any case, Noone had not thought so. He had lived with Johnson in Canberra, where Scott was completing his PhD at the Australian National University. Noone's police statement said he knew of no personal or psychological problems and that Scott had been a model of health. Noone's sister, the last person to see Johnson alive, happened to be a psychiatric nurse and she told police that he had shown "no indication of ever being depressed".
Johnson had arranged a meeting the following week with a professor who had worked with him on category theory, and the academic’s police statement noted Scott's "outstanding progress".

Steve Johnson's complaint alleges multiple police blunders. That Scott's wallet was missing from his bundle of clothes was noted but not given weight. Police had asserted it was a popular suicide spot – and, curiously, one officer had told the victim's brother, "particularly for homosexuals". Neither was true, say the Johnsons. The suicide spot was about two kilometers away. 

In 2007 Johnson hired Daniel Glick, a former Newsweek investigative journalist. It took Glick days to find testimony that it was a gay beat where homosexual men undressed, sun-baked and found sexual company. Some had known it as The Church, after the old seminary nearby. The family also hired a former homicide detective, John McNamara, to help Glick and they shared their information with police.

Five years later, the family would obtain an internal police report from 2007 – unsigned and its author not identified – which rejected a 30-page document from the Johnsons and Glick's claim that Scott's death was "eerily similar" to the Bondi/Tamarama cases. The unnamed officer wrote:  "The information below supports my assertion but I recommend it not be divulged to the JOHNSON family."
That report also mentioned that "underlying motives for suicide could relate to estrangement from parents and lack of approval from his brother". It was sheer speculation and untrue, say the Johnsons, but nobody asked them. Scott's correspondence to the family would have demonstrated this.  
In mid-2011, spurred by the Johnsons' work, then State Coroner Mary Jerram directed Manly police to review the case. But Steve Johnson says a senior officer called, urging him to drop it. This officer had told him that Doreen Cruickshank still insisted it was not a gay beat and "we were wasting our time". Neither Cruickshank nor any of the other police involved will comment on the Johnsons’ claims until the coroner has reviewed Pamela Young's report on the case.

When coroner Forbes overturned the suicide finding in June 2012, the Johnsons complain, police immediately told them the case would go to the bottom of the pile and could wait five years. And in December 2012, an Unsolved Homicide detective had advised them the case had a "zero solvability index" and that he had it on good authority that the cliff area was not a gay beat. “ he authority he quoted was Doreen Cruickshank," Steve Johnson says.

But in February 2013, the ABC's Australian Story featured the Johnson story. Steve Johnson, who had a news conference scheduled for the next day, took a call from the then police minister, Mike Gallacher. Police would announce the $100,000 reward and launch Strike Force Macnamir.
But Johnson's complaint says Young explicitly told his family that her team felt oppressed by the minister's request to investigate and that, in the words of her Homicide Squad boss Mick Willing, they felt like "pawns in a political game".
Again, there is no police reply to the specific complaints, but Mark Jenkins, as State Crime Commander, responded for all officers involved.

"The NSW Police Force recognises and understands the ongoing frustration and sorrow of those families who still don't know the circumstances of their loved ones' deaths," Jenkins said. "These families have endured many years of uncertainty. They deserve closure, and we are doing everything we can to provide it for them."
Among those helping the Johnsons has been Sue Thompson, a lawyer and former gay liaison officer with the police force. Last year Fairfax Media featured the estimates of Thompson and criminologist Stephen Tomsen of about 30 potential unsolved gay-hate murders from the late 1970s to late 1990s.

In early August, Willing said police had assessed them and found "definitively" that eight may fit in the gay-hate category. Thompson questioned whether police could be so definitive that the other cases did not fit, given her work had been verified by the Australian Institute of Criminology. Jenkins says that of 31 cases assessed, two had been solved with "no evidence of a gay-hate bias" while eight had evidence or "indications" of potential gay-hate bias. Detectives could find no such bias with the others, but he stresses that police have not made any conclusions on those cases and they want to hear from anyone who can help those investigations.
"In the last month alone," Jenkins says, "the [Unsolved Homicide] team has made arrests in relation to a murder in 1973 and another in 1990."
Fairfax Media understands police have gained approval for rewards in the unsolved cases of Russell, Warren and Mattaini from the Bondi/Tamarama cliff-tops. However – nine years after Milledge's damning findings – they are awaiting the nod from Coroner Barnes, given the Johnsons had wanted Scott's death investigated with regard to the revelations of that inquiry.

Former homicide detective Steve Page headed Strike Force Taradale, which led to Milledge's findings. He worked closely with Sue Thompson. He hopes police have treated the Johnson case not as a review but as a "whole new murder investigation".
"That's what we did with Taradale. We cast the net wider. We looked at those deaths in the context of the gay-hate phenomenon. We looked at all the known gay-hate murders and assaults. We drew the dots between those cases.
 "If they look only at Scott Johnson's death in isolation, no, they probably won't find anything. But if they look at what was happening around Manly and on the northern beaches, they just may find a genuine lead. It may never lead to the killer, but they need to be able to look that family in the eye and say we did all we could."

The leads offered by the Johnsons include a couple of crooked cops, long kicked out of the force, who allegedly took bribes from criminals who bashed and robbed gay men. It appears police could not regard this as hard evidence.
Mick Willing has made it clear that police now accept that the area where Scott Johnson died was a gay beat. They were told as much last year by contacts rounded up by the Johnsons, including Freddy. He does not believe anyone from his own crew was a killer, although there were other gangs of "poofter bashers" such as skinheads who hailed from Narrabeen.
Freddy could offer police no strong leads, but he did take them to the old cliff-top beat last year. So did another Johnson contact, Ulo Klemmer, a former outreach worker for the AIDS Council who knew people who had used the beat from the early 1970s.
They and the Johnsons wonder what a difference it might have made, if only police had investigated with that fact in mind in 1988.
Do you know more? rfeneley@fairfaxmedia.com.au

Crime Stoppers: 1800 333 000
Rick Feneley



News and features writer
http://www.smh.com.au

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