Deon Johnson, the West Baltimore boxer who claims his Olympic dreams were derailed two years ago when Baltimore police officers knocked him off a dirt bike, won perhaps the biggest bout of his life Monday when the attempted murder case against him was dropped on the morning of trial.
“That means there’s still some very violent people out there in the community that the law enforcement authorities have yet to remove,” said J. Wyndal Gordon, Johnson’s attorney, after the brief proceeding that ended the case in Baltimore City Circuit Court. “But Deon Johnson was not, is not and never has been one of them.”
Gordon said his client is “absolutely overjoyed” for the opportunity to return to his children and boxing career. But he emphasized that the case should never have been filed.
“We intend to seek legal redress for this situation,” Gordon said, promising a lawsuit against the city by the end of the year.
Gordon maintains Johnson was the victim of retaliation by police officers after he complained of the dirt bike incident and sued, ultimately winning a jury verdict and a $42,500 settlement.
The prosecution of Johnson and co-defendant Deshawn Chambers for the shooting of Avant Mayo got off to a shaky start when, not more than a week after the West Baltimore teens were arrested last December, Mayo swore out a written affidavit saying he was “100% certain” that his “good friends” were not the ones who “did this to me” — that is, shot him multiple times in the chest last year.
The case teetered even more when Christina Moore, the woman from the neighborhood who implicated Johnson and Chambers, recanted, telling Gordon, the prosecutor, and anyone else who would listen that she was intoxicated, scared and eager to escape police custody when she named her Upton neighbors late last year.
The Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office dealt the final blow to the case Monday morning when Assistant State’s Attorney Kelly Madigan informed the judge that she wished to dismiss all charges against the 19-year-olds.
Chambers’ attorney Jane G. Loving said that was “the right thing to do” and should have been done before the trial date.
“It was a case that should never have gone to trial,” Loving said.
A spokeswoman for State’s Attorney Gregg L. Bernstein declined to comment on the decision to drop the attempted murder charges, and messages left with the Baltimore City Police Department were not returned Monday.
Last week, police spokesman Donnie Moses said recanting by witnesses and victims is something detectives deal with all the time in Baltimore, and that whatever the outcome of the Johnson and Chambers cases, “we’ll be satisfied.”
Seven months in jail
Johnson and Chambers, who had spent more than seven months in jail awaiting their trial, were only in court a few minutes before they got official word of their freedom.
“[Judge M. Brooke Murdock] just called us up there and immediately the state’s attorney said I plan to dismiss these charges,” Loving recalled. “She said thanks and sent us back on our way.”
As they were escorted out by sheriff’s deputies, Chambers turned to Judge Murdock and said, “Thank you, your honor.”
The defendants were not available by press time.
Aesha Holmes, Johnson’s mother, said her son’s stint behind bars has meant “a lot of heartache.”
“I’ve been worrying about my son being incarcerated for something he didn’t do,” she said after Monday’s brief court proceeding. She said he suffered seizures in jail and missed the birth of his son in February.
Holmes looks forward to Johnson “getting back on track… getting everything right with himself.” But she has the same worry that the attorneys in the case have: the resumption of police harassment.
“Because that’s what they do,” she said. “It’s just been constant, constant, constant.”
Johnson, who turned 18 a few months after getting knocked off his bike, was arrested every few months after that. All the charges were dismissed or put on the inactive docket but one: possession of a cell phone while in jail, to which Johnson pleaded guilty.
Moore, the erstwhile witness, said she got word of the dismissal on her way to court Monday morning from a friend who was already there with Holmes.
“I cried when I heard it, the news,” she said. “You’d’ve thought that I was the one who got freed.”
Moore, who gave a videotaped statement to Gordon disavowing her statement to police, expects her involvement in the case to haunt her but not in the way she most feared. Moore, 27, said prosecutors will do “everything in their power to make sure I go to jail” when she goes to trial on charges of dealing heroin in September. But she said she’s saving up for a “good lawyer” and puts her faith in God, not the police.
Mayo, who, like Moore, has denied he was intimidated in the case against Johnson and Chambers, said he was “glad” to hear that the people accused of shooting him had been freed.
“I’m glad they out because they didn’t do it,” he said.
Moore had also implicated Mayo in another attempted murder, the stabbing of Brentt Jones three days before Mayo was shot; however, prosecutors dropped that charge in April. He said he had not spoken to police about either case, is working a new job in Towson and is not concerned about his future safety.
“No, I’m not looking over my shoulder at all,” he said. “I’m taking care of my family.”
Back to the ring
Johnson is not completely out of the woods yet: he goes to trial next month on an assault charge. But Gordon said that case is one of “mistaken identity” and will also end with “a favorable resolution.”
If everything goes as planned, Marvin McDowell, Johnson’s boxing coach at the UMAR Boxing Program, said he looked forward to having Johnson back in his North Avenue gym.
“That won’t be no problem at all,” he said. “The whole purpose for him being in the boxing program was to sort of change his life and get him some structure and discipline — the whole nine yards — and it was working until he got caught up into this stuff.”
“He’s very resilient …so everything’s going to work out for him,” McDowell said. “All he’s got to do is stick with the plan.”