Secret Service officer acquitted of rape charge involving ATF agent in new trial
March 17, 2023 Updated Sat., March 18, 2023 at 10:23 p.m.
A Secret Service officer who was honored for defending the White House from a gunman in 2016 was acquitted Thursday of a charge that he raped a female agent from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives .
After deliberating for one day, a jury in Alexandria Circuit Court acquitted Joshua L. Johnson, 32, of a charge that he raped the ATF agent in a hotel room in Alexandria in June 2020. It was Johnson’s second trial. He had been convicted in the first, but a judge later threw out the verdict after a juror was disqualified, and an alternate was not given appropriate legal instructions.
Johnson maintained his innocence during both trials, testifying twice. An attorney for Johnson, Joseph King, said after Thursday’s verdict that it was a “hard-fought” victory.
Johnson was one of three Secret Service members who received the U.S. Homeland Security Secretary’s Award for Valor in 2016 “for extraordinary service in preventing an armed gunman from breaching the White House perimeter,” according to the award citation. The gunman, who authorities would later say suffered from paranoid delusions, was shot and wounded by another Secret Service employee. Johnson did not fire his weapon.
The ATF agent also testified at both trials, held in an Alexandria courthouse across the street from the hotel where the two met in 2020. She described going through a psychological breakdown in the months after their encounter.
“I just remember fixating on the clock, because I remember thinking it was late, and I had to be up early in the morning,” the ATF agent testified about the encounter with Johnson in 2020. “I was numb. I was so in shock because I never thought he would do something like that. That wasn’t the type of relationship we had.”
After meeting on Instagram around 2015, Johnson and the ATF agent struck up a “friends with benefits” relationship that involved text messaging and consensual sex once or twice a year when they were both in the same area, according to the trial testimony. They were both around the same age, worked in law enforcement, and shared the same interests in music and travel, Johnson said.
Their last meetup was in the Alexandrian Hotel, after the ATF agent texted Johnson to tell him she would be flying from California to the Washington area to drop off evidence at the ATF headquarters. Johnson testified that he went to her hotel room June 9, 2020, with a bottle of vodka and cranberry juice.
The ATF agent testified that she and Johnson had consensual, protected sex during their encounter, but that she soon became uncomfortable and asked that Johnson stop, which he did. But she said that after both went to sleep, Johnson awoke, lowered her pants, pinned her down by holding her wrists, and raped her without wearing a condom.
Johnson testified that he tugged at the ATF agent’s pants “as an invitation to have sex,” and that she lifted her waist to assist him, what he interpreted as nonverbal consent. He denied that the ATF agent resisted his advances.
“You said, ‘Damn, you’re strong.’ … I was literally kicking you and punching you to get you off of me,” the ATF agent told Johnson during a call that an Alexandria police detective listened in on in December 2020.
“I apologize deeply if I did, and you’re saying I did,” Johnson responded.
On the sting call, Johnson said he had been inebriated the night of the encounter and could not remember certain parts. At trial, Johnson said he had not been drunk but pretended he had been because he assumed the ATF agent’s boyfriend was listening in on the call, and Johnson wanted to help her by corroborating her story, he testified.
“Sir, you are a sworn member of law enforcement, correct?” Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Maana K. Parcham asked Johnson.
“Yes,” he said.
“And you played along with a rape accusation?” Parcham asked.
“I was trying to protect her,” Johnson said.
Johnson was convicted by a jury in June 2022. Circuit Court Judge Kathleen M. Uston initially sentenced him to 3½ years in prison, which is below the five-year minimum sentence for rape under Virginia law. At a hearing in September, Uston commended Johnson for his work in the Secret Service and found that he had expressed remorse.
At another hearing in September, Uston vacated Johnson’s conviction. A juror in the first trial failed to disclose during the jury-selection process that he had once been accused of sexual assault. The court replaced him with an alternate juror, but that new juror was not given instructions on the law, and the jury did not restart its deliberations. Uston granted a request from Johnson’s attorneys to set aside the guilty verdict. A different judge, Circuit Court Judge Lisa B. Kemler, presided over Johnson’s retrial.
Kimberly Stover, a defense attorney for Johnson, disputed the ATF agent’s recollection of events and accused her of fabricating that she had bruises on her wrists from the encounter. Prosecutors did not introduce forensic or DNA evidence, and jurors were asked to weigh whether the ATF agent or Johnson was more credible. Three friends of the ATF agent testified that she told them she was violated shortly after it happened.
“What he did was ejaculate inside her without her explicit permission,” Stover told the jury, noting that the ATF agent “did not try to escape” the hotel room after composing herself in the bathroom, and went back to bed next to Johnson.
The ATF agent teared up at times under questioning from Parcham, the prosecutor.
“Did you blame yourself in part for what happened?” Parcham asked.
“I did,” the agent said.
“Because at the time I was naive and unaware of the situation… . ‘I should have never reached out to him. I should have never gotten into the jacuzzi.’ All the reasons why people might say, ‘She deserved it,’” the ATF agent said.
The Washington Post is not naming the ATF agent because it generally does not name alleged victims of sexual assault without their consent. The Alexandria Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office declined to comment after the verdict.
The award Johnson received stemmed from an incident on May 20, 2016. A lone gunman, Jesse Olivieri, of Pennsylvania, approached a guard post on the White House perimeter, brandishing a gun amid a throng of tourists crowding the Ellipse, authorities said. Olivieri later pleaded guilty to resisting or impeding a law enforcement officer with a dangerous weapon.
“Josh was the first or second officer to confront the subject, drawing his sidearm but he did not shoot,” according to a letter submitted to the court by Matthew Vollans, another Secret Service member there that day. “He was ridiculed by some co-workers for not taking the shot when he had the chance, another officer at another angle ended up shooting the suspect. Josh told me that he did not have a clear shot because of the people (hundreds of tourists) in the background, therefore he made the split-second decision not to shoot.”
Another colleague, K. Darren Moloney, told the court in a letter that Johnson had saved his life.
“I was the person standing at the gate that day,” Moloney wrote. “I was distracted and only knew that the gunman was there because I first heard Josh shout out his challenge to drop the gun.”
Johnson, a father of two children who also is raising his girlfriend’s three children, was fired from the Secret Service and lost access to his benefits package after he was first convicted, his attorneys said last year.
“After that conviction was set aside, he was reinstated but he remained suspended without pay, because his clearance was suspended,” one of Johnson’s defense attorneys, Sean Sherlock, said Thursday.
An internal affairs investigator from the Secret Service sat in on the retrial. King said Johnson hopes to resume his career in law enforcement.
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