Judge accused of using racial slur against woman in bar releases statement
BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - A 19th Judicial Court judge has released a statement after being accused of using a racial slur against a woman in a bar.
According to Kaneitra Johnson, Judge Mike Erwin used the "N-word" against her several times during an altercation over a bar stool at Sammy's Grill. Erwin responded to these allegations Tuesday, February 14 saying:
The original news and social media reports about the event that took place on February 3 at Sammy's Grill are not in any way consistent with what actually happened.
It was my intention to let law enforcement conduct their interviews and gather their facts before making a public statement. Now that the Sheriff's department has issued their report - which does not find one single witness that corroborates the original allegation - I can finally defend my actions and my record as a judge.
I never have, never would and never will utter the language I was accused of saying.
I have devoted my professional, legal and nearly 30 year judicial career working to ensure that each and every person that appears in my courtroom is treated equally under the law, I have never wavered from this and I will continue to treat each and every person equally and fairly.
I will not have any further comment on this matter.
The East Baton Rouge Sheriff's Office released its follow up report from the night of the encounter between Erwin and Johnson, which includes many witness interviews.
On February 9, an EBRSO deputy responded to Judge Erwin's office on a complaint from a woman working in the office, saying she had been receiving harassing phone calls from unknown people wanting to know if the judge was going to release a statement in reference to the accusations he'd used a racial slur at Sammy's. The report states the deputy listened to the recorded calls and determined none of them contained any threatening comments.
Deputies then reviewed surveillance footage from Sammy's from the night of the incident and were able to identify several individuals who were in close proximity to Erwin and Johnson at the time of the incident. The report states deputies contacted several individuals, who all stated they heard the judge arguing with a woman over a chair, but did not hear the judge use a racial slur. One man did reportedly hear the judge use a racial slur, but later told another deputy he never made that claim.
Another patron, who says he has an office down the street and visits Sammy's regularly, stated he went to the restaurant and spoke to Judge Erwin when he arrived just after 6 p.m. He says he ordered a drink and observed a group of women and a couple of men congregating on the left side of the bar, blocking the wait staff's path to the bar. He says the ladies were "loud and very boisterous." He says it was his understanding that the group had been asked to move several times by the staff.
The report states this patron saw one of the women take a stool that a regular had been sitting in and the judge had told her someone else was sitting in the stool and that she couldn't just take it. He says he heard the woman tell him "first come, first serve" and that she didn't have to move. He says he heard the judge say, "Ma'am you need to move," and she said something back to him. The man also says he heard one of the women call Erwin a "drunk a** old f*****g white man."
The report says the man who had been sitting in the stool earlier then stepped up and asked the judge to "just let it go." One of the witnesses says that even though the judge was being spoken to in a "very derogatory manner" the judge was "polite, yet stern and clear in his position."
The report also states deputies contacted Erwin, who stated that while he was sitting at the bar at Sammy's he had saved a seat for a friend when Johnson approached and sat in the seat. Erwin stated he told Johnson he was saving the seat, at which time she told him, "First come, first serve." Erwin stated the two then began to argue over the chair, but that he never used a racial slur towards anyone.
Johnson and her attorneys held a press conference Monday, February 13 where several community leaders, including the president of the local NAACP chapter, called for Erwin's resignation.
"We are here to stand in solidarity with Ms. Johnson," local NAACP president, Mike McClanahan said.
Johnson posted on Facebook a week ago that Judge Erwin allegedly hurled the "N-word" at her several times during a heated argument over a seat at Sammy's Grill on Highland Rd. on February 3. The restaurant has since banned the judge, but on Monday afternoon, the accuser, Kaneitra Johnson, along with her attorneys, community activists, and a host of elected officials say they want the judge to step down immediately.
"We feel that it's impossible for Judge Erwin to serve the people of East Baton Rouge Parish in a fair and equitable manner," said Rev. Reginald Pitcher.
One of Johnson's attorneys said they are filing a formal complaint against the judge through the judiciary commission. The group wants a thorough investigation into the claims, but in the meantime, they say Erwin should be suspended. "We all have the right to be able to be heard and to be given respect and dignity by any judicial official, especially on or off the bench," said Erin Rigsby, one of Johnson's attorneys.
When given the opportunity to speak Monday, Johnson declined to comment on the issue. Her attorney said the matter is still too fresh.
"Honestly at this time she's a bit too emotional to address any questions," Rigsby added.
A spokesperson with the East Baton Rouge Sheriff's Office confirmed deputies were called out to the restaurant on the night of the alleged incident, saying several people were interviewed, but no one recalled hearing the argument or the "N-word."
The race-fueled allegation has sparked a debate online with some questioning the claims, some praising Johnson for her bravery, and others bringing up a past post from 2013 where it appears Johnson herself used a version of the "N-word" on Facebook.
Less than an hour after the press conference Monday, Johnson took to a 9News Facebook page, where it appears she defended her alleged use of the word, saying, "The word used towards me was 'n-i-*-*-e-r' which has been documented as a racial slur.. the term I used is often used in the black community."
9News reached out to Johnson's attorney to clarify her meaning of the Facebook post, but has not yet heard back. A spokesperson for the Louisiana Supreme Court released a statement to 9News saying, "We can neither confirm nor deny the existence of a complaint."
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