DA Challenger Claims to Be a Whistleblower and Paints a Picture of Widespread Corruption in Tulare County
On October 8, 1997, the Visalia Times-Delta ran a story announcing, “DA blasts allegations,” and detailing the firing of Deputy DA Dean Johansson citing allegations of “falsifying court documents, lying, distributing confidential information and harming the reputation of Cline’s organization.”
This 20-year-old incident came back to life when five law enforcement union leaders Scott Allen, president, Davis Police Officers Association; Jason Drobish, president, Woodland Police Officer Association; Jose Hermosillo, president, Winters Police Officers Association; Greg Lang, president, West Sacramento Police Officers Association; and Matt De Moura president, Yolo County Deputy District Attorneys Association wrote a letter to the editor questioning Mr. Johansson’s qualifications to be district attorney.
Mr. Johansson shot back, “This is an illustration of why we need transformative change in Yolo County Law Enforcement.” He added, “It’s somewhat irritating to even have to address something that’s 20 years old.
Mr. Johansson would meet with the Vanguard on Sunday afternoon to set the record straight. In his view, he was fighting against a corrupt system then just as he is now.
The Vanguard, in looking up Mr. Johansson’s record on the California Bar site, notes that he has no record of disciplinary issues whatsoever during his 23 years since he passed the bar in 1995.
“There was never a complaint I received, let alone a disciplinary action,” he said. He said he was never contacted by the bar that there was any kind of investigation. “Never,” he said.
“Did I ever falsify any documents? Absolutely not,” he said. He said he had witnesses and offered to take a lie detector test.
Dean Johansson provided the Vanguard with the document in question. It is a subpoena, served not by Dean Johansson but by a woman named Jennifer Zuniga, a new process server.
“I never even knew that was served,” he said. He pointed to the name at the top “person served” and said, “This was apparently whited out and written over.
“Don’t ask me to explain what happened here, because I had nothing to do with it,” he said. “Look at the writing, does that look like a male or female’s writing to you?
“That’s the falsified document,” he said.
He pointed out that the individual served in the subpoena was never even called as a witness at the preliminary hearing. Under the rules of the court, during a preliminary hearing, rules of hearsay allow for officers to testify to what people told them during the course of their investigation – meaning that the individual involved here was never called to testify.
In fact, he received it over a fax machine. He never used it. And the person never showed up in court.
“I was told not to mention this investigation,” he said. “I did tell people. I wasn’t going to keep my mouth shut.”
He said they tried to make him seem like an overzealous prosecutor, but they didn’t seem to understand that the subpoena wasn’t necessary for a preliminary hearing. He said, “I never tried to present it to a judge. I never even purported this to be the real thing. There wasn’t any form of fraud or falsification of anything like that.
“That’s the irony of this situation,” he said. He believes there was something else going on that motivated them to make an issue of this.
The bigger issue was that, while at the Tulare DA’s office, Mr. Johansson became aware of problems in the law enforcement community.
Mr. Johansson arrived in the office and quickly moved up faster than the other hires who were hired concurrently. He eventually became lead prosecutor for all domestic violence cases in Tulare County.
“I became aware of specific cases that were doctored up on fabricated charges for political reasons,” he said. The case he became aware of involved a police sergeant named Mark Swaim.
During his own time beginning in July 1997, Mr. Johansson emailed a group of people from his private AOL account.
“These were never meant to be made public,” he stated. “The first story was the frame up of Mark Swaim.”
All of a sudden all these officers in the city of Woodlake get fired and Mr. Johansson asked why. “I don’t have a credible witness because the officers have been fired. And not only that, these officers are coming up on criminal charges of their own.”
A lot of them were DUIs, but Sgt. Swaim came up on a case assaulting someone in custody. That wasn’t a usual occurrence in Tulare, “moreover the prosecution was taken over by the second in command. It should have been my case.”
He said, “I started asking questions – and something didn’t make sense.” What he found out was there was a party involving the police officers and a woman had been raped by two of the officers.
The officers involved were highly connected individuals and Sgt. Swaim was told not to write up a report. “He wrote up a report anyway and filed it,” he said. “He was summarily fired as a result.”
He said that nine officers stood behind Sgt. Swaim and they ended up being fired as well.
Mr. Johansson said the involvement of the second in command told him this was internal to the district attorney’s office. He also became aware of other criminal activity that involved law enforcement.
He said, “It wasn’t all law enforcement… There were some very good cops there.
“I became more and more aware of this activity,” he said. “And I sent out these emails to document it.”
He also felt, by documenting this, he was covering himself should he get in trouble.
The Vanguard has a copy of these emails. He said that “the facts are absolutely true. That’s why I was not fired for defamation because they would have had to prove these were false – and they were not false.”
The problem that he has is that “my emails somehow made their way back into the county. I never intended for this to happen,” he said.
He said they got bound up and “it exponentially grew.” Then, “There was a Christian radio station that ended up selling it for $10,” he said. “I never received a penny. I never had any part in that distribution. It ended up screwing me over, because any kind of ultimate change I could have brought to the county, I was immediately handicapped.
“I was targeted and then silenced as a result,” he said. “Whoever did this was definitely not doing this with my approval.”
He said, “Eventually what happened is I was fired.”
He explained, “As I remember it, Phil Cline, the most powerful person in the county, fired me and he listed a number of reasons. The first was insubordination.”
Insubordination, he said, “that I fully admit to.”
He fought these allegations against him. He hired an attorney. He was put on administrative leave for a few months.
“It was this long, drawn out process,” he explained. “As far as I was concerned, they didn’t have evidence to fire me. This was their problem.”
He said, “The emails, they couldn’t prove that I had distributed them.”
He said they worked hard to discredit him, “and they were also worried about what else I may have known.”
As a DA, he was not at will. So there was a Skelly hearing that went on to allow Mr. Johansson to respond to the allegations prior to them being able to fire him. “They found true the first allegation, insubordination,” Mr. Johansson explained. “That was what I fully admitted to.”
His view was that he had to be able to defend himself. He was fearful that this could become a criminal matter in addition to an administrative action. “And they can’t tell me not to gather information in my own defense,” he said. “That’s the insubordination. They told me not to talk about my case to anybody. To keep quiet.”
The subpoena was the doctoring up of evidence listed in his causes for being fired.
When they say “distributing confidential information,” Mr. Johansson believes that refers to the emails. But he maintains, “I don’t think there is (any confidential information), I think this is all public information to save the lives of people being falsely accused.”
He said, when he had a later hearing, “they read me my Miranda rights.” He said, “The threat was that there was going to be criminal action against me. They sent it to the attorney general’s office. But It never went anywhere. “
The letter writers point out in a separate incident that there was a March 2005 News & Review article which covered an event of gathered anarchists, “which was billed as an event ‘for the exchange of anarchist ideas.’”
Mr. Johansson was a featured speaker. He pointed out to the Vanguard that he had done “know your rights” for so many different groups, “for them to single out this anarchist café as something spooky and scary and then ‘guilt by association’ which is the hallmark of this county. To go and label me now as an anarchist… get your facts straight people.”
He said at that time there were demonstrators coming in to demonstrate against the World Trade Organization (WTO) in Sacramento. “I represented a ton of those guys – all pro bono, and (was) very happy to do it,” he explained. “These were idealistic young folks who were very educated as to where this society and planet are going.
“They were arrested left and right, I was trying to explain to them what their rights were,” he said.
One of the quotes was: “Nothing can combat the slide of our rights toward totalitarianism better than guerilla video.”
He pointed out, “This was before cell phones had video. It just goes to show you how prophetic my words were.” He said that the video “actually shows what the facts were.”
The next quote cited: “Do not talk to the police … Police are trained to lie; they’re trained to exert dominance.”
He responded, “Yeah, what’s the problem? That’s exactly the truth.” He said every day in the courtroom, he has officers testify under oath and they “tell me that they use lies as subterfuge.
“Of course they lie,” he said. “Of course they do things when they try to get something else. Yes, that’s the whole purpose of our 5th Amendment right.”
He added, “That’s why one of the fundamental principles of the constitution was that we have right to remain silent – and we should use it.” He said, “Somehow, we’ve gotten away from these core principles.”
Dean Johansson in his initial response to the letter wrote: “This would be comical if it did not have the names of men in positions of power attached. This is an illustration of why we need transformative change in Yolo County Law Enforcement. These men apparently didn’t care to get their facts straight or even contact me before attempting to publicly assassinate my character. This is an example of the sloppy police work and prosecution that so many in Yolo County have suffered from for years.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting