Transgender Victim of Police Beating Found Dead in Memphis

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Tuesday November 11, 2008

A transwoman whose videotaped beating at the hands of police helped spark a movement to fight police brutality in Memphis was found shot to death Nov. 9.

A Nov. 11 article at the Memphis Commercial Appeal said that Duanna Johnson, 43, suffered a gunshot wound to the head and died at the site of the shooting in North Memphis.

Johnson's arrest for prostitution last winter led to a police interrogation in which Johnson--formerly known as Dwayne Johnson--was beaten by police officers.

When Johnson's lawyer provided a video of the beating, two Memphis policemen--Bridges McRae and James Swain--were dismissed from the force, the article said.

A lawsuit stemming from the beating will go forward despite Johnson's death, said her lawyer, Murray Wells.

Said Wells, "There'll be just a couple of legal hoops we'll have to jump through."

Added the lawyer, "The case is, I think, just as strong as it was before, especially with the video."

According to Well,s Johnson had been cooperating with federal investigators looking into the beating.

According to an article published on Nov. 10 by the Memphis Flyer the video showed the beating Johnson suffered in a holding area at the hands of Officer McRae, a visual record so stirring that it helped launch a group called Stop Police Brutality Memphis.

A July 10 Flyer article noted that another alleged beating, involving a man named Marlon Quarles, had also lend momentum to the group's formation.

The Commercial Appeal noted that a spokesperson for the Memphis Police Department had announced in October that the Tennessee Equality Project had been engaged to provide an eight-hour diversity training.

The Flyer's Nov. 10 article quoted from a statement issued by the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center, which read, "Duanna bravely confronted the Memphis Police Department officers who brutalized her while she was in police custody.

"At great personal cost, Duanna was the public face of our community's campaign against racism, homophobia, and transphobia," the statement continued.

"There was no justice for Duanna Johnson in life. The Mid-South Peace & Justice Center calls for justice in the investigation and prosecution of Duanna's murder."

The Commercial Appeal article cited witnesses to the shooting, who said that several men, described as "possibly young," were at the spot where a Johnson's body was found, and that they left after a gunshot went off.

No arrests have been made in connection with the case.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.