Accident or Unsolved Murder?

By: 
Stephen Downing

In our last column we introduced Lisa Jones, 53, a Colorado resident who reached out to us after reading two of our columns related to cover-ups, investigative incompetence, poor supervision and questions of integrity within the ranks of the LBPD homicide squad, most which surround the on-the-job alcoholism and investigative competence of LBPD homicide detective Todd Johnson.

The revelations in our columns resonated with Lisa Jones’ own four year quest to uncover the truth related to the March 2014 LBPD investigation into the death of her 50-year-old sister, Dana Kathleen and her dealings with the lead homicide detective, Todd Johnson.

In correspondence with the Beachcomber Lisa Jones’ recounted the circumstances surrounding her siblings death from blunt force head trauma, the subsequent seizure by LBPD detectives of her sister’s iPad and video footage from a 12-camera system installed in her sister’s home by her husband that we provided in Part One.

Jones also recounted Detective Johnson’s presumption that the “video files gave an authentic, complete account of activities in and around the house,” a presumption Detective Johnson then used to support her sister’s husbands’ alibi as well as the official “accidental” death classification by the Los Angeles County Coroner.

It was at this point in Lisa Jones’ story that we raised the questions: “Was Detective Johnson’s presumption appropriate? Was her death an accident or is it in fact an unsolved murder?

We pick up the story Lisa shared with the Beachcomber (edited for length and clarity) where we left off in Part One, which interestingly involves the same Superior Court judge – Judith L. Meyer – who we reported in a recent column as having given Detective Todd Johnson an in-court tongue lashing in an unrelated homicide case when she characterized his investigative work as “appalling and unethical and inappropriate.”

Just the Facts – Part Two

“On March 4, 2014, Superior Court Judge Judith L. Meyer signed a search warrant granting Detective Johnson enormous power to search my sister and her husband’s residence, vehicles, and possessions for “any evidence related to the possible crime of murder.”

The search warrant specifically commanded a search for clothing, blood and “any instrument that could cause any injury conducive to that of which my sister, Dana received.”

And yet, the detectives failed to search for blood at that time. They failed to notice blood at the scene even when it was just inches away from an evidence marker. They failed to locate clothing that Dana was wearing at the time of the alleged accident. And they failed to see the likely weapons in the house that were capable of causing my sister’s fatal injuries.

The detectives failed so badly that, on March 13, 2014, after the autopsy, they sought a second search warrant for a do-over – and a chance to cover up their earlier lapses.

At that time – nine days after their first shoddy search – detective Todd Johnson and his partner returned to the scene for a second search, and ridiculously restricted their scrutiny to just one room of the house.

Notably, in Detective Johnson’s second affidavit supporting the search warrant he knowingly lied about the facts of the case. As one example, Johnson stated that my sister was doing yoga when she sustained the fatal blow to her head.

This claim – made by the Dana’s husband – was not proven, and Detective Johnson knew it because he had seen physical and digital evidence that contradicted the claim.

A forensic examination of Dana’s iPad showed that it had been used to make a purchase from Levenger.com at 8:28 a.m. on March 3rd while her husband was away from the house. Minutes later at 8:33 a.m., the iPad was used to log in to a yoga instruction video on Gaia.com. The iPad played an episode of Rod Stryker’s Peak Performance Yoga.

Reportedly Detective Johnson did not conduct a forensic examination of the DVR. Rather, he downloaded and watched some of the video files.

According to the surveillance video, Dana’s husband was not in the house at the times when her iPad was used. Therefore, the detective assumed that she was alive and well somewhere in the house using her iPad – even though she did not appear in the surveillance recordings that morning.

Detective Johnson concluded that Dana’s husband could not have bludgeoned his wife and cleaned up the scene in just the nine minutes between the alleged “loud crash” that caused the dog to startle at 8:48 a.m., and the arrival of first responders at 8:57 a.m.

Detective Johnson presumed that, as her husband had claimed, Dana was alive and well in the house when he left to walk the dog. Therefore, it seemed impossible that he could have assaulted her that morning.

The autopsy report stated: “The decedent experienced a falling episode one year ago while in Hawaii. She reportedly fell and struck the back of her head. She was evaluated and was reported to be fine. During the past three months, the decedent was reported to be moving in a slow manner while having difficulty getting up in the morning.”

My parents, siblings and I disputed these claims – Dana had not been to Hawaii in years and she had not been moving in a slow manner while having difficulty getting up in the morning. These claims had been made by Dana’s husband. Our family wondered why Detective Johnson and the coroner’s office had accepted them as truthful, and included them in the autopsy report.

Seeming to discount the autopsy report’s comments about a previous fall, the medical examiner’s neuropathology report clarified that Dana had no pre-existing injury that might have caused her to lose her balance, or to lose consciousness. Rather, the medical examiner concluded that her death was caused by blunt-force head trauma.

And yet the autopsy report stated that the manner of her death was accidental.

The coroner’s finding stunned our entire family.

The autopsy report stated: “The 50-year-old caucasian female fell to the floor and sustained blunt force head trauma while doing yoga exercises at her residence. The woman’s husband claimed that she had been doing yoga at the time of her injury.”

The report cited this claim as factual but offered no evidence to support it.

All members of our family strongly doubted that Dana had been watching a yoga video on the morning of March 3. She always did a brief yoga routine when she got out of bed. She didn’t need to follow a video. The yoga video that she was allegedly watching was a slow, simple instructional program for beginners. After years of daily yoga practice, she was well beyond it.

According to my examination of the home surveillance video, Dana disappeared into her house on the night of March 2 for a period of 11 hours before the paramedics were called on the morning of March 3.

Over the course of the 11 hours, she never walked to the kitchen for a beverage. She never went to the kitchen hutch to get her iPad or her iPhone or her wallet. Yet supposedly she was somewhere in the house, alive and well on the morning of March 3, making an online purchase with and watching a video with this same iPad.

The last thing that my sister did in her life that was recorded by the home surveillance system contradicted her husband’s claims. She used her iPad at the kitchen hutch on the night of March 2. She walked away from the device at around 10:21 p.m., never to be seen alive and well again on camera.

Later, on March 4, the police found and photographed Dana’s iPad on the hutch exactly where she had left it on the night of March 2. If the device had ever been in the yoga room on March 3, who put it there – and who returned it to the hutch after Dana’s injury?

Her husband’s story did not ring true, and yet Detective Johnson and Sgt. Hertzog, his supervisor, refused to consider the possibility that Dana had been assaulted sometime during the 11-hour period between 10:21 p.m. on March 2 and 8:51 a.m. on March 3.

They refused to consider the possibility that Dana’s husband had fabricated his own alibi by using her iPad himself. He gave Detective Johnson the four-digit code to unlock her iPad for the purpose of conducting a forensic exam of the device – meaning, Dana’s husband had access to the device himself.

Judging from her husband’s statements and behavior – and based on 14 years of knowing the man – our entire family was confident that this was not a case of accidental death. We urged detective Johnson and Sgt. Hertzog to investigate further.

They refused, insisting that Dana had died from a fall while doing yoga. Detective Johnson went so far as to say that the medical examiner took one look at Dana’s head and knew instantly that it was an accident.

If it was so obviously an accidental injury, why had doctors at the hospital expressed serious concerns about it, prompting a social worker to call the police?

Our family brought these and other details to the attention of Detective Johnson and Sgt. Hertzog and still, we could not persuade them to reopen the investigation.

The consensus belief regarding my sister is that she died in a freak yoga accident. This absurd-sounding belief is believable because it’s backed by institutional power – the police, the paramedics, the medical examiner.

I find myself at odds with this power. I question the official analysis of the facts. I question the completeness of the facts that have been made available for consideration. I’m disturbed that, as in the case of the autopsy report, officials have represented demonstrably false information as factual.”

Dishonest Internal Investigation

Lisa Jones has spent most of the past four years entreating the LBPD, the Citizen Police Complaint Commission (CPCC), private attorneys and investigators to look deeper into her sister’s “accidental” death.

In a detailed March 11, 2014 letter of complaint to the CPCC Jones concluded that the LBPD investigation into her sister’s death by detective Todd Johnson was “a jaw-dropping display of investigative incompetence.“

Four months after filing her grievances about the investigation into her sister’s death she received a letter from the CPCC’s executive director, Anitra Dempsey, telling her that her complaint was not investigated by CPCC investigators but instead sent to the LBPD’s internal affairs division for investigation.

Dempsey wrote “it has been determined by the police department’s review staff and the CPCC staff that no further action will be taken on your complaint because the allegation that officers failed to conduct an investigation was either disproved by independent witnesses or physical evidence.”

In short, Dempsey circumvented the requirements of the City Charter by failing to provide an independent CPCC investigation and then blocked the entire matter from proper review by the nine independent citizen commissioners.

Dempsey did inform Jones that she had a right to appeal her unauthorized, unilateral decision to the full board of nine citizen commissioners, a process also not authorized by the City Charter.

Six days later Lisa Jones received another letter – this time from the LBPD’s internal affairs commander, Robert Smith. The IA commander informed her that his investigation of her complaint would be “reviewed by the independent Citizen Police Complaint Commission” and that “the CPCC will notify you at the conclusion of their review of your complaint.”

Clearly, Commander Smith was not only nine days tardy in connecting the City Hall dots, he also did not know that Dempsey had decided to perform her own “staff review” (whatever that means) and unilaterally thwart any kind of independent review by her bosses – the nine independent citizen commissioners.

When we asked Jones if she filed an appeal she said, “I felt that the CPCC response from Anitra Dempsey was dismissive and did not accurately characterize the nature of my complaint. I did not claim that there was “no” investigation; rather I claimed that there was a “botched” investigation – two totally different things. I felt that the CPCC response was dishonest in the way it characterized my complaint, therefore I anticipated that the CPCC would continue to threat the matter dishonestly. So, why bother travelling from Denver to Long Beach for that?”

Should Case be Re-investigated?

Lisa Jones has begun posting the mass of detail she has gathered over the past four years onto her personal website – yogadeath.com. It is her hope that the information and evidence presented will one day serve as catalyst to someone of proper authority to reopen the investigation into her sister’s death.

We asked a highly respected homicide investigator and a former major city chief of police to read the materials on Lisa’s website and offer their judgment as to whether the case should be reopened.

The homicide investigator replied: “There are too many unanswered questions the original homicide detectives should have answered before ruling this case an accidental death. In spite of the fact that it’s probably too late to prove the case with forensic evidence, the investigation should be reopened with a focus upon case elements and investigative techniques that at this point should not be made public.”

The former police chief was a bit more to the point, commenting: “Hell yes I would re-open this investigation. Lots wrong as I read it. I would assemble an independent team to include a forensic investigator and independent lab. But, not within the culture that originally investigated it.”

As a former police commander who oversaw homicide investigations for a period of five years in South-Central Los Angeles, I agree with both of them.

There is no statute of limitations for the crime of murder.

Stephen Downing is a retired LAPD deputy chief of police and a resident of Long Beach.

stephen@beachcomber.news

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Comments

I’m a Long Beach resident and a 20 yr veteran of the Air Force. I was a criminal investigator for many years during my yrs of service. After reading Stephen Downing’s article about the death of Kathleen Jones in March, 2014, and the efforts of her sister Lisa Jones to have the case reopened, I would definitely agree that this case be opened by another agency such as the L.A. County Sheriff’s Dept., who have an outstanding homicide unit. I would suggest that she appeal to the Mayor of Long Beach to have this done and if that doesn’t work, write a letter and provide all the facts to the congressman/woman covering the City of Long Beach as they’re required to look into all matters and provide a response.

As a former neighbor and very close friend of Lisa's sister, I too am 100% convinced that her husband is responsible for her death. Dana and her husband (who I'm sure by now has changed his name as he had done several times in the past) lived just a few doors down in a Long Beach condominium complex. I had repeated *first-hand* views into his rage, mental abuse, attempts to control, and outrageous lying.

I BEG anyone reading this: if you have any way to help Lisa and her family in their search for justice, please come forward. Never in my life have I been so in fear of a man I personally knew. I have no doubt this man is capable of murder and he will do it again.

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