Bryan Johnson

Bryan Johnson

GRAND RAPIDS, Minn. — A new report alleges that a fired Itasca County sheriff’s deputy who is running to unseat his former boss misused a county-issued cellphone to download pornography and send sexually charged text messages.

The six-page report, prepared by an independent investigator, states that a computer forensics firm recovered hundreds of explicit images, videos and messages on the phone that was used by former deputy Bryan Johnson.

Johnson, who is running against incumbent Sheriff Vic Williams in the Nov. 6 general election, was terminated after an investigation into false timecard entries. An arbitrator last month upheld Williams’ decision to fire Johnson, who had 16 years of service in the office, finding that the deputy had engaged in a “pattern of dishonesty.”

Reached by phone, Johnson said that he “absolutely” denies the allegations. He said he has attempted to have his own forensic examination completed but has not been able to get the phone back.

“This is a one-sided opinion by this firm,” he said.

The report was prepared by Twin Cities attorney Michelle Soldo and addressed to Itasca County administration on Oct. 17. The document was obtained by the News Tribune from an outside source.

The report states that Johnson’s phone was seized in February 2017 by the Beltrami County Sheriff’s Office during the course of a criminal investigation into the timecard issue, but it wasn’t until this June that the Itasca County Sheriff’s Office hired the forensics firm to examine its contents.

Soldo wrote that a review of data from August 2016 to February 2017 turned up numerous violations of county and sheriff’s office policies.

“Most of Johnson’s on- and off-duty text messages are personal in nature,” she wrote. “The sheer volume of the data recovered for the six-month period in question speaks to the frequency of Johnson’s personal use of his county-owned and -issued cell phone.”

The report states that Johnson downloaded nearly 13,000 non-work-related images, including hundreds depicting pornography. It also alleges that he exchanged “sexually charged and explicit” messages with others, including unnamed county employees.

Further, the report claims Johnson watched YouTube videos and napped on duty, discussed drinking, disparaged a jail supervisor and “took women with whom he exchanged sexually charged messages on squad car ride-alongs and discussed engaging in sexual intercourse in his squad car,” among other allegations.

Johnson reportedly declined an interview but told investigators through an attorney that he received a used phone — implying some of the material may have already been on it — and speculated that Williams or other officials may have “planted” the offending evidence.

The forensics firm described that as “virtually impossible,” reporting that the material was created solely during the timespan that Johnson was in possession of the device.

Teresa Joppa, a labor attorney representing Johnson through the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said she expects to soon appeal the arbitrator’s decision sustaining Johnson’s termination.

But Joppa said she has not received a copy of Soldo’s new report and said it should not have been distributed out of county offices, alleging a violation of the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act.

“That’s a real problem,” she said. “It’s very troublesome and very unusual that a report by Ms. Soldo go out there.”

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