Ex-guard acquitted of raping inmate

April 17, 1994|By Mike Farabaugh | Mike Farabaugh,Sun Staff Writer

A former Harford County Detention Center guard was acquitted Friday of raping a 31-year-old female inmate in a medical isolation cell last year.

A jury of eight women and four men deliberated about an hour and 15 minutes in Harford Circuit Court before declaring Mitchell Lynn Johnson, 27, innocent.

Mr. Johnson, who lived in Abingdon at the time of the alleged February 1993 incident, was fired by Sheriff Robert E. Comes one month before a county grand jury indicted him May 4. He had been a probationary correctional officer for about six months.

Mr. Johnson said after the verdict that he was the victim of a "conspiracy" by sheriff's officials looking for someone to blame in the wake of allegations made against guards after the death of inmate William M. Ford in March 1992.

Sheriff Comes was not available for comment, said a spokeswoman for the sheriff's office.

Mr. Ford's death was ruled a suicide or an accidental suicide in a report released 2 1/2 months ago by a county grand jury.

But the sheriff's office had received adverse publicity when the county administration paid a $400,000 settlement to Mr. Ford's family in April 1993.

Mr. Johnson said he also believes that his prosecution "was definitely racially motivated." Mr. Johnson, who is black, said that he and two white guards were investigated but that only he was prosecuted.

His accuser, who is also black, was being held at the detention center on two counts of possession of cocaine. She was released after posting $3,500 bond the day before Mr. Johnson was indicted, court records state.

The woman testified that Mr. Johnson visited her isolation cell, followed her to the showers and back to her cell. There, she said, he grabbed her, threatened to make trouble for her if she didn't have sex with him and forced her to have intercourse with him.

Mr. Johnson testified that the alleged rape never happened.

Defense attorney David Brooks argued that the accuser was less than credible in a case where credibility was essential.

After he was fired, Mr. Johnson, his wife and two children moved to Pittsburgh, where he grew up. He is a driver for United Parcel Service.

"My reputation has been ruined by these charges, so I had no choice but to move away and change jobs," he said. "Even my friends look at me differently since I was accused of rape.

"It's not fair. I used to think I wanted my old job back, but I don't. It's just not worth it."

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