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Ten years ago, Reveal host Al Letson traveled to Lucedale, Mississippi, to report on the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. While there, locals told him there was another story he should be looking into: Billey Joe Johnson’s suspicious death.  

During a traffic stop with a White deputy, police say Johnson died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. But for Johnson’s family, that explanation never made sense. 

In the first episode of this seven-part series, Letson returns to Mississippi with reporter Jonathan Jones to explore what happened to Johnson – and what justice means in a place haunted by its history.

Photos

The Johnson family: Eddie (from left), India, Tiffanie and Billey Joe Sr. Credit: Imani Khayyam for Reveal
A photo of Billey Joe Johnson Jr. sits in his father’s home as a memorial. Credit: Jonathan Jones

Dig Deeper


Read: On Feb. 5, 2009, days before the grand jury hearing on Billey Joe Johnson’s death, Yahoo sports reporters Dan Wetzel and Charles Robinson published an in-depth investigation into the case. (Yahoo News) 

Explore: Dig into the case files and documents about the death of Billey Joe Johnson.

Share: Do you have information about the death of Billey Joe Johnson? Send us a tip.

Credits

Reporters and producers: Al Letson and Jonathan Jones | Editor and executive producer: Kevin Sullivan | Series producer: Michael I Schiller | Series digital editor: Nina Martin | Executive  editor: Andy Donohue | Production assistant: Steven Rascón | Production manager: Amy Mostafa | Digital producer: Sarah Mirk | Fact checker: Rosemarie Ho | Reporting and producing help: Ko Bragg, Melissa Lewis, Michael Montgomery and Laurel Hennen Vigil | Original score and sound design: Jim Briggs and Fernando Arruda with help from Claire Mullen, Najib Aminy, Brett Simpson and Ameeta Ganatra | Interim CEO: Annie Chabel | Interim editor in chief: Sumi Aggarwal

Mama Blue sang our theme song, which was written and composed by Nina Simone. Thanks to the Nina Simone estate and Music and Strategy. News and sports footage of Billey Joe Johnson courtesy of Gray Media Group Inc., WLOX-TV.

Series photos by Imani Khayyam. Logo design by Joan Wong. 

Special thanks: Katharine Mieszowski, Alexis Hightower, Jen Chien, Esther Kaplan and Christa Scharfenberg

Listen to the original music from this episode on Bandcamp.

Support for Reveal is provided by the Reva and David Logan Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Jonathan Logan Family Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation, the Hellman Foundation, Democracy Fund, and the Inasmuch Foundation.

Transcript

Reveal transcripts are produced by a third-party transcription service and may contain errors. Please be aware that the official record for Reveal’s radio stories is the audio.

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Al Letson:Hey, folks. This is Al Letson. Before we get started with today’s episode of Reveal, I have to give you a heads up. Today’s show is the beginning of a multi-part series that covers some intense issues related to racism. Because of that, within the first two minutes you’ll hear me repeat a racial slur that has been used against me. This is an incredibly personal show for me. It took a long time for us to get it together. I just want to thank you for listening but also give you a heads up. Okay, here we go.
Al Letson:From the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I’m Al Letson, and the year is 1991. I’m a senior in high school, living in a little town outside Jacksonville, Florida. A middle-class Black family in a mostly white neighborhood. On the surface this is the American dream. A big house, corner lot, manicured lawn, and a pool, but if you know what to look for, you can see the cracks. Confederate flags are everywhere you turn, neighbors who refuse to talk to you because of your Blackness, and the occasional racial slur you hear in the wind or spray painted on the street. Racial intimidation, both large and small, was just a part of life, so much so you don’t even think or reflect on it. You just bury it deep so you can live, and then one day the oppression you’ve been living with is reflected at you and you just can’t deny it anymore.
Newscaster:Now the story that might never have surfaced if someone hadn’t picked up his home video camera. We’ve all seen the pictures of Los Angeles police officers beating a man they had just pulled over.
Al Letson:When the footage of Rodney King’s assault by Los Angeles police officers made the news, the entire country had to take note.
Newscaster:Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl Gates looked at the tape and said he thinks assault with a deadly weapon will be one of the charges.
Daryl Gates:In a review we find that the officers struck him with batons between 53 and 56 times.
Al Letson:I remember watching it, and though I’d never personally seen cops be that brutal, I knew it could happen. At that point I’d been slammed onto my car’s hood, chased out of a mall, and called a nigger, all by the police officers in the little town I lived in, and I was only 18. It wasn’t a secret or a surprise. Most of the young Black men I knew had similar experiences. It was known, but no one seemed to care. Who you going to tell? The police? The federal government? They barely knew we existed. I remember thinking maybe Rodney King’s video would change things, because white America could see what people who look like me had to live with.
Newscaster:Not guilty rang through the packed courtroom over and over again. The four LAPD officers in the Rodney King beating case found not guilty on all counts except one.
Al Letson:Parts of L.A. went up in flames.
Newscaster:Angry demonstrators went on a rampage, taking control of the streets, and it’s been an ugly, terrible situation all night long.
Al Letson:It was an ugly, terrible situation long before that night. Back then we called it a riot, but really it was an uprising. People were tired of living under oppression. Though I wasn’t there, I understood the rage on a cellular level, because the message was clear. Justice in America looked different for different people. I grew up, but those moments, they never leave you. They influence you in ways that are hard to predict. For me I became a poet, a playwright, and then a journalist. I created a show on NPR called State of the Reunion, where we travel the country, and every episode we told stories from a different place. The show was about the big problems we face as a nation and how folks on the ground figured out solutions. You see, I wanted to understand America. Instead of hearing from talking heads, I wanted to listen to everyday people. We talked to everybody.
Male:You’re listening to State of the Reunion.
Male:No hot diving, no back flipping, no belly [inaudible].
Male:There’s a lot of people that don’t like Wyoming, and I think that’s great.
Male:This land is Indian.
Female:I’m not a tree hugger. I’m not a activist. This is where I live.
Al Letson:I created this show because when I was in my small town no one heard my story, and I wanted to help other people’s voices be heard. That led me to Mississippi. In 2011, following the aftermath of the massive Deepwater Horizon oil spill, my producer, Tina Antolini, and I went to Lucedale, a little town in Southeastern Mississippi, right near the border of Alabama. I wanted to interview people who were doing oil spill cleanup.
Al Letson:Lucedale. We are going by a very small, quaint, little downtown area. It looks like a lot of small Southern downtown areas.
Tina Antolini:It’s seen better days though.
Al Letson:Yeah, definitely. Actually, this one is not in that bad of shape. I’ve gone through some that don’t look so good.
Al Letson:In my eyes the downtown looks like it’s hanging on despite the nearby Walmart. Down Main Street, compact brick buildings with aging signs hang over banks, restaurants, and shops. A tiny row of trees line the sidewalk on each side of the street. This is small-town America. But as soon as we drive outside city limits, we’re plunged into the rural South. The highway cuts through the forest as we head west and cross the Pascagoula River. This part of the county’s called Benndale, where our contact, Glenda Perryman, lives.
Glenda Perryman:Let me get my little stuff together. I’m ready. Grandbabies wants to go with me.
Al Letson:Glenda is full of energy. Her grandkids run behind her, trying to tag along.
Tina Antolini:They always do, huh?
Glenda Perryman:Yes.
Tina Antolini:How many you got, Glenda?
Glenda Perryman:Three, and one on the way. I’ll be back! Love you all! I’ll be right back!
Al Letson:Which way are we going?
Glenda Perryman:You can make a right right here.
Al Letson:The county is nearly 90% white. Glenda runs a nonprofit that’s focused on the small Black community. She’s introducing us to some day laborers who are doing cleanup of the oil spill on the coast, but first she wants us to understand where we are. We go off the highways onto country roads, some paved, some not, where many Black folks live.
Glenda Perryman:All of these houses is just run down. People have no place to live. You find families living two or three families in one house.
Al Letson:We encounter house after house that are barely standing after Hurricane Katrina’s wrath. Keep in mind Katrina happened in 2005. We’re visiting Lucedale almost six years later.
Glenda Perryman:This, see here, still a tarp on his house. This family here, when Katrina hit, it blew a tree inside their house. When it blew the tree in, snakes came in. When they came back home, that’s when they found all the snakes, and they never rebuilt. We helped them build a house up further north. You can go this way.
Al Letson:Then Glenda points.
Glenda Perryman:They said that it used to be a tree right over there. When my husband was old enough to remember, they would use a doll and put a rope around its neck and have the, what they called it, lynch rope. They would hang it up there every now and then to remind the Black peoples about what we’ll do to you.
Al Letson:After Glenda gives us the lay of the land, she introduces us to the workers, all Black men. They have calloused hands that look like they could spark flames if they rubbed together. We talk about their work and they ask about mine. Because I’m a journalist, every single one of them tells me about a case I should look into. The story of a local Black kid who died during a police stop. Billey Joe Johnson. He passed a few years before, but they talk about him like it just happened. The wound is still fresh. They tell me Billey Joe was a high school junior and star running back on the football team. He had offers from top colleges, and there’s no question in their minds he was going pro. They wanted me to look into it, but they were all hesitant to go on record. When they leave, Glenda tells me she was related to Billey Joe.
Glenda Perryman:He was dating a white girl. He was in love and she was in love too.
Al Letson:She said many people around there still didn’t approve of interracial relationships, including some folks in law enforcement. In December of 2008, a month after Obama was elected, a white cop pulled Billey Joe over. Authorities say Billey Joe handed the officer his drivers license. The officer then went back to his cruiser to run a check. He said while he was looking down reading the license he heard the gunshot. He looked up and Billey Joe was lying on the ground, blood pooling from his head, a shotgun on top of his body. Initially police said Billey Joe died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. The official story didn’t make sense to Glenda and the workers. He was a football star with a bright future and everything to look forward to. They wanted me to investigate. Standing in the sweltering heat of a Mississippi summer, I felt the history of this country like the humidity in the air. It was all around me. From the ghost of the enslaved Black people who worked the land to the shadows cast by the trees, silent monuments to the victims of lynching, to right now.
Al Letson:See, I remember what it felt like to be a Black kid in a little Southern town where it seemed like no one cared or could hear you, where justice was a theory you never saw in practice. When they asked me to look into this story, there was only one answer I could give them. Yes, I made a promise. A promise that I would look into the death of Billey Joe Johnson. It took me 10 years, but this is the story of where that promise led me, a family that refused to give up, a community torn, and the question of what is justice and how is it served.
Al Letson:This is Reveal’s Serial Investigation. Mississippi Goddamn, the ballad of Billey Joe. In 2011 I left Lucedale and tried to make good on that promise, but here’s the thing. I knew nothing about how to report a story like this. I was still pretty new to journalism, and the little show I was working for didn’t have the investigative muscle to tackle it. I reached out to every newsroom I had contact with, but nothing. People wouldn’t even call me back. I couldn’t afford to go back to Mississippi for the story, because our budget was too small. I pushed as hard as I could and kept checking in on the story from a distance, but ultimately I lost touch with Glenda, and then life got in the way. I was swamped with work and raising kids. Billey Joe’s story just faded into the background. This is America. The issues of policing and justice always come back. It’s a predictable cycle. A Black person is brutalized or killed by a police officer. Racial tensions explode. Rarely is anyone held accountable.
Newscaster:Baltimore City leaders are urging patience this morning after another cop was acquitted in connection with the death of Freddie Gray.
Al Letson:Just like when I was a kid watching Rodney King.
Newscaster:Pittsburgh last night after a jury acquitted a white former police officer who shot and killed an unarmed Black teen as he fled a traffic stop.
Al Letson:The list keeps growing.
Newscaster:Philando Castile.
Newscaster:David McAtee.
Newscaster:Breonna Taylor.
Newscaster:Dreasjon Reed.
Newscaster:Atatiana Jefferson.
Newscaster:Michael Ramos.
Newscaster:[Porrin Gain].
Newscaster:John Crawford.
Newscaster:Tamir Rice.
Newscaster:Alton Sterling.
Newscaster:Eric Garner.
Al Letson:Every time, the promise I made to Glenda would haunt me. The investigation left so many questions unanswered. Billey Joe died after being pulled over by the police, but we don’t know what happened. The traffic stop wasn’t captured on video, and there were no eyewitnesses. What I did know, his family didn’t believe the official version, and they felt ignored by the system. His death didn’t make any sense to them and it didn’t make any sense to me either. From time to time, I checked to see if there’d been any developments in the case. I would spend hours online looking for email addresses and cellphone numbers of family members, but it’s really hard to report on a rural community unless you’re physically there. Like I said, life got in the way. Then I started working for Reveal. One day, seven years after I first learned about this case, I found a number, someone I thought might be a family member. I left a message. A day later I got a call back.
Veronica Fairle…:This story has so much behind it, and there’s no way one conversation is going to pull everything out. The documents and the testimonies from the witnesses is going to be the only way you’ll get the whole story.
Al Letson:I’d been waiting for that phone call for eight years.
Veronica Fairle…:My name is Veronica Fairley. I live in Benndale, Mississippi. I married into the family in 2007.
Al Letson:Did you know Billey Joe at all? Because he passed away in 2008, right?
Veronica Fairle…:I did. Billey Joe would come over to the house in the afternoons when he’d get out of school. My husband would always try and help him make extra money, and which a lot of people did, because he was an awesome, very awesome young man. Amazing. He worked hard for what he believed in. His goal was to make pro football so that he can provide a better living for his mother. Billey and his mother had a very close relationship. He would help anybody in the community. Not just saying it, but he was a very respectable young man. Everybody liked him.
Al Letson:Veronica and I talked for close to an hour, and if over the years I had a view of this case from 20,000 feet, Veronica was able to put me right on the ground in the middle of it.
Veronica Fairle…:The funeral home said that Billey Joe had only one exit wound, and that was behind his ear. How was there only one hole if he shot his self? He should’ve had at least two, that was the way it entered and exit. Billey Joe had an open casket after shooting himself supposedly with a 12 gauge shotgun.
Al Letson:Not only did she have anecdotal stories, she said she had documents.
Veronica Fairle…:I have a police report.
Al Letson:In order to push this forward, I need to see as many documents as you can possibly get me.
Veronica Fairle…:Let me ask you this. I hate to cut you off. How deep do you want to go in this? How deep do you want to go into Mississippi?
Al Letson:I want to go as deep as possible.
Al Letson:That’s coming up next on Mississippi Goddamn, from Reveal. The story of Billey Joe has been haunting me for 10 years. Two month after he died in a December 2008 traffic stop, authorities ruled he accidentally shot himself, but many people didn’t trust that, especially the Black community. After years of searching, I was finally able to speak with one of Billey Joe’s relatives, Veronica Fairley. For her, his case wasn’t just about family. It was about something bigger.
Veronica Fairle…:Because God had to bring justice to Mississippi some type of way. If you look at now what we’re going through with Emmett Till, we knew that what happened to Emmett Till was a lie, but now the truth is coming out. I believe in its own season the same thing is going to be revealed about Billey Jr’s case.
Al Letson:Veronica said she had documents that according to her could prove something was wrong with the investigation, but when I tried to follow up I couldn’t reach her. I texted, emailed, and called, but never got a response. Since I couldn’t connect with Veronica, I had to find another way to get the police reports and other documents, but that was going to be difficult, because this is Mississippi. That is the state song. Mississippi has one of the weakest public record laws in the country. Civil rights and First Amendment attorneys in Mississippi will tell you that you pretty much have no chance to get documents of a death investigation from the DA or state investigators. When it comes to looking into the police, you can’t get personnel records, specific complaints, or allegations of misconduct. You can find out if an officer was kicked off the force and why, but it’s really difficult to learn the circumstances. The point is, unless you get internal documents some other way, you’re stuck. Needless to say, if Veronica or someone had these documents, we needed them. With her going silent, I needed some help. Enter Jonathan Jones.
Jonathan Jones:My name is Jonathan Jones. I’m a reporter for Reveal.
Al Letson:JJ is an investigative reporter who’s had experience digging around-
Jonathan Jones:To speak with Judge Tony-
Al Letson:…. looking for people-
Jonathan Jones:I’m trying to get in touch with Ben Brown.
Al Letson:… and getting them on record.
Jonathan Jones:The number I have is 94729-
Al Letson:The first thing JJ told me was-
Jonathan Jones:What we really need to do is get our hands on the case file so we can figure out what investigators did and didn’t do. From there we can figure out what questions to ask and who to talk to.
Al Letson:We couldn’t look for documents and people while we were thousands of miles away in California, so JJ and I prepared to go to Mississippi in 2018. Before we get to that though, we should talk about race, because there is no way we can separate race from this story or really any story in America. I’m Black, grew up in the South, and that has definitely shaped my worldview.
Jonathan Jones:I’m white. I was born in Scotland, moved to the United States when I was young. I lived outside D.C., New York, and Philadelphia. All of that shapes the way I see things.
Al Letson:In this series we feel like it’s important to talk about that up front, because race is tied so tightly to this story. Not because we’re going to Mississippi, but because the story takes place in America. The first time, JJ and I go to Lucedale. It’s been almost a decade since Billey Joe’s death. I wonder on the flight if it had been so long that his death had faded from the town’s collective memory. One of the first people we talked to put that fear to rest. We get in late and go to a barbecue joint to eat. We don’t have our recording equipment, but this is what happened.
Al Letson:We walk in and there’s music playing. A bar against the wall. Picnic-like tables fill the room. Not many people there, mostly staff. On the walls are pictures, headshots and the like of blues singers, many of them autographed. We take a seat. The waitress takes our order and heads back to the kitchen. A tall white guy looks at us, then comes over and introduces himself as the owner. A real friendly guy, he tells us about all the blues acts that have come through. We listen to his story, and then he asks us what brings us to Lucedale. I don’t want to tell him. I got to say, being in Lucedale makes me nervous at times. I mean, we’re in the Deep South looking into a case where the police are involved. I thought it might be better to step carefully when we talk about what we’re doing, but JJ thought there’s no harm in asking.
Jonathan Jones:In a small town like this one, you never know if someone might have some sliver of information, so I ask, “Have you ever heard of Billey Joe Johnson?”
Al Letson:Had he? He says he’d been one of Billey Joe’s coaches and that he was actually at the scene right after Billey Joe died. He tells us his theory about the case.
Jonathan Jones:He thought that Billey Joe had been reaching for the shotgun to unload it when it accidentally went off.
Al Letson:He thinks the family would never be happy with the results of any investigation. Not even a day in, and we’re hearing theories. Billey Joe and his family lived in Benndale, the rural part of the county where I first learned about this story years ago. It’s impossible to find the Johnsons’ trailer using GPS. It gets us in the right area, but that isn’t saying much. We drive down several dirt roads that cut through pine forests. Most of those leading to dead ends. We knock on doors when we find them and get hopelessly lost until finally we stumble upon a relative who points us in the right direction. The first thing you see when you drive up the dirt road to the Johnsons’ trailer is Billey Joe’s pickup truck, the same truck he was pulled over in and died next to. The vehicle has long since lost the war against nature. Faded from the sun, the maroon paint feels like a distant memory. Tall grass surrounds it on all sides, a final statement on the inevitability of time. Beyond the truck, a long overgrown field stretches out in front of the Johnsons’ old trailer. To the side, near the dirt road, a beautiful oak tree acts as a natural canopy, a spot where people gather and hang out. Under it old tires, piles of aluminum cans, and rusty metal furniture. Several other cars in various states of disrepair witness our arrival.
Al Letson:The Johnsons don’t live in a trailer part per se, but there are several more behind Billey Joe Sr’s trailer, mostly a community of relatives. Billey Joe Sr emerges from his trailer wearing a blue wool cap, a yellow T-shirt from an old family reunion, and barefoot. He’s a big guy and seems hesitant to talk at first, but he can’t hide a smile when he talks about his son.
Billey Joe John…:When it come to the young kids, he always motivate them to go on and want to be the best that they can be in they life. That’s the type of person he was.
Al Letson:More of the family gathers around us. His older sister, Tiffany, and younger sister, India, lean on a car a few feet away, arms crossed, giving JJ and me the side eye. His uncle Don and other members of the family don’t seem to mind. They look at Billey Joe Sr as he tells stories of his son.
Billey Joe John…:You can see his baby pictures. He was a big ole something, arms like that, when he was a little ole bitty baby. He started walking when he was nine months old. Nine months old, he got rid of the Pamper and the bottle.
Jonathan Jones:Nice.
Al Letson:From a young age, Billey Joe was drawn to football.
Billey Joe John…:His mama worked at the Lucedale Sportswear. One of the balls in there was a foam football. Every time she come in, he always wanted to try to get that ball. He was probably about a year and a half, two year old, and she gave him that ball. Ever since then that’s all he knew is football football football.
Al Letson:It was an obsession that would transport him from his trailer in the backwoods of Mississippi to his own field of dreams. He wanted to play under the big lights, even as a little kid. He played in elementary school, and by 8th grade Billey Joe started teaming up with another football player, R.J. Spivey.
R.J. Spivey:We met back up in middle school and we were best friends ever since.
Al Letson:They grew up together. R.J. is long past playing on football fields, but you can tell he loves reminiscing about his high school glory days.
R.J. Spivey:Football is the key thing around here. It’s Friday nights, everybody, whole town come out.
Al Jones:You understand, being a rural community, there’s limited things. Friday night, it’s not only people come out to watch football game, it’s a social event too.
Al Letson:Al Jones is a Lucedale alderman now, but back when R.J. and Billey Joe were playing, he was their coach. Football is still a huge part of the community. On a warm autumn night in 2019 the stands are still packed with students, their families, and folks from around town. The crowd cheers as the football players take to the field, wearing maroon and gold uniforms. Cheerleaders get the crowd going. Almost everyone here in the stands and on the field is white, including the mascot for the George County Rebels, a cartoon character that looks like Robert E. Lee. Billey Joe made a big impression on Coach Jones.
Al Jones:That’s what amazing, because as strong as he was, he was one of the strongest kids on the team, but he was one of the fastest kids on the team. He was able to go sideline to sideline to stop and change directions. He had a little bit of Walter Payton type running back to him. Walter would do a lot of dancing, but when Walter put his head down he could turn and go up field. That’s the way Billey Joe was. He amazed you what he could do athletically.
Larry Shirley:Tailback Billey Joe Johnson has rushed for nearly 3,000 yards in his first two years on the varsity squad.
Al Letson:Larry Shirley was the play-by-play announcer for the local radio station.
Larry Shirley:When you put the film in slow motion, everybody looks like they’re running in slow motion except one guy, and that would be Billey Joe. He would look like normal speed. He was that much better than the other guys. He could make a cut. He could turn. He could do all those things you need to be able to do to survive on a football field and get away from the defensive guys.
Al Letson:When Billey and R.J. were together, it was magic on the field.
Larry Shirley:Billey Joe, of course he could do anything. Billey Joe could hit his mark and go yards and yards. If he busted it loose, he could go the whole way. He always had that potential, so I would say that relationship is pretty good.
Al Letson:R.J. says their sophomore year was a big one for the team.
R.J. Spivey:We both had good years. We had a lot of good seniors on that team, but man, Billey was big key to that team. Our sophomore year we made a name for ourselves.
Al Letson:They made it all the way to the state championship game that year.
R.J. Spivey:That was our first time going to state ever. Everybody around town knew us. Everywhere we go, all the kids knew us. It was pretty fun.
Alonzo Lawrence:I’ll show you videos. He was different. Way different. I think Billey would’ve been best ever to play here, to be real.
Al Letson:Alonzo Lawrence was a junior on the team when Billey Joe was a freshman.
Alonzo Lawrence:You can’t compare nobody to Billey. He was different, man. I’m telling you.
Al Letson:These days Alonzo’s a coach at the high school. He’s seen a lot of kids play, and still Billey Joe stands out.
Alonzo Lawrence:I don’t know if you ever played a video game and you create your own player. He was one of them create a players. No lie. He was like create a player. Nah, ain’t nobody close to him. Ain’t nobody even nowhere near him.
Al Letson:In Billey Joe’s junior year, what would turn out to be his last, the stakes were high. The team had lost a lot of seniors, and in their place were a lot of inexperienced players, but on offense, Billey Joe and R.J. continued to click. Billey Joe was getting noticed.
Al Jones:The number of recruiters were up dramatically because of Billey Joe’s talent.
Larry Shirley:The Rebels hand the ball off to super sophomore running back Billey Joe Johnson, who has averaged 7.3 yards per carry, bagging 10 touchdowns. Johnson has exploded for 1,065 yards.
Al Letson:When Billey was on that field he was focused. You can see it in this footage. He died before everyone had a camera on their phone, but we do have a rare audio clip of Billey Joe talking about the game.
Billey Joe John…:When I get the ball, I’m just looking for a hold. [inaudible] so I get the ball, I’m looking for a hold, take off [inaudible].
Al Letson:Billey had a lot to look forward to. He had six Division I schools offering him scholarships, including Auburn, one of the premier college football programs in the country. He had big dreams, bigger than that trailer could hold. Everything he wanted was just on the other side of that scrimmage line. Over the course of reporting the story, we’ve gone back to the Johnsons’ trailer many times. One of those days we talked under that big oak tree. His father remembers Billey Joe as a country boy. He loved riding horses, playing around on his four-wheeler, and hunting, which Billey Joe Sr says was always a part of his family’s life.
Billey Joe John…:When I went hunting I went out there to get supper. Whatever season in, that’s what I’m going to kill. I raised all of them up, my kids when they was little, until they got up grown big enough where they can get on the stand by themself. I had them all right beside of me the whole time when they was hunting.
Al Letson:Billey Joe Sr says his son knew how to safely handle a shotgun and was an avid hunter. He loved it so much that as a teenager sometimes he’d get up before dawn and go into the woods and hunt before school, which is exactly what he told his dad he was going to do the day he died.
Billey Joe John…:That morning I heard him got up, start moving through the house, and said, “Baby, where that boy going?” Say he [inaudible] that morning him and somebody going to go hunting or something. I didn’t think no more about it.
Al Letson:That would be the last time Billey Joe Sr and his wife, Annette, would see their son alive. As the family talks about Billey Joe, stories of his life bring smiles and knowing chuckles, but the story of his death does the opposite. You can feel the mood change. The gathered family members look away or down at the ground as we talk about his death. His mother, Annette, died a few years after him. One of the family members told me she died of a broken heart. This was the first time JJ and I had met the Johnsons, so we really didn’t know the family dynamic. Obviously there was grief over Billey Joe’s death, but in that moment I could feel the weight of his mother’s passing.
Billey Joe John…:It took a lot out of her. I can leave and go somewhere, and I come back and she’ll be in there watching his videos and in there crying, just sitting there, her and the dog sitting there, his dog. That was all the time. When you leave and come back, she’ll be in there, done put that movie in there, she be in there crying, her and that dog, sitting there crying and praying.
Jonathan Jones:How long did that go on for?
Billey Joe John…:For a long time. For I know two, three years.
Jonathan Jones:Was there anything that you could do to get her out of it or was she just-
Billey Joe John…:I’d get up and we’d go places and stuff, but that wasn’t doing no good. She missed her baby. She missed her baby.
Al Letson:For years the Johnson family fought for answers, because the official story just never made sense to them. How could Billey Joe accidentally shoot himself at a traffic stop? He knew how to safely handle firearms, and driving around with a loaded shotgun, his dad says Billey Joe would have never done that. Never. Let alone grabbing a weapon during a police stop. They can’t believe that at all. The family has so many questions.
Billey Joe John…:I really need closure for my wife too, because she couldn’t take it and her heart couldn’t take it. She had a massive heart attack. Her heart couldn’t take it. She missed her baby. I need closure for her too.
Al Letson:Tiffany, Billey Joe’s big sister, sits to the side most of the time with her arms crossed, watching JJ and me. Now that her mother has passed on, she’s the matriarch of the family. I don’t want to give you the wrong impression, because matriarch sounds old, and that’s not Tiffany. She is vibrant, in her 30s, with kids of her own. She can laugh and joke around with her family, but when she looks at us it’s a different story. The look on her face tells me she doesn’t trust us. To break the ice, we ask her and her little sister, India, to lunch. We go to a little restaurant in Lucedale. I tell her I don’t know if we can do anything with this story, it’s not enough that we have rumors and theories of what happened, we need some kind of proof. That’s when Tiffany looks me in the eye and says, “I have the police case file.” Yeah, that was a surreal moment. JJ and I exchange looks, and I know we’re both thinking we got to get those files, but then Tiffany says she wouldn’t give them to us, or for that matter even show it too us. She worked too hard and long to get those files to just give them away.
Tiffany:If you guys are not going to help us, then I’m not fixing to give over nothing, because I don’t want to keep doing this over and over, and we’re not getting nowhere.
Al Letson:That story when we come back. You’re listening to Reveal.
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Emily Harris:Hi, I’m Emily Harris, a reporter and producer here at Reveal. We’re a nonprofit newsroom, and we rely on support from listeners like you. To become a member, text the word reveal to 474747. Standard data rates apply and you can text stop at any time. Again, text reveal to 474747. Thank you for supporting this show.
Al Letson:In the years since Billey Joe’s death, his older sister, Tiffany, spearheaded the fight to get justice for her brother. They tried to get the case files from the DA.
Tiffany:They didn’t give us anything. They wasn’t willing to give it to us.
Al Letson:She talked to lawyers, activists, and journalists, all telling her they could help, but eventually one by one from her point of view, they all seemed to disappear, which made her hesitant to talk to us. She said her family had gotten the complete investigative file from the DA’s office, but there was no way she was just going to hand it over to us. Whereas her parents trailer is tucked away in a rural part of the county, Tiffany’s place is close to the center of town, a cul-de-sac with small one-story brick apartments. The first time we sat across from Tiffany at her kitchen table was intense. Because we were just getting to know each other, I didn’t record. Later that year, we sat down, cut on the recorder, and she looked back at how she got the case files.
Tiffany:Actually I went through the process of trying to find a lawyer to get them, because we were denied of all that. Police officers here was telling us they didn’t have it. “We don’t have it. There wasn’t one there.” Just didn’t want to give it to us. I went Googling around in Jackson and I run around this lawyer, Thomas Rollins. I went up there and I talked with him. He gave me a fee of how much it’ll be.
Al Letson:The fee was just to get the case files. That’s it. He guaranteed Tiffany he could do it, but first they had to come up with the money.
Al Letson:Do you mind telling me how much was it?
Tiffany:If I’m not mistaken, I think it was 950 or 1,000, somewhere up in there. It might’ve been 850.
Al Letson:Somewhere close to $1,000. Somewhere around $1,000, which you all didn’t have.
Tiffany:Mm-mm (negative).
Al Letson:The Johnsons found a way.
Tiffany:We sold fish plates. We went out and bought fish, shrimp. My dad barbecued. We had baked potato salad. We just bought food to sell, and we sold plates.
Al Letson:Where’d you sell them at?
Tiffany:We sold them in Benndale. Some we sold here in Lucedale and some we sold in Jackson County.
Al Letson:People would just ride up?
Tiffany:Yeah. They knew what it was for, because we had up signs, telling them what we was getting the money up for. A lot of them were very supportive and helped us out.
Al Letson:You guys sold a lot of fish.
Tiffany:Yeah. A lot of people donated as well.
Al Letson:How long did it take to come up with the money?
Tiffany:It didn’t take long. We had the money before even a month, because we was donating. Then we had some that just, “Just for your family.” They was just giving.
Al Letson:You got all of that money together. You went down to the lawyer. You gave it to him. Then what happened?
Tiffany:He gave us the paperwork. He was working on getting the paperwork while we was doing the fish plates.
Al Letson:They did it. They got the case files, but she was hesitant to just hand them over to us, with good reason.
Al Letson:I want to take you back to that day though that you first met Jonathan and I. We’re two strangers. I think Jonathan had talked to you on the phone a little bit. We’re coming in here talking to you about the case and you say to us you got these case files. Immediately Jonathan and I are like, “We’d like to see it,” but you didn’t want to show it to us. Why not?
Tiffany:Because like I told you guys when you all came down here, I have been given … Everybody who come here want to help us, telling us they for the family, “We going to help you get justice.” It was like that with everybody that come across. This is what we done. We just gave them all the information for them to just turn around and tell us they can no longer help with the case. When you guys come along, I felt the same way. That’s why I said, “If you guys are not going to help us, then I’m not fixing to give over nothing,” because I don’t want to keep doing this over and over and we’re not getting nowhere.
Al Letson:Tiffany’s protective of these files. In some ways they’re her mother, Annette’s legacy.
Al Letson:Earlier today we were talking a little bit and you told me how much you miss your mom.
Tiffany:I miss her a lot.
Al Letson:How long ago did she pass away?
Tiffany:2014.
Al Letson:Was she leading the fight to get justice for Billey Joe?
Tiffany:Absolutely.
Al Letson:What kind of stuff was she doing?
Tiffany:Relative would just come in and bring people to talk with the family and help pretty much lean on to whomever they may be talking to at the time. She would just be with them to push to try to get justice, giving them information and everything that they needed, to try to get justice for her baby. She dealt with it up until the point when she left. She dealt with it. She wanted justice. Just hurt.
Al Letson:At some point I’m sure that someone said that she died because her heart was broken. Can you explain that to me?
Tiffany:I can’t. I can’t.
Al Letson:All I could tell her was that if she gave us the files, we would try to understand what happened the morning Billey Joe died, and if the authorities got it right. We’d go wherever the files led us, and we won’t abandon this and leave her hanging. We’d keep her in the loop. I asked Tiffany if she’d ever looked at the materials.
Tiffany:Some of it. Some of it I did. A lot of it, it upsetted me, so I didn’t.
Al Letson:What about the rest of the family?
Tiffany:No.
Al Letson:Were you the only one that held on to them?
Tiffany:Yeah. I am.
Al Letson:After she agreed to share the files with us, I understood why she didn’t look at them. The images are graphic and disturbing. Pictures of her brother laid out on the ground, dressed in hunting camos, next to his truck, blood settling into the asphalt. JJ and I went through the files. Both of us were amazed there was so much there. We went home feeling the gravity of that trip to Mississippi. All these years thinking about this case and this young man. It hits different when you’re staring at pictures of his body in that condition. What was all theory becomes real. We get home and start going through the case files. There are 11 DVDs. We’ve got 911 calls and radio traffic.
Dispatcher:George County 911. What’s the location of your emergency?
Female:Yes, ma’am, it’s the trailer park that’s located right across the street from a funeral home.
Al Letson:Crime scene photos, the autopsy report, forensic reports, dash cam footage from the police department.
Male:An SO got a call out here today, had stopped a vehicle out here by Benndale Carpet, and it was the guy, they didn’t know it at the time, we didn’t either, Billey Joe Johnson.
Al Letson:The Mississippi Bureau of Investigations case report and audio interviews by the investigators.
Male:That’s whenever I noticed there was blood surrounding his head area, and of course at that point I realized this person had-
Al Letson:These files cover everything that the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation and the DA did over the course of a two-month investigation. As we go through these files, a few people begin to stand out.
Joe Wallace:This is Special Agent Joe Wallace of the Mississippi Bureau of Investigations. Today’s date is the 8th day of December, 2011.
Joe Wallace:Today’s date is the 11th day of December.
Joe Wallace:Today’s date is the 27th day of December, 2008.
Al Letson:Wallace is a part of every interview. He’s an experienced investigator and a Black man, which initially gave the Johnsons some hope that their son’s death would get a fair investigation.
Joe Wallace:Can you go ahead and tell me about certain incidences that occurred in the morning right prior to when you first came on shift this morning if you wouldn’t mind for me, please?
Al Letson:Then there are the people who drove by the scene.
Male:I don’t really have anything that spectacular to say. I was coming to work. I saw the blue lights about Benndale Carpet Store.
Male:There was a body laying on the ground, and the officer was in his vehicle, was in his patrol car.
Male:There was no officer anywhere near the truck at that point. The officer was still in [inaudible]. Let’s put it like this. The officer’s door was closed. There was still someone in the police car.
Al Letson:Of course Joe Sullivan, the police officer who pulled Billey Joe over.
Joe Sullivan:At 26 and Old 63 the vehicle stopped in the parking lot of Benndale Carpet. I got out of the vehicle to talk to the driver about the violations. He exited the vehicle, handed me his drivers license, and advised me that the reason he ran the stop sign was because his mother was sick.
Al Letson:Now the one person who’s not in the files, but his presence is all over the case, District Attorney Tony Lawrence, who oversaw the investigation.
Tony Lawrence:I suspect he was probably trying to maneuver the gun in a place to where he was trying to either unload it, get it out of the car to unload it, or something of that nature, and it discharged on him.
Al Letson:That’s just a taste. There’s a lot in these files. We’re going to look at every single piece to try and unravel the question at the heart of the story, was justice served in the case of Billey Joe Johnson?
Al Letson:Before we start, you and I, dear listener, need to have a covenant between us. There are a ton of true crime podcasts out there. Some are really great. If that’s what you’re looking for, I encourage you to find those, because this is not that show. I’m not asking the Johnsons or anybody else to relive the worst thing that ever happened to them for your listening pleasure. I am not interested in commodifying Black death. I am interested in looking at the system and understanding it so that change may be implemented. I’m asking you to go on that journey with us, but to always remember that Billey Joe Johnson is not a character in a podcast you love, but he was a human being whose life mattered, and that’s why we want to understand his death. I’m Al Letson, and you’ve been listening to Reveal’s new Serial Investigation, Chapter One: The Promise.
Al Letson:Throughout the course of this series, we’re going to share photos, videos, and some investigative files with you. All you have to do is text promises to 474747. This week we’re going to share some photos of Billey Joe and his family, pictures from our trips to Mississippi, and video of Billey Joe playing football. Again, just text promises to 474747, and we’ll send you all that plus information on how you can stay with us every step of the way on this story. Standard data rates apply. If you get tired of the messages you can text stop at any time. For updates on the story, follow us on Twitter. We’re at Reveal and I’m at Al underscore Letson.
Al Letson:Our show was reported and produced by Jonathan Jones and me, and edited by our executive producer, Kevin Sullivan. Michael I. Schiller is our series producer. Steven Rascon is our production assistant. Nina Martin is the digital editor for the series. Andy Donahue is the managing editor of digital. We had additional reporting and producing help from Ko Bragg, Michael Montgomery, and Laura Hennen Vigil. Special thanks to Reveal’s Katharine Mieszkowski and Alexis Toomer. Mama Blue sang our theme song, which was written and composed by Nina Simone. Thanks to her estate and Music and Strategy. We got news and sports footage of Billey Joe courtesy of Gray Media Group Incorporated, WLOX TV. Our fact checker is Rosemarie Ho. Victoria Baranetsky is our general counsel. Thanks to former Revealers Jen Sheehan, who helped launch the project and shape this episode, and to Esther Kaplan and Christa Scharfenberg. Our production manager is Amy the great Mostafa. Original score and sound design by the dynamic duo, J Breezy, Mr. Jim Briggs, and Fernando my man yo Arruda. They had help from Claire C Note Mullen, Najib Aminy, Brett Simpson, and Ameeta Ganatra. Our digital producer is Sarah Mirk. Our interim CEO is Annie Chabel. [Sumi] Agarwal is our interim editor in chief.
Al Letson:In next week’s episode JJ and I go on the road.
GPS:Proceed to the route. Turn right onto Deep Creek Road.
Al Letson:We retrace the last moments of Billey Joe’s life.
Al Letson:This is a really tight window, right? According to the GPS, we’re going to get there right around the time that he … We’ll get there right around the same time. GPS says we’ll be there right now at 5:24.
Al Letson:To see if the official version of events-
Male:He’s flying, probably 40, 45, 50 miles a hour.
Al Letson:… makes any sense. Along the way, an early twist in the case.
Female:My dog’s barking, and then I hear this big knock on the door like somebody’s trying to beat the door in, coming in. I got my phone and called my mama and said, “Mama, hurry, fast. Someone’s trying to break in.”
Al Letson:That’s next week on Reveal. Support for Reveal is provided by the Riva and David Logan Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Jonathan Logan Family Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation, the Helman Foundation, the Democracy Fund, and the Inasmuch Foundation. Reveal is a co-production of the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX. I’m Al Letson. Remember, there is always more to the story.
Female:From PRX.

Al Letson is a playwright, performer, screenwriter, journalist, and the host of Reveal. Soul-stirring, interdisciplinary work has garnered Letson national recognition and devoted fans.

Jonathan Jones is a reporter and producer for Reveal. In his two decades in journalism, he has produced a series of award-winning investigations on topics ranging from eminent domain to problems in the fertility industry. He has covered conflict and human rights in 10 countries, including Congo, Liberia, Rwanda, Cambodia and Sri Lanka. In 2013, he teamed up with A.C. Thompson of ProPublica and PBS Frontline on a yearlong investigation into abuse and neglect at the largest assisted living company in the United States. In 2015, his exposé of Firestone's operations during the Liberian Civil War for ProPublica and PBS Frontline was awarded two News & Documentary Emmy Awards for outstanding investigative journalism and outstanding research, as well as the top Investigative Reporters and Editors Award in the large multiplatform category. In 2018, Jones, along with colleagues at WNYC's Snap Judgment, won the Best Documentary Gold Award at the Third Coast International Audio Festival for "Counted: An Oakland Story," which profiled those lost to violence in Oakland, California, in 2017 and the impact on their communities.

Michael I Schiller

Michael I Schiller is a senior reporter and producer for Reveal. His Emmy Award-winning work spans animation, radio and documentary film.

“The Dead Unknown,” a video series he directed about the crisis of America's unidentified dead, earned a national News and Documentary Emmy Award, national Edward R. Murrow Award and national Society of Professional Journalists Sigma Delta Chi Award.

His 2015 animated documentary short film “The Box,” about youth solitary confinement, was honored with a video journalism award from the Society of Professional Journalists’ Northern California chapter, a San Francisco International Film Festival Golden Gate Award and a New Orleans Film Festival special jury prize, and it was nominated for a national News and Documentary Emmy for new approaches.

Schiller was one the producers of the pilot episode of the Peabody Award-winning Reveal radio show and podcast. He continues to regularly produce audio documentaries for the weekly public radio show, which airs on over 450 stations nationwide. Schiller is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.

Jim Briggs III is the senior sound designer, engineer and composer for Reveal. He supervises post-production and composes original music for the public radio show and podcast. He also leads Reveal's efforts in composition for data sonification and live performances.

Prior to joining Reveal in 2014, Briggs mixed and recorded for clients such as WNYC Studios, NPR, the CBC and American Public Media. Credits include “Marketplace,” “Selected Shorts,” “Death, Sex & Money,” “The Longest Shortest Time,” NPR’s “Ask Me Another,” “Radiolab,” “Freakonomics Radio” and “Soundcheck.” He also was the sound re-recording mixer and sound editor for several PBS television documentaries, including “American Experience: Walt Whitman,” the 2012 Tea Party documentary "Town Hall" and “The Supreme Court” miniseries. His music credits include albums by R.E.M., Paul Simon and Kelly Clarkson.

Briggs' work with Reveal has been recognized with an Emmy Award (2016) and two Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Awards (2018, 2019). Previously, he was part of the team that won the Dart Award for Excellence in Coverage of Trauma for its work on WNYC’s hourlong documentary special “Living 9/11.” He has taught sound, radio and music production at The New School and Eugene Lang College and has a master's degree in media studies from The New School. Briggs is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.

Fernando Arruda

Fernando Arruda is the sound designer, engineer and composer for Reveal. A composer and multi-instrumentalist, he contributes to the scoring, recording, editing and mixing of the weekly public radio show and podcast. Prior to joining Reveal, Arruda toured as an international DJ and taught music technology at Dubspot and ESRA International Film School. He co-founded a film scoring boutique called Manhattan Composers Collective and worked at Antfood, a creative audio studio geared toward media and ad spots. Arruda worked with clients such as Marvel and Samsung and ad agencies such as Framestore, Trollbäck + Company, Buck and Vice. Arruda releases experimental music under the alias FJAZZ and has performed with many jazz, classical and pop ensembles such as Krychek, Dark Inc., the New York Arabic Orchestra and Art&Sax. His credits in the podcast and radio world include NPR’s “51 percent,” WNYC’s “Bad Feminist Happy Hour” and its live broadcast of Orson Welles’ “The Hitchhiker.” Arruda has scored extensively for theatrical, orchestral and chamber music formats, some of which have premiered worldwide. He holds a master’s degree in film scoring and composition from NYU Steinhardt. Arruda is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.

Kevin Sullivan is the executive producer of Reveal’s public radio show and podcast. He joined Reveal from the daily news magazine show “Here & Now,” where he was senior managing editor. There, he helped lead the expansion of the show as part of a unique partnership between NPR and WBUR. Prior to radio, Sullivan worked as a documentary film producer. That work took him around the world, with stories ranging from reconciliation in Northern Ireland to the refugee crisis during the war in Kosovo.

Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Sullivan launched an investigative unit for CBS in Baltimore, where he spearheaded investigations on bioterrorism and the U.S. government’s ability to respond to future threats. He also dug into local issues. His exposé of local judges found widespread lax sentencing of repeat-offender drunken drivers. Other investigations included sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests, and doctors who sold OxyContin for cash. Sullivan has won multiple journalism awards, including several Edward R. Murrow awards, a Third Coast / Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Competition award and an Emmy. He has an MBA from Boston University.

Sullivan is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.

Nina Martin (she/her) is the features editor for Reveal. She develops high-impact investigative reporting projects for Reveal’s digital and audio platforms and television and print partners. Previously, she was a reporter at ProPublica, covering sex and gender issues, and worked as an editor and/or reporter at San Francisco magazine, The Baltimore Sun, The Washington Post, the International Herald Tribune, Health magazine and BabyCenter magazine. Her Lost Mothers project for ProPublica and NPR examining maternal mortality in the U.S. led to sweeping change to maternal health policy at the state and federal levels and won numerous awards. Martin is based in Reveal’s Emeryville, California, office.

Steven Rascón (he/they) is a production assistant for Reveal. He is pursuing a master's degree at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism with a Kaiser Permanente Institute for Health Policy Fellowship. His focus is investigative reporting and audio documentary. He has written for online, magazines and radio. His reporting on underreported fentanyl overdoses in Los Angeles' LGBTQ community aired on KCRW and KQED. Rascón is passionate about telling diverse stories for radio through community engagement. He holds a bachelor of fine arts degree in theater arts and creative writing.

Andy Donohue is the executive editor for projects for Reveal. He’s edited Reveal’s investigations into the treatment of migrant children in government care, Amazon’s labor practices, rehab work camps and sexual abuse in the janitorial industry. He’s been on teams that have twice been Pulitzer Prize finalists and have won Investigative Reporters and Editors, Edward R. Murrow, Online News Association, Third Coast International Audio Festival, Gerald Loeb, Sidney Hillman Foundation and Emmy awards. He previously helped build and lead Voice of San Diego, served on the IRE board for eight years and is an alumnus of the John S. Knight Journalism Fellowship at Stanford University. Donohue is based in Reveal’s Emeryville, California, office.

Amy Mostafa (she/they) is the production manager for Reveal. She is a UC Berkeley School of Journalism alum, where she focused on audio and data journalism as a Dean's Merit Fellow and an ISF Scholar. She has reported on science, health and the environment in Anchorage for Alaska Public Media and on city government in Berkeley and San Francisco for KQED. Her work also has appeared on NPR, KALW and KALX. Mostafa holds a bachelor's degree in English literature and public policy. She has most recently reported on housing and aging in the Bay Area. She is based in Reveal’s Emeryville, California, office.

Sarah Mirk (she/her) is a digital engagement producer for Reveal. Since 2017, she has worked as an editor at The Nib, an online daily comics publication focused on political cartoons, graphic journalism, essays and memoirs about current affairs. She works with artists to create nonfiction comics on a variety of complex topics, from personal narratives about queer identities to examinations of overlooked history. Before that, Mirk was the online editor of national feminist media outlet Bitch, a podcast host and a local news reporter. She is also the author of several books, including “Year of Zines,” a collection of 100 handmade zines, and “Guantanamo Voices,” a collection of illustrated oral histories of the world’s most infamous prison. Mirk is based in Portland, Oregon.

Brett Simpson (she/her) is an assistant producer for Reveal. She is pursuing a master's degree at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, where she focuses on audio, print and investigative reporting. She has received fellowships from the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing, the National Press Club, the White House Correspondents’ Association and the UC Berkeley Human Rights Center. She is also the graduate researcher at UC Berkeley's Investigative Reporting Program. Most recently, Simpson reported breaking news for the San Francisco Chronicle and covered the coronavirus outbreak in the San Francisco Bay Area for The New York Times. She received a bachelor's degree in English at Princeton University, where she twice won the Ferris Prize for Outstanding Undergraduate Projects in Journalism. Simpson is based in Reveal’s Emeryville, California, office.

Najib Aminy is a producer for Reveal. Previously, he was an editor at Flipboard, a news aggregation startup, and helped guide the company’s editorial and curation practices and policies. Before that, he spent time reporting for newspapers such as Newsday and The Indianapolis Star. He is the host and producer of an independent podcast, "Some Noise," which is based out of Oakland, California, and was featured by Apple, The Guardian and The Paris Review. He is a lifelong New York Knicks fan, has a soon-to-be-named kitten and is a product of Stony Brook University’s School of Journalism. Aminy is based in Reveal’s Emeryville, California, office.

Claire Mullen worked at The Center for Investigative Reporting until September 2017. is an associate sound designer and audio engineer for Reveal. Before joining Reveal, she was an assistant producer at Radio Ambulante and worked with KALW, KQED, the Association of Independents in Radio and the San Francisco Bay Guardian. She studied humanities and media studies at Scripps College.

Michael Montgomery

Michael Montgomery is a senior reporter and producer for Reveal. He reports on the criminal justice system, vulnerable populations, and the underground economy. Montgomery has led collaborations with the Associated Press, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, Frontline, KQED and others. After completing a Fulbright fellowship in Eastern Europe, Montgomery covered the fall of communism and wars in former Yugoslavia for The Daily Telegraph and Los Angeles Times. He also worked as an associate producer for "60 Minutes" correspondent Ed Bradley and was a senior reporter for American RadioWorks. His investigations into human rights abuses in the Balkans led to the arrest and conviction of Serbian and Albanian paramilitaries and the creation of a new war crimes court in The Hague. As a reporter and producer, Montgomery has garnered national and international prizes, including an Overseas Press Club Award, Investigative Reporters and Editors Certificate, Edward R. Murrow Award, Peabody Award and Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University gold and silver batons. Montgomery is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.