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Curley Clark, vice president of the Mississippi NAACP, calls Billey Joe Johnson Jr.’s case an example of “Mississippi justice.” 

“It means that they still feel like the South should have won the Civil War,” Clark said. “And also the laws for the state of Mississippi are slanted in that direction.”

Before Johnson died during a traffic stop with a White sheriff’s deputy, friends say police had pulled him over dozens of times. And some members of the community raised concerns that police had been racially profiling Black people.  

Reveal investigates Johnson’s interactions with law enforcement and one officer in particular.

Dig Deeper

Listen to the whole Mississippi Goddam series.

Read: 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 checkers: Rosemarie Ho and Nikki Frick | Reporting and producing help: Ko Bragg, Michael Montgomery, Laurel Hennen Vigil and Melissa Lewis | Original score and sound design: Jim Briggs and Fernando Arruda with help from Claire Mullen, Najib Aminy, Brett Simpson and Kathryn Styer Martinez

Mama Blue sang our theme song, which was written and composed by Nina Simone. Thanks to the Nina Simone estate and Music and Strategy.

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

Special thanks: Katharine Mieszowski, Alexis Hightower and Jen Chien

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.

Al Letson:Hey, Hey, Hey, it’s Al and this week we’re taking a break from our serial investigation, Mississippi Goddam: The Ballad of Billey Joe. The serial is about a black teenager who died during a traffic stop by a white sheriff’s deputy in rural Mississippi, and nothing is what it seems. This is a story that grabbed me over a decade ago, and wouldn’t let me go until I told it. Over the past five episodes, we’ve taken you through the entire case, reexamining the investigation from the autopsy report, police interviews, and forensic evidence. Through it all, we’ve looked at the case through the lens of history of Mississippi, but also America. It’s been a heart-wrenching ride, and we’re almost to the end. Next Saturday, we’ll be back with the first of the final two episodes. So if you’ve fallen behind on the series, now is the time to catch up. It’s a story that means a lot to me personally, and I hope you listen. And if you like what you hear, leave us a review. You can find us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. Thanks for listening, and Happy Thanksgiving.
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Al Letson:From the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I’m Al Letson.
Al Letson:As a kid, growing up in a close-knit community can feel like there is magic in the air. Every morning is filled with possibility because at some point in the day, you and your friends are going to get into something. Waving to your neighbors you’ve known most of your life, playing until the streetlights come on, for better or for worse, everybody knows your name. For Lawrence Blackman, that place was Canton, Mississippi.
Lawrence Blackm…:I loved it, for the most part. I thought that Canton was a very unique place. Most of the people here know each other, families know each other. We go to church together, go to school together. And so, I really enjoyed the level of connectedness that we had and shared as a community.
Al Letson:Canton is the seat of Madison County, one of the wealthiest areas in Mississippi. But Canton, a mostly Black town, doesn’t share in that wealth. Lawrence says as kids, he didn’t really notice it. It wasn’t until he went away for college and he got to see other places that he began to understand that his hometown had problems. For decades, the sheriff’s department had been accused of terrorizing the Black community, from beating Black activists in the 1960s to stopping and searching Black drivers and pedestrians.
Lawrence Blackm…:They do have a reputation for being aggressive. They have a reputation for racism within the department, and for policing tactics that they employ specifically in and around Canton, but that they don’t do in Ridgeland and Madison, which are predominantly white cities within the county.
Al Letson:Lawrence says this is part of the reason why he went to law school. After graduating, he came home and people started reaching out to him.
Lawrence Blackm…:I was studying for the bar, and it was well-known within our neighborhood that I was preparing to enter the practice of law. And so, I would always get calls from people, even before I was licensed to practice, just about their different legal woes.
Al Letson:On June 16th, 2016, a woman named Quinnetta Manning called him. Earlier that day, one of her neighbors had some kind of domestic issue, possibly a burglary. Quinnetta and her husband Khadafy weren’t involved, but they were outside when the cops got there. They went back into their apartment, and soon after, officers barge in without a warrant.
Lawrence Blackm…:And they did so while their kids were in the house. He was only partially clothed, because it was so early in the morning. But she told me that she had most of the interaction on cell phone video.
Al Letson:In the cell phone video, sunlight shines through maroon curtains, silhouetting a sheriff’s deputy. Khadafy is next to him, dressed in a white tank top and boxers. He sways a little, with his hands cuffed behind his back.
Khadafy :Officer, please, why you handling me like this? I haven’t done nothing.
Speaker 4:Because you ain’t acting right. You going to stand there and lie to me.
Al Letson:Khadafy’s voice sounds strange because the deputy’s hand is gripping his throat. Khadafy’s disabled and walks with a cane. It’s taking all of his strength to stand up. The deputy uses a slur when speaking to him.
Speaker 4:Is that right?
Quinnetta Manni…:Yes sir.
Speaker 4:All three of you run right up the steps, and cripple here run up the steps too.
Quinnetta Manni…:When they said the police were coming, I came on back up in my house.
Al Letson:The deputy’s fury is palpable. He wants the Mannings to write witness statements saying they saw the burglary break in.
Speaker 4:Now, you all come clean, or you can go down to jail, and about Tuesday, you can see a judge and get you about a $50,000 bond for burglary.
Al Letson:Quinnetta tries to reason with them, but the cops will not be deterred.
Speaker 4:Do you write okay?
Khadafy :Yes, sir.
Speaker 4:Do you work?
Quinnetta Manni…:I got…
Khadafy :No, I’m disabled. I get a check on the third.
Speaker 4:But you can write. So back to the first question I asked: you going to be a witness, or you going to be a suspect? Could you put it on paper? Or are you just as guilty as he is, and we going on down to jail?
Al Letson:When Khadafy says he didn’t see anything, the cops escalate the situation.
Khadafy :I’m saying, I didn’t say that he didn’t do it. But I ain’t saying he broke in. I ain’t saying he didn’t break in.
Speaker 4:That’s wrong. Come on. Why are you lying?
Khadafy :What’d I do?
Speaker 4:You going jail. I’m tired of looking at you. I ain’t playing with you no more. You going to lie, or you going to…
Khadafy :I don’t know what to tell you guys.
Quinnetta Manni…:Can I put on some pants?
Speaker 4:No. They’re going to take them off anyway and give him a jumpsuit. Don’t bring other pants in jail. I’m tired of playing.
Al Letson:The officers grab Khadafy and push him out of the apartment, no regard for his disability.
Khadafy :Stop! Man, please.
Speaker 4:You want to go take him?
Khadafy :I’ve been shot five times in the spinal cord, man. Please, please, officer.
Al Letson:Quinnetta calls Lawrence for help.
Lawrence Blackm…:And I was shocked, but not surprised, right? Because I had been through a similar situation probably just about a year, or maybe not even a year prior to that incident. This is when they had come into my grandmother’s house.
Al Letson:Earlier that year, Lawrence says sheriff’s deputies had gone to his grandmother’s house. He says they mistook him for his cousin, came into the house with guns drawn. They put him in handcuffs and left him on the floor.
Lawrence Blackm…:And they proceeded to search my grandmother’s house. That was a very scary moment for me, because I was, I was laying in my grandmother’s dining room on the floor, handcuffed with three officers, very big guys, speaking to me very aggressively with their guns drawn. I honestly thought that I could be killed at any moment.
Al Letson:The cops eventually let Lawrence go. But when Quinnetta calls him, he’s had enough. He starts making calls.
Lawrence Blackm…:And so, the first thing I did was just start calling different attorneys. And I think one of the last organizations that I reached out to was the ACLU. And so, ACLU of Mississippi immediately launched an investigation, and the more people who they talked to, the more stories they heard, horror stories they heard about people’s experiences with the Madison County Sheriff’s Department.
Al Letson:The ACLU said that thousands of people lived in fear of police simply because they were Black. They filed a class action lawsuit against the sheriff’s department with Lawrence, Khadafy, Quinnetta, and several other plaintiffs. In 2019, a federal judge approved a settlement deal. Under it, the sheriff’s department didn’t admit to any wrongdoing, but they did pay damages to the plaintiffs and agreed to a four-year consent degree that included police training and a promise to end the practice of roadblocks near Black neighborhoods. The ACLU called it a great first step.
Al Letson:Years earlier, the Black community was raising similar concerns about racial profiling in another part of Mississippi, George County, about three hours south of Madison, the same county where Billey Joe Johnson died during a traffic stop. In 2008.
Nsombi Lambrigh…:The community was very upset. They were angry at the police, so there were all these incidents of clashes between community and law enforcement.
Al Letson:Nsombi Lambright was the executive director of the Mississippi ACLU at the time.
Nsombi Lambrigh…:They had constantly had problems with the police and with what they felt was racial profiling in the community, in the Black community. They said that that was just not a new issue for them. So they were very upset, and upset about how they were being treated, not only by the police department, but by the entire city government structure. It didn’t feel like they were getting any answers or any respect.
Al Letson:This is Reveal’s Serial Investigation.
Mama Blue:Alabama’s got me so upset. Tennessee made me lose my rest. And everybody knows about Mississippi, Goddam!
Al Letson:Mississippi Goddam: The Ballad of Billey Joe. Episode six: Mississippi Justice. While we’ve been working on this series, we went through the investigative files, looked at all the evidence, talked to the medical examiner and the lead investigator. But to really understand what happened to Billey Joe Johnson, you’ve got to put it into context. When a Black person dies in police custody, we usually hear the official story, which rarely takes into consideration the lived experience of the Black community and the relationship with cops. So we went beyond what investigators did. We reached out to friends and family to see what else was happening in his life. And early on, they started to raise questions about Billey Joe’s relationship with police. That’s something Charles Robinson and Dan Wetzel came across in the weeks after Billey Joe died. They were reporters for Yahoo Sports.
Charles Robinso…:I remember coming across, myself and Dan had come across people talking on some message boards.
Al Letson:In January of 2009, they were getting ready for the Super Bowl when they heard about his death.
Charles Robinso…:Billey Joe Johnson, who was a running back in Mississippi, considered probably one of the top 10 running backs in the country.
Al Letson:Something about the story sticks with them. This was all before Facebook and Twitter, back when it was all message boards.
Charles Robinso…:And as Dan and I started to sort of read the threads of messages, clearly there were people in the town and people from the high school who had felt like there was something missing, that truth was missing. And Dan and I knew there was a period of time before the Super Bowl where we kind of had a window where we said, “Hey, what if we just got on a plane?” And we decided to fly to Mississippi and maybe look into this a little bit.
Al Letson:So Charles and Dan fly to Mississippi and start looking into the story. When they get to Lucedale, it’s just over a month after Billey Joe’s death. They started hearing that Billey Joe had been pulled over by police dozens of times.
Charles Robinso…:I remember talking to not only family members, but then some of Billey Joe Johnson’s friends, who were like, “Look, it was a multitude of police officers that he, Billey Joe Johnson had issues with.” That he was getting pulled over a lot. They felt like, particularly those who were close to him felt like he had been harassed repeatedly by certain specific officers.
Al Letson:They interview Billey Joe’s friends, who say he liked to drive fast down country roads, but they don’t believe that’s why he was being pulled over.
Charles Robinso…:They felt like a number of officers sort of had it out for him. Didn’t like him. Didn’t like the fact that he had an element of acclaim. Didn’t like the fact that he was dating a white girl.
Al Letson:Curley Clark of the Mississippi NAACP also investigated the case.
Curley Clark:We met with the district attorney from a standpoint that we provided him, and the DA at that time was Tony Lawrence, we provided him with a witness list. People that we had interviewed that we wanted him to follow up on.
Al Letson:Included on that witness list was a deputy from the George County Sheriff’s Department, Justin Strahan. We couldn’t find any sign that Lawrence acted on the information, but several people we interviewed also mentioned Strahan’s name.
Joe Bradley:When it was something went on between, as far as police harassment, like I was around because I always caught him home from football practice.
Al Letson:Joe Bradley is Billey Joe’s cousin. He said he’d be in the passenger seat a lot of the time when Billey Joe was pulled over.
Joe Bradley:We may have been stopped maybe six times in a month’s time. And this was either coming from practice, or either after the games on Friday night. After all the vehicles done left the stadium, and we’re leaving in the midst of a crowd, that we’re spotted out of thousands of people to be stopped.
Al Letson:Joe says it was usually the same officer pulling them over, Justin Strahan.
Joe Bradley:Far as, the best way that I can explain it is that anytime that we were stopped, it was Strahan. He don’t say anything, just, “License and registration.” And then my cousin asked why he pulling me over and this and that, and then it is more of an argument. It’s more of an argument than a job being done. It’s always, “License and registration,” and then when stuff checks out good, there’s no explanation of why I was pulled over.
Al Letson:Billey Joe’s friend, Drew Bradley, tells my reporting partner, Jonathan Jones, He was with Billey Joe when it happened, too.
Drew Bradley:It was multiple things. It was something we talked about. He was give such a hard time. He never wrote no tickets, he just pulled us over and he gave us a hard time and harassed us.
Jonathan Jones:So you said you were pulled over a couple of times with Billey, but if you were going to say, you think it was three times, maybe?
Drew Bradley:No. I’d say probably upwards of around close to 10 times.
Jonathan Jones:Okay, 10 times. So that’s pretty, that’s a lot.
Drew Bradley:Like I said, man, it wasn’t no secret.
Al Letson:We’ve been working on this story for a little over three years now, and Justin Strahan’s name has come up over and over again. According to the state, he’s worked as a police officer, sheriff’s deputy, and with Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics. In 2018, Mississippi Crime Stoppers recognized him as Officer of the Year. But the people we spoke to say he’s harassed them and used excessive force.
Carrie Moulds:I know that he, at one point, did a lot of unnecessary policing of the Grove.
Al Letson:Carrie Moulds is a seven time Alderman in Lucedale. Her ward includes the Grove. The Grove is where primarily Black people live?
Carrie Moulds:Black people, yeah. The Grove, that’s in my ward. He was one who was always showing up, pushing the boundaries of what he could do. Anytime anything went on, he always showed up, and he was so ugly and so rude to the Black people. Always.
Al Letson:And it’s not just Black folks. We heard from white people, too.
Lance Parker:Yeah, I mean, he always had a bad attitude as far as, as long as I knew him, but I’ve always known him to have a pretty crappy attitude.
Al Letson:Lance Parker, a white Lucedale resident, told us about his own experience with Justin Strahan.
Lance Parker:I had confrontation with him in my younger days.
Al Letson:Lance says he was driving home with a few friends when Strahan pulled him over for a busted tag light.
Lance Parker:So, I opened the car door and held my hands out. And before I unbuckle my seatbelt, I turned to look, and this guy got his gun out. And I’m like, “Hey, man.” As soon as I get my seatbelt out, the guy, instead of asking me to step out of the car, tries to drag me out of the car.
Al Letson:He says Strahan gave him a breathalyzer to see whether he’d been drinking. He says, when it came back negative, Strahan started to pull everything out of his car and threw it on the side of the road.
Lance Parker:So, this is the type of guy that he is.
Al Letson:We haven’t been able to verify these traffic stuff stops. The George County Sheriff’s Department told us they were unable to locate any records connected to Strahan, because apparently the previous administration had gotten rid of any extraneous records. Strahan never responded to our letters, emails, phone calls, or social media messages, so we weren’t able to talk to him. But one former officer did speak to us about Strahan. Stuart Fairchild worked for the Lucedale Police Department. He was one of the officers who went to Hannah’s trailer the morning of Billey Joe’s death.
Jonathan Jones:Do you know Justin Strahan?
Stuart Fairchil…:Yes.
Jonathan Jones:And so, his name has come up a lot. I don’t know. He supposedly, like Billey Joe had been pulled over a lot before his death by police officers, specifically by Justin Strahan.
Al Letson:I’m just going to be honest. You have, you had the exact same reaction that pretty much everybody we talk to when we bring up Justin Strahan’s name, like they get really quiet for a while, and you can tell that they’re really thinking through exactly how they want to broach that subject. Are there any other people on the police force that you would pause that long for?
Stuart Fairchil…:A few. Yeah, not many, but… And it’s more out of disappointment, and some things that Justin and I, I just, he disappointed me in a lot of ways.
Al Letson:“He just disappointed me in a lot of ways.” That’s all he would say.
Al Letson:There isn’t one mention of Justin Strahan’s name in the case file by investigators or anyone they interviewed. We wanted to better understand Billey Joe’s interaction with police, so we asked the lead investigator, special agent Joel Wallace, why he didn’t interview Strahan.
Jonathan Jones:Was this something that you heard when you were going, that he was targeted by the police? You never heard that?
Joel Wallace:No. And who was the one particular officer?
Jonathan Jones:Justin Strahan.
Joel Wallace:Justin Strahan is a narcotic agent. Nobody gave me that name. If they had gave me that name, I guarantee you all would have interviewed him and had him in there.
Al Letson:In our interviews with Wallace, he keeps making the same point, that he focused on talking to people who crossed paths with Billey Joe the morning he died. So next, we go back to the traffic stop, to hear from police who arrived on the scene, some almost immediately after Sullivan radioed that Billey Joe had shot himself.
Kevin McDonald:You know, within the 10 or 15 seconds I got there, he never did anything that was out of the way, and I stood beside him the whole time until other officers arrived.
Al Letson:You’re listening to Reveal.
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Speaker 18:[inaudible]
Joe Sullivan:I’m going to need an investigator at my location. Subject shot himself.
Al Letson:When deputy Joe Sullivan radioed in that Billey Joe Johnson had shot himself, several law enforcement officers from the George County Sheriff’s Department and the Lucedale Police Department arrive on the scene almost immediately. The first officer was Kevin McDonald, a game warden with the Mississippi Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. He says he was nearby and responded to Sullivan’s call for assistance.
Kevin McDonald:You know, within the 10 or 15 seconds I got there, he never did anything that was out of the way, and I stood beside him the whole time until other officers arrived. There was also a shotgun on the scene, laying not… approximately two or three feet from the subject on the ground.
Al Letson:George County Sheriff’s Department deputy Eric Purvis was the second person to arrive. He was Sullivan’s partner.
Eric Purvis:I arrived about 3-5… I’m estimating 3-4 minutes later. As I pulled up, I noticed that officer Sullivan’s car was parked in the driveway, along with game warden Kevin McDonald’s pickup.
Al Letson:Police training manuals recommend interviewing people right away, so they can recall as many details as possible, as accurately as possible. But deputy Purvis wasn’t interviewed until December 27th, 19 days after Billey Joe died. He tells investigators that he started putting up crime scene tape and immediately asked Sullivan what happened.
Kevin McDonald:And basically, he just told me that he had pulled a young man over, and came back to run his license, and just heard a gunshot and looked up, and he was, had fallen to the ground and had shot himself. He didn’t know on purpose, on accident, or what had happened. And basically, that was the gist of what I know about it.
Al Letson:Lucedale police officers, Stuart Fairchild, we talked to him earlier, and James O’Neal, arrived a little more than five minutes after Sullivan first called in the shooting. When other officers show up, they tell them that Billey Joe had been at his ex-girlfriend’s place earlier in the morning. O’Neil start speculating about what could have happened.
James O’Neal:I mean, what the hell? I don’t know. I mean, I don’t know if it’s over the girlfriend breaking up with him, or something else in the truck or something, or on him, that he did this and didn’t want to get caught with it, or I don’t know what. You don’t… you never know. Damn that football player. My god.
Al Letson:The statements from law enforcement are incredibly important, because investigators relied on them in large part as evidence that there was no foul play or misconduct. All five of the officers we’ve mentioned have left their jobs. O’Neal has since died. We reached out to the rest of them for an interview. Only Fairchild and Sullivan’s former partner, Eric Purvis, agreed to speak to us. Purvis now owns a mobile home park just off of the highway in Lucedale. He works as a roofer and carpenter, which is what he was doing when we met him down a long road tucked in the forest. He takes us back to that morning.
Eric Purvis:Well, let me back up. Officer Sullivan and I agreed to meet up at Waffle House. He was on the way over there, and I was still loading my stuff up in my car. And I heard Officer Sullivan get in pursuit of a vehicle that had just run the red light.
Al Letson:He tells us more or less the same thing we’ve already heard about Sullivan pulling over Billey Joe, and he remembers hearing Sullivan on the radio.
Eric Purvis:Officer Sullivan was back in the car, and was fixing to start running the license, and all of a sudden he said, “Sheriff’s Office, SO, the subject just shot himself.”
Al Letson:Here’s what we know about Sullivan. He was new to George County at the time, had been there about seven months. He told investigators that he wasn’t related to anyone in town, but we found out that his sister-in-law was an assistant DA there. We know that from 1985 to 2008, he switched law enforcement jobs at least eight different times. We don’t know why he moved around, because state laws keep his employment records secret.
Al Letson:Can you tell me a little bit about who Sullivan was?
Eric Purvis:Officer Sullivan was just a laid back guy. He’s just somebody that didn’t stand out. Real friendly. He and I like to hang out together. I mean, we ate breakfast. You know, if you don’t like your partner, you’re not going to go meet him and eat breakfast every morning with them. I also went up to the state. I considered doing that when he asked me. I like Officer Sullivan. Nice guy. If I felt like there was one chance that, well, he could have done that? No, there’s no way I’d hang around that guy.
Al Letson:I think, when it comes to the case of Billey Joe, the thing that is, I think, interesting to me, and also Jonathan, is that there seems to be a divide about the way people look at the case. And I think that goes back from when you were on the police force with Officer Sullivan. Can you just kind of explain to us how you guys were feeling as police officers, and how you felt the community was looking at the case, like that kind of thing?
Eric Purvis:There’s always going to be a few people not having any information that’s going to think the worst. That’s human nature.
Al Letson:Yeah.
Eric Purvis:As a whole down here, right now, we don’t have any racial divide. The only ones that you’d say, well, there’s a racial divide anywhere is where you have just a handful on both sides that will never change.
Al Letson:Yeah.
Eric Purvis:But 95% of the people don’t give a rip if you’re Black, white, whatever color. They’re just nice, loving people down here. It’s not like it used to be.
Al Letson:We also asked them what he thinks happened that day.
Jonathan Jones:So, one of the things that the grand jury ruled was that it was like, that it was an accidental shooting, that Billey Joe Johnson was reaching for the gun, and that it…
Eric Purvis:I don’t believe that for a second.
Jonathan Jones:What do you think?
Eric Purvis:I believe he stuck it in his mouth. I believe that did.
Jonathan Jones:I mean, I think that part of maybe the distrust is that the grand jury says it’s an accidental, but then…
Eric Purvis:I’m not saying it’s not a possibility.
Al Letson:So, Pervis believes that Billey Joe killed himself. Pervis was generous with his time, but to be honest, after this interview, we still didn’t know much more about Deputy Sullivan. Just as we were about to leave, Purvis had some more thoughts.
Jonathan Jones:I appreciate you answering my questions.
Eric Purvis:But the only problems down here, if you want to, you’re talking about racial stuff…
Jonathan Jones:Yeah, sure.
Eric Purvis:Would be the very… Mind you, on either side, everybody that’s Black and white that I know of likes each other. When I go places, people don’t even think about it anymore. They’ll go over. They hug each other’s neck and meet for lunch, or whatever. Mississippi get a bad rap from bad stuff that happened way back when. Most of those people are dead and gone, and…
Jonathan Jones:I wonder if it is that history that makes people somewhat distrustful of the official version of events. Because obviously, like you said, there is this history of incidents back in the past, and I wonder if that may play a role in the distrust.
Eric Purvis:It’s just people, bro.
Jonathan Jones:Yeah.
Eric Purvis:But I’m just saying, that racial stuff is just baloney, for that even going on down here anymore.
Al Letson:When JJ and I get in the car, we unpack what happened in the interview. JJ thought I should have challenged him more, and that I let Purvis get off too easy, especially on his comments about race.
Jonathan Jones:He also said there’s no racism in George county or very little.
Al Letson:Well, just, I mean that, I wasn’t even going to engage with him on that. Like, okay. I’m not going to engage. Listen, when a white person tells me that there’s no racism in anything, my response is, okay. I’m not going to have that argument with you. Because I’m not going to be able to change your mind, you know? Why would I even want to try? It’s a waste of time. When I was a kid, or younger, I would argue it with people. But as a silver fox, I’m quite okay with people holding onto their ignorance.
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Al Letson:On one of our trips to Lucedale, it’s Christmastime. Main Street is decked out with holiday decorations. The trees are wrapped in golden lights. Festive, if you’re into that sort of thing.
Al Letson:For the record, I’d rather do door knocks.
Al Letson:We end up going to the Christmas parade. It’s a pretty typical small town parade. The high school band marches down the street. The color guard does its routine, spinning around and twirling wide gold flags. We really didn’t have a purpose, just to get some color for the story of life in Lucedale.
Al Letson:You’re going to ask questions.
Jonathan Jones:We’re just getting some… we’re just getting some ambience.
Al Letson:You don’t want to interview anybody?
Jonathan Jones:I don’t think so.
Al Letson:I was not enthused.
Al Letson:Just so you know, I’m going to tease you, this whole thing. Laugh a little. Be in character. Al is grumpy pants, and you’re not.
Jonathan Jones:No, we can do that. Grumpy pants too, though.
Al Letson:No, you can’t be grumpy pants. You’re forcing me to do this.
Al Letson:I’ve never seen the streets of downtown Lucedale so full. Everybody was out.
Al Letson:The streets are lined with people. Typical parade. A lot of little kids, and chairs set up to watch the parade go by. Everybody’s in a really festive mood. We walked a good three blocks down the Main Street. I would definitely say that this crowd is a vast majority, overwhelmingly white. I think I’ve seen like five or six Black people since we walked here. But that could just be because of where we are. It may be that the Black residents gather in another area that we don’t know about, or we’re not at.
Al Letson:Trucks are pulling trailers that were turned to parade floats. Little buggies with Christmas lights, music. It’s fun, right? Maybe for everyone else. The whole time, I’m feeling tense, but I don’t want to say anything to JJ. Then a truck pulling a long trailer with people on the back comes down the street, plywood fixed to it with the name written on it, the Ninth Mississippi Cavalry, Sons of Confederate Veterans. The words are framed by Confederate flags. The men riding on the trailer are dressed in Confederate uniforms. They throw candy to the crowd. Seeing that, I tell JJ why I’m feeling so uncomfortable.
Al Letson:Can I tell you something?
Jonathan Jones:Uh-huh (affirmative).
Al Letson:The number one reason why I didn’t want to go is because being in places like these that feel overwhelmingly white, and you know, just to be honest, overwhelmingly white. Everything that I’ve grown up with has always told me, stay away from those crowds. Because of the stuff that I’ve had to deal with in my life, it’s not an irrational fear. It’s a fear that it’s built off of experience. You know what I mean?
Jonathan Jones:What is the fear?
Al Letson:That the crowd will turn on you. That suddenly, you’ll be minding your own business, and the next thing you know, someone is messing with you. And I really don’t want to be messed with. I could tell you about the time that white dudes surrounded my house.
Al Letson:I tell JJ about the time when 20 or so young white men, some wearing hats or T-shirts with Confederate flags, surrounded my house and threatened my family. I was 14 or so, and I thought I was going to die. And that wasn’t the first time or the last time that seeing that flag would represent someone’s hatred for me.
Al Letson:But it’s those type of experiences that are like, it happens to you when you’re 14, it kind of gets written into the foundation of who you are, you know? It informs your fear response. Do you think that’s crazy?
Jonathan Jones:I mean, no, of course. Anything like that would certainly, it would stay with you. This is terrible.
Al Letson:I wondered what Carrie Moulds, the only Black elected official in George county, thought about those floats at the parade.
Carrie Moulds:Yeah. And what you probably didn’t notice at that parade with that particular float, if there was five or six Black kids standing here, they would not throw anything to them.
Al Letson:Wow.
Carrie Moulds:They would wait ’til they get to the next group of white kids and throw the candy, you know?
Al Letson:How would you describe race relations in the George County area?
Carrie Moulds:Hmm.
Al Letson:We talked to a lot of white folks, and they pretty much said there’s no racism here.
Carrie Moulds:I won’t say that there’s no racism. There’s pockets of racism in George county, but I don’t think they flaunt it. I don’t think they go out picking at people, or wanting to say, “We hate Blacks.” I just don’t think it’s like that.
Al Letson:It’s complicated.
Carrie Moulds:Yeah.
Al Letson:Do you think it’s changed? Because you’ve been here all your life. I mean, have you seen a shift?
Carrie Moulds:Oh, now, if you go from lifetime, I can go all the way back to not being able to drink water from the courthouse. You know, you couldn’t use the… You had a white fountain, a Black fountain. You could not use the bathrooms inside the courthouse. I can go back that far.
Al Letson:When Billey Joe died, her house became an occasional meeting place for the Johnsons to meet with lawyers and activists.
Al Letson:Did it feel like racial tension was building in the town around his death at that point?
Carrie Moulds:Yeah, definitely, because it was a Black guy, white girl scenario, and everybody felt like… Well, everybody knew that her parents, the mom and her dad, did not agree with their relationship. And the only thing I, the thing that sticks out in my mind is, when they said he killed his self, I kept… For me, he was getting ready to get the highest award in the state of Mississippi. The coach, he had called his coach. The coach had talked with him. He had told him he was excited. He was all ready. He was ready to go. He had his… I think he even talked about what he was going to wear to get the presentation. And then you say, that don’t sound like somebody that want to kill himself, you know? So, that stuck out for me. It was just so unbelievable. I just never believed, I just never believed that he killed himself. I never did.
Al Letson:How do you feel that your constituents feel? Do you feel like most people believe that he was murdered, or…
Carrie Moulds:I think most Black people do. Yeah. I think most of the Black people believe he, he was murdered. I really do.
Al Letson:It’s the gap, the distance between what the Black community can feel and what law enforcement and officers say in cases like Billey Joe’s. The district attorney, Tony Lawrence, proclaimed that there would be a thorough investigation, but that’s not what happened. Authorities failed to interview Billey Joe’s family, verify key statements, or look into what was going on in Billey Joe’s life, including his interactions with police at the time of his death. They seemed to assume that anything a cop told them was true. The way they handled the investigation helped reinforce deep-seated concerns that the Black community can’t get justice.
Curley Clark:When you hear the state Mississippi, for African Americas it’s a lot of fear.
Al Letson:Curly Clark first started working for the NAACP in 1980. He’s now the organization’s vice president for Mississippi. When we first reached out to him about Billey Joe’s case, he told us right from the beginning, people were worried that there wouldn’t be a thorough investigation. In late 2019, JJ and I sat with Curley in a hotel room in Biloxi. He’s not necessarily a big man, but his presence fills the room.
Curley Clark:They’ve heard about the racist past, and then we have all these incidents that are still occurring, that shows that history repeats itself.
Al Letson:You know, for… You probably don’t remember this, but I would say two years ago, I kind of called you out of the blue.
Curley Clark:Okay.
Al Letson:I was looking into the Billey Joe Johnson case.
Curley Clark:Right.
Al Letson:And I asked you a couple questions.
Curley Clark:Sure.
Al Letson:And we got on the phone and you told me, you told me about Billey Joe Johnson.
Curley Clark:Right.
Al Letson:You told me, “You definitely should look into it.”
Curley Clark:Sure.
Al Letson:But then you were like, “But there’s all these other things and stuff.”
Curley Clark:That is correct. Mississippi justice.
Al Letson:For people who are not from Mississippi, what is Mississippi justice? What does it mean to you when you say that?
Curley Clark:It means that they still feel like the South should have won the Civil War, and that white people are superior to Black people. And the culture reflects that, and also, the laws for the state of Mississippi are slanted in that direction.
Al Letson:JJ and I sit next to each other, with Curley across from us. As he spoke, we could feel his righteous indignation.
Jonathan Jones:I worry that people are going to listen to this and feel… I’m talking to both of you, now. That people are going to listen to this and feel really pessimistic and fatalistic about our country, and about what… about progress.
Al Letson:Okay, so, a little transparency here. When JJ said that, I gave him a look because, well, the question just didn’t sit right with me. But I answered.
Al Letson:They should.
Curley Clark:They should, because look, Mississippi. You’re still talking about people who have these views, and unfortunately, with the current environment of the country, people who are white nationalists, they’re being encouraged. And it’s more prevalent in a place like Mississippi, say, than other areas, but I think it’s everywhere, but it’s just more prevalent in Mississippi. People in Mississippi, it’s almost like a way of life here, you know?
Jonathan Jones:I’m not asking for a rosy picture, but I do wonder, for people that want equal justice and a better place, what do we say? What are we supposed to do?
Curley Clark:It’s going to take a lot of time. It’s going to take probably years in order for Mississippi to come up to the realities of fair play, equal justice, and things like that. Everything in Mississippi is geared toward white supremacy, white rule, white domination, from the top, all the way down to the bottom.
Al Letson:After the interview, I was still thinking about everything Curley said. JJ and I walked back to our car mostly in silence, but on the ride back, we talked about it.
Al Letson:Okay, so, what did you think about the interview with Curley?
Jonathan Jones:It was good. It was slightly pessimistic at the end of it.
Al Letson:That’s kind of what I wanted to talk to you about though, is that like, I am just really tired of people asking Black folks to have hope, and to make people feel better about the American situation, when everything in our history tells us that that is not the case. And I especially am uncomfortable with it when we are asking people who are doing the work, like Curley Clark is out there doing the work to try to make this world a more just place. And I, in the work that I choose to do, I’m trying to make the world a better place in it. And in the work that you do, it’s the same reason. We’re both driven to the work that we do and the cases that we look at and pick, because we want this place to be more just for everybody. And so, but the idea that somehow or another, Black folks are supposed to have hope, and Black folks are not supposed to be pessimistic. It just feels yucky to me, because it’s like asking us to look at all the history of what’s happened in this country and kind of ignore it.
Jonathan Jones:No, but I don’t disagree with you. I think that’s a misunderstanding of what I was asking. I wasn’t fishing for Black folk to fight.
Al Letson:No, I don’t think you were. That’s not what I’m saying. I’m not saying that you were telling me…
Jonathan Jones:Well, let me just… I mean, I am thinking about, I want to inspire. I want to… I don’t want to be an activist, but I hope our journalism helps to make this better world. And in investigative reporting, we do a great job of finding bad guys. We don’t do a very good job about solutions.
Al Letson:I think we look at it in two different ways, in the sense of, we’re both shooting for the same goal. And I want to be really clear that I didn’t think that you were telling Curley Clark to work harder. I felt like you were asking Curley, and by extension me, why don’t we have hope, and where’s the hope? And my point is that the history of this country tells me, no, no, I can’t do that anymore.
Al Letson:And I would say that, I think it’s beautiful that you want to inspire people. I do. I love that about you. And in certain ways, I do want to do work that inspires people, but really at this point in my life and where I am, I don’t want to inspire people, I want to infuriate people. I want to make work that make people burn so hard that they feel like this injustice is wrong, and they want to go out, and they want to tear it all down.
Al Letson:And I know that we’re talking about the same thing, but we’re talking about it in different ways, right? I know that you want to do the exact same thing, that you want to inspire people for this, to this higher cause. And I think that that is useful and smart, but also, I think, just like in series that we’re working on, I couldn’t do this without you, and you couldn’t do this without me, and the inspiration is definitely necessary, but fuck, man, I got so much anger.
Al Letson:I got so much anger, and I’m so tired of hiding it, and I’m so tired of pretending that it’s not there, and I’m so tired of this idea that… This shit really chokes me up a little bit. I’m just, I’m sick of it, man. I’m sick of it, And it makes… I want to… I’m burning, dude. And that’s why I’m doing this work, is because I’m seeing how the world is, and it’s not just Mississippi. It’s all, it’s the entire country. You see how it’s happening, and I don’t have hope, but what I do have is this rage, and it’s burning in me. And that’s what I hope that we do. I hope that we people off so bad at that they create change from that fire.
Jonathan Jones:And that seems very real, and I completely affirm that. I think maybe I would have, maybe I should have phrased the question a little bit better, because that answer that you gave would have been the answer. I guess my point was, where do we go from here? It can be from anger and raw rage, and outrage at injustice. It’s just, where do we go from here? And I don’t want to have a… I’m not trying to do a hokey fairytale at all.
Al Letson:Right, right.
Jonathan Jones:And it’s… it’s hard.
Al Letson:After three years of working on this story, next week, we have our final episode. We go back to George County to tell Billey Joe’s family everything we found.
Speaker 22:I don’t understand. This is going on 14 years, and I’m tired. I’m tired. Justice is what we need. That’s what we fighting for.
Al Letson:And after years of trying to connect with Billey Joe’s ex-girlfriend Hannah Hollinghead, she finally agrees to a recorded interview.
Hannah Hollingh…:I’ve been scarred for life because of this whole thing. That’s why I stayed quiet so long. I don’t lay down at night without having to take medicine to help me sleep, because that’s all I think about, the pure hell I’ve had to go through for almost 13 years.
Al Letson:That’s next time on Reveal.
Al Letson:Our show was reported and produced by Jonathan Jones and me, and edited by executive producer, Kevin Sullivan. Michael I. Schiller is the series producer. Steven Rascon is our production assistant. Nina Martin edited our digital material. Andy Donahue is Reveal’s executive editor of projects.
Al Letson:We had additional reporting and producing help from Ko Bragg, Melissa Lewis, Michael Montgomery, and Laurel Hennen Vigil. Special thanks to Katharine Mieszowski, Jen Chien, Alexis Hightower. Mama Blue sang our theme song, which was written and composed by Nina Simone. Thanks to her estate, and Music and Strategy.
Al Letson:Our fact checkers are Rosemarie Ho and Nikki Frank. Victoria Baranetsky is our general council. Our production manager is Amy “the Great” Musafa. 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” Mullin, Najib Aminy, and Kathryn Styer Martinez.
Al Letson:Our digital producer is Sarah Mirk. Our interim CEO is Chabel. Sumi Aggarwal is our interim editor in chief. Our theme music is by Camerado Lightning.
Al Letson: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 Hellman 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, and remember, there is always more to the story.
Speaker 26: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.

Kevin Sullivan is a former 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 a sound designer, engineer and composer for Reveal. As a multi-instrumentalist, he contributes to the original music, editing and mixing of the weekly public radio show and podcast. He has held four O-1 visas for individuals with extraordinary abilities. His work has been recognized with Peabody, duPont-Columbia, Edward R. Murrow, Gerald Loeb, Third Coast and Association of Music Producers awards, as well as Emmy and Pulitzer nominations. Prior to joining Reveal, Arruda toured as an international DJ and taught music technology at Dubspot and ESRA International Film School. He worked at Antfood, a creative audio studio for media and TV ads, and co-founded a film-scoring boutique called the Manhattan Composers Collective. He worked with clients such as Marvel, MasterClass 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 SFJAZZ Monday Night Band, Art&Sax quartet, Krychek, Dark Inc. and the New York Arabic Orchestra. 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,” Wondery’s “Detective Trapp,” MSNBC’s “Why Is This Happening?” and NBC’s “Born to Rule,” to name a few. Arruda also has a wide catalog of composed music for theatrical, orchestral and chamber music formats, some of which has premiered worldwide. He holds a master’s degree in film scoring and composition from NYU Steinhardt. The original music he makes with Jim Briggs for Reveal can be found on Bandcamp.

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.

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.

Brett Simpson (she/her) was an assistant producer for Reveal. She pursued 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.

Kathryn Styer Martínez

Kathryn Styer Martínez (she/ella) is a production assistant for Reveal. She studies audio and photojournalism at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. She is also a Greater Good Science Center reporting fellow, focusing on Latino well-being.

Martínez was the 2020-21 Toni Randolph reporting fellow at Minnesota Public Radio, the 2019-20 New Economy Reporting Project fellow and the former director of KGPC-LP FM, Peralta Community Radio. Her work has appeared in El Tecolote, The Oaklandside, MPR News, National Public Radio, Outside Online, Talk Poverty, New Life Quarterly and Making Contact.

She earned bachelor’s degrees in Raza studies and political science from San Francisco State University.