By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
In our chat, we very quickly came to what I thought was sort of an embarrassing bone of contention. I'm not even sure how to approach it here. I believe it has to do with "suspiciousness" in Mesquite.
Ahem. Well...in order to get this point across, I am forced to provide another detail I might not otherwise have shared with you: Ryan Johnson is white. I mean, he's really white. He's like me. He's too white. In the winter, people probably ask him what they ask me: "Have you not been feeling well?"
So here we are at the kitchen table, and Starns is describing his encounter with Johnson over the picture-taking.
"His hair is black, down to his collar," Starns says. "He's got skin like an Iranian or one of them sand junkies over there."
I say no, Johnson is white.
He disagrees. "The guy that was taking pictures, I confronted him. This was a guy about six foot or over, probably went 200 pounds, had bushy, curly hair down on his shoulders. His skin was dark like an Iranian. This wasn't no white guy. This guy wasn't white at all."
Well...shoot. We establish more details. We are definitely talking about the same guy. I stumble and bumble. "I was sitting in his [Johnson's] house," I say. "It was dark in there. Maybe...I don't know. He looked like a white guy to me."
Starns corrects me again. "Me and you's white," he says. "He looked like an Iranian to me. He was out wearing...and this don't mean crap, because people wear all kind of crap--but he had on a hat deal that's got one of them bands around it and ain't nothing but a bib, and a T-shirt and a pair of shorts and tennis shoes."
An Iranian in suspicious garb.
Starns explains to me that in addition to taking pictures Johnson was behaving suspiciously, because he was just walking around. Starns says Johnson told him where he lived and pointed in that direction, but then he departed walking in the opposite direction.
An Iranian in suspicious garb out walking around.
I tell Starns that, being in the news business all my life, I am dead certain it is not against the law to take pictures in a public place, and that the street and your front yard are definitely public.
He says I am wrong--potentially dead wrong. "I disagree," he says. "I disagree, because he could get his ass shot over here foolin' around. I do not agree with anybody out taking pictures without permission from the owner. That's the way I feel about it."
He explains to me that when he confronted Johnson, Starns was armed. "When I'm out and about on these streets or anywhere else pretty much, I carry a handgun. I carry a concealed handgun. I got a license to do that."
He adds that I, too, had been in a position of risk merely by pulling up in front of his house. "I was kind of suspicious about you," he says. "I saw you pull up, and you sat out there in your car for a while. I thought, 'Well, where is this turkey going?' When you come in here, I told the wife, 'What in the world does this guy want?'"
Yeah. Good question. And why, if I was going to go to all this trouble all these years getting my foot in people's doors, did I not at least try to sell them some toilet bowl brushes?
The Mesquite police tell me they were called by someone in the neighborhood who complained that Johnson was involved in a "suspicious activity." In the part of the police report I was able to obtain, no complainant is named.
Both Johnson and the police say that the police officers who confronted him two days later on his lawn ordered him to submit to a search. Johnson told them they needed grounds. The police seized him. He panicked and plunged to the ground. They loaded him up and took him to jail. He is charged with "resisting arrest, search or transport," a Class A misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $4,000 and a year in jail.
Johnson says that when he asked on what grounds he was to be searched, the police said, "The camera." But he had no camera with him when they stopped him.
I don't have any independent knowledge of what the police said. The one officer I did reach declined to speak to me. The department wouldn't release the "narrative" portion of the arrest report, even though that document is legally an open record. The Mesquite PD indicated I would receive the narrative later this week, at the last possible date they are required by state law to give it up.
With some time to think about it, the Mesquite PD now is saying the arrest had nothing to do with Johnson's picture-taking. Lieutenant Bill Artesi told me Johnson's problems had entirely to do with resisting search.
Lawyers tell me there is bad news and good news for Johnson on that issue. The bad news is that the courts in recent years have expanded the ability of police to do a so-called "Kerry frisk" (named for a court ruling) in order to protect themselves from suspicious persons who could be armed.