Blogger Pat Johnson has been a consistent thorn in the side of the state's towing companies and a champion on behalf of angry drivers whose cars have been hauled away. When a Texan believes her car was wrongfully towed — say, pulled out of her own apartment parking lot for putting a parking sticker on the wrong window — Johnson's Texas Towing Compliance website is often the only resource. On the site and on his personal blog, Johnson documents illegal, predatory tows and lists his cell phone number for towing victims to call. He advises people how to fight their tows cheaply in justice of the peace courts and what the technicalities of towing laws are.
He also regularly comments in Observer stories about towing violations. Though based in Austin, he has traveled to Dallas and other places to testify as an expert witness on behalf of towing victims — and numerous towing victims interviewed by the Observer over the years say they have benefited greatly from his help.
But a criminal case pending in Travis County paints a disturbing picture of Texas' only real predatory towing watchdog: Johnson was indicted by a grand jury two years ago on three counts of sexually abusing a child, court documents show. Johnson could not comment on the case; he tells us that his attorney asked him not to discuss the charges on the record.
Court documents identify the victim as a troubled teenage boy who told police he was 12 when he first met Johnson at his trailer. "Victim stated that a friend of his had introduced him to Johnson since Johnson was known to provide marijuana beer, cigarettes," says an affidavit written by an Austin detective two years ago. The boy was 13, the affidavit says, when Johnson allegedly told him to pull his pants down as they smoked weed together. "Victim stated that Johnson forced himself on him when he then gave victim a 'blowjob," the affidavit says. "Victim stated that he would continue to go back and forth to Johnson's trailer since he knew he could get $20 and/or weed in exchange for oral sex provided by Johnson." The boy later ended up in a halfway house and used his own cash to purchase harder drugs. He continued to visit Johnson's trailer, the affidavit says, until, at the age of 15 in 2012, he began therapy. By then, he "finally felt ready to deal with what happened" and called the police.
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In January 2013, the affidavit says, the boy texted Johnson from the Austin PD's Child Abuse Office asking to "get some head." Johnson responded to him, "Don't talk like that over the phone," the affidavit claims. Johnson later allegedly texted the boy; "Well, that's up to you," about arranging the sexual encounter, and then told the boy to "Just come on by later on ..."
In April of that year, the detective interviewed Johnson himself. Johnson told police that he knew the alleged victim and other young boys because he allowed them to come to his trailer to use his computer. He said he was a mentor. "Johnson expressed his desire to help young males on the street and claims he is a mentor to them where he has even taken them out 'cruising' in his vehicle on Saturday nights in order to keep them from getting into trouble," the affidavit says. Johnson also told police that he never had a sexual relationship with the victim, though, he claimed, the boy had tried to initiate such a relationship with him.
The detective didn't believe Johnson's account, and neither did a grand jury. In July 2013, Johnson was indicted on three counts of sexual assault of a child and indecency with a child. He is currently out of jail on a $20,000 bond. Now, over two years later, the case has made little progress: His criminal defense attorney did not want to comment on the pending charges but said that his case is still not scheduled on the docket.