Rachel Mitchell, the GOP hired gun who shot blanks during last week’s Brett Kavanaugh hearing, told Republican senators immediately after the public fiasco (but before the FBI investigation had begun) that she would not have prosecuted the nominee for his alleged assault of Christine Blasey Ford.
Mitchell has spent her entire legal career with the Maricopa County (Ariz.) Attorney’s Office in Phoenix. She started with that office’s Sex Crimes Bureau just after getting her law degree from Arizona State in 1992, where her bailiwick was child molestation and adult sexual assault cases. And she was there in 1996, when the DA’s office got a 159-page report from Phoenix police detailing an investigation into what the cops referred to as “a celebrity involved in a reported child molestation.”
The report (which you can read in its awful entirety here) detailed sexual abuse allegations against then-NBA star and local hero Kevin Johnson. The police had collected information about how Johnson had allegedly begun grooming a local high school student for abuse as a 15-year-old, plus transcripts of conversations between the youngster and Johnson secretly recorded by a detective in which the basketball star and the girl talked about their disparate recollections of having spent multiple nights at his house and showering together. The Sex Crimes Bureau did not prosecute. In fact, neither prosecutors nor police ever even interviewed Johnson, who the accuser told investigators had made her “pinkie promise” to never tell anybody what happened, before the DA decided not to move forward with the case.
Mandi Koba, the student who in those dated reports was telling Phoenix detectives about the abuse, told me this week that Mitchell’s involvement in the Kavanaugh hearing felt painfully familiar. “Learning that Rachel Mitchell was part of the same Maricopa County Attorney’s office that decided not to prosecute my abuser was a punch to the gut,” Koba said. “Reading her report [on Blasey Ford] and seeing some of the same phrases used against Blasey Ford that were used against me and my case 22 years ago made me incredibly angry and hurt my soul.”
Law enforcement officials in Phoenix only found out about Koba’s story because her therapist went to the police, against Koba’s wishes. That therapist had already poisoned the investigation by contacting Johnson before going to the police and and letting him know that Koba was telling her about, in the therapist’s words, their “unhealthy” relationship. As detailed in the police report, Koba (who is referred to as “Amanda” in the paperwork) had told her therapist she didn’t want to tell anybody because she felt “no one would believe her due to Kevin’s celebrity status.”
The allegations against Johnson became public information in May 1997, when the Phoenix New Times published an amazing and bombshell-filled story by reporter Paul Rubin that detailed how Johnson’s lawyers were working to settle a case involving sexual abuse of a minor. Attorney Fred Hiestand, an advisor to Johnson who is still involved in his St. HOPE charter school organization, called the accuser “mentally unstable and a liar.” Rubin also wrote that an unnamed Johnson lawyer had described Koba as ”a sick slut” in an interview.
“There are lots of women who are [adults] who are sending him their photos, tape recordings and letters,” Hiestand told Rubin. “If he was interested in any kind of sexual action, he had a lot more attractive offers than [Koba].”
Johnson paid $230,600 after Rubin’s story was published, in exchange for a pledge from Koba to never mention his name again to anybody other than to “a priest, a therapist, or a lawyer.” She broke that agreement in 2015 when she agreed to tell her story in Deadspin.
“I just felt like I wasn’t doing anything but protecting him,” Koba told Deadspin at the time. “Part of the way they got me to go along with the agreement was they told me it would protect me from his attorneys saying mean things about me. Well, I’m a grownup now. They can say mean things about me if they want.”
The original New Times story said Bill Amato of the felony sex-crimes unit in the Maricopa County D.A.’s office was the lead prosecutor on the Johnson case, and that he along with unnamed “supervisors” in the county attorneys office made the call to not prosecute Johnson. Amato left that office years ago and now works for the police department in nearby Tempe, Ariz. I asked him in 2015 if he was comfortable with the decision decades earlier by the Maricopa DA’s office to not move forward with the case, but Amato declined to look back. “I am still a government employee, and feel it would be inappropriate for me to give a personal opinion on a case that I reviewed almost 20 years ago.”
The Maricopa D.A.’s office did not respond to Deadspin’s questions about whether Mitchell had any supervisory role in the mid-1990s, or any personal involvement in the decision not to prosecute the high-profile person of interest. Rubin says he recalls Mitchell’s work with the sex crimes bureau dating back to the early 1990s, but has no recollection that she was involved in the Johnson case. Rubin did, however, say he’s a longtime admirer of Mitchell’s for regularly showing courage in cases that did go forward.
“She’s known as being victim-oriented, sometimes to the extreme,” said Rubin, who left journalism years ago and is now a private investigator. “And I know she has done fabulous things for many victims in cases where people didn’t have a chance of getting justice.”
The problem remains institutional, and Koba understands better than most why Ford would keep any tales of assault to herself for so long, and that while a lot has changed for the better in recent years, it’s still dangerous to name a powerful man as your sexual abuser or assaulter.
Rubin admitted that Mitchell, who was described by Sen. Charles Grassley before the Kavanaugh hearing as a “widely recognized expert on the investigation and prosecution of sex crimes,” didn’t live up to that reputation in her Capitol Hill appearance, during which he says she “seemed in over her head with politics.”
“I don’t know how she got put in that spot,” he said, “but it was a bad spot for her.”
Johnson moved to Sacramento after retiring from the NBA in 2000, and served as mayor from 2008–2016. He has been accused of sexual abuse there by several young females there, including St. HOPE students, and those allegations have been the focus of a federal investigation in 2008. He has consistently denied the accusations against him, and has never been prosecuted for any sexual abuse matters.
Koba is now a social worker specializing in child welfare, and deals with teens who are in treatment foster care. The lead photograph on her Twitter page these days is a pile of colored paper hearts. She cut those hearts out of photocopies of Phoenix police reports from the investigation into her sexual abuse.