Today, Kevin Johnson is mayor of Sacramento, Calif., and Mandi Koba is a mother of three and an advocate for survivors of sexual abuse. Only they know what happened between them in the summer of 1995, when she was 16 and he was a star guard for the Phoenix Suns, and each has a different version of events.
Koba’s recollections of what happened with Johnson, whom she met when she was 15, have been circulating for years in the form of a police report that includes a transcript of the questioning she was given by Detective Art Smith of the Phoenix Police Department in 1996. You can read that report in full here. In it, she describes Johnson lying naked with her, fondling her breasts and vagina, lathering soap on her in the shower, brushing his penis against her, and asking her to pray to God for forgiveness with him and promise not to tell anyone about what they’d done.
There’s long been talk of an artifact of those sessions far more appalling than a .pdf file, though. The police report says that the interview with Koba “was both audio and video taped”—though she now says the police never told her she was on camera—and according to sources in Sacramento, there have been whispers about a video version of her interview with the police ever since Johnson started his first campaign for mayor in 2008.
As it turns out, the rumors weren’t just rumors. Video was taken. Earlier this week, Deadspin obtained a rare copy of Koba’s interview with Phoenix police from 1996. The lengthy video can be watched in full here; a brief clip from it is at the top of this post, and excerpts can be found below.
Koba, now 36, recently told Deadspin exactly what she told police 19 years ago: That she met Johnson when she was 15 and he was at the height of his career as the Phoenix Suns’s All-Star point guard, and that shortly thereafter, he began sexually abusing her. After Koba’s story appeared on Deadspin, Johnson gave what seems like a blanket denial to a Sacramento reporter.
“It’s very unfortunate,” Johnson told the local ABC affiliate. “Something happened 20 years ago and it’s not true. You just got to move on, that’s just part of the territory.”
It makes sense that Johnson would want to move on. Lots of things are going his way these days. His city was just announced as a winner of a $30 million grant to rebuild the city’s oldest public housing project as part of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s periodic “Choice Neighborhoods” sweepstakes. Johnson’s handling of the people’s money was once recognized as being so flagrantly corrupt that he was banned from receiving any federal grants for a time. But kudos flew in from his friends in the Obama administration when the HUD award was announced.
Then there’s Down in the Valley, an upcoming film produced by ESPN for its 30 for 30 documentary series. In a version circulated to the press, it is a hagiography, presenting Johnson as an almost messianic figure destined from birth to earmark a $255 million-plus public subsidy toward a new downtown arena for the NBA’s Sacramento Kings. He will be the guest of honor at a gala for the Sacramento premiere of the movie at a downtown theater this coming Monday.
Kevin Johnson learning that the Kings would stay in Sacramento, presented as a climactic moment in an upcoming ESPN documentary.
However bright his future may seem, though, Johnson’s personal history makes it difficult for him to just move on. Part of that history is his past with Koba.
Police brought Koba, then 17, in for an interview in June 1996 after her therapist reported that she feared the local NBA star had molested one of her patients. Koba described, in detail, the sexual abuse that she alleged Johnson inflicted on her over a period of several months the previous summer.
Koba hadn’t leveled those allegations publicly until talking with Deadspin, and now says her silence was by design—Johnson’s design. She says that Johnson paid $230,600 in 1997 to get her to agree to never talk about him again, except to “a priest, a therapist, or a lawyer.” Koba broke that agreement, as well as a “pinkie promise” to keep quiet that she says Johnson made her make as a youngster, because she decided that she was done “protecting him.” By coming out, Koba became the first person to publicly put her name to accusations of sexual abuse against the former NBA star and current Sacramento mayor.
Johnson was not charged in the Koba case, nor has he ever been charged with a sex crime. Johnson has, however, repeatedly been accused of sexual abuse of girls and young women, most famously in a federal investigation into St. HOPE, a chain of charter schools he runs in Sacramento, his hometown. (Neither Johnson’s longtime lawyers, Fred Hiestand and Kevin Hiestand, nor his mayoral press secretary, Ben Sosenko, responded to multiple requests for comment for the Koba story.)
Excerpts from the full recording of Mandi Koba’s interview by the Phoenix Police Department.
This is what Mandi Koba looked and sounded like the first time she accused Kevin Johnson of sexual abuse. And as young as she looks on this tape, it’s worth noting that her interview with police came a full year after the alleged molestations began.
Recently, Koba put a name to the accusations against Johnson. This recording puts a face and a voice to them. These allegations include Johnson fondling Koba—a child, who was barely half his age when they met—and having her join him in shower stalls and prayer sessions. The video has her talking about how “he knew my age from the day I met him,” proven by the flowers and card she says she received from Johnson on her 16th birthday. It shows that Koba was upset about being interviewed by police, worrying that she might hurt Johnson’s career. The only child of a single-parent home, she is distraught talking about how a man who came into her life as a “father figure” asked her to leave her house late at night, wearing just a sweatshirt and socks, but no underwear. It finds the youngster—who according to the police report had been hospitalized for an eating disorder and weighed 95 pounds at the time of the interview—saying she was scared for her own well-being because Johnson’s hangers-on “know where I go to school.” She tells police she’s going ahead with the interview, however, because she thinks there might be others out there being abused by the rising Suns star. At the end of the session, Detective Smith tells her that he, too, believes that Johnson “is probably taking advantage of other young people.”
“If he gets away with this,” Smith asks her, “what’s going to stop him?”
“Nothing,” says Koba.
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Additional reporting by Patrick Redford; video editing by Tim Burke.