Bryant P. Johnson

1973-October 27, 2000

Bryant P. Johnson

Bryant P. Johnson

The Times Picayune generally discussed Bryant’s death in an article published online in 2000.  The article indicated that Bryant had a sister, Adrienne, but it did not list her last name. Librarians pulled a 1988 Ben Franklin yearbook from the shelves that identified a person named ‘Bryan Johnson’ as a student at the school. However, upon further investigation, this was not the same individual.

Bryant Patrick Johnson died on October 27, 2000, in Orleans Parish Prison. He was twenty-seven years old at the time of his death. Since Bryant died before the internet was widely used, he had no presence on social media and did not appear in basic Google search results. I called the archives division of the New Orleans Public Library to locate more information about Bryant. Using the Microfilm machine in the archives section of the library, I was able to locate a copy of Bryant’s obituary. The obituary listed the names of family members. I also looked through the Orleans Parish Directories for the years 1998 and 1999, also available in the archives, to locate Bryant’s address at the time of his death. His address was 3316 Garden Oaks Drive in Algiers.

Using the information in his obituary, I reached out to his sister, Adrienne, and his companion, Theresa, on Facebook. Theresa has not yet viewed my Facebook message, but Adrienne responded. I spoke with her on the phone about Bryant’s life and she sent me a picture of him through Facebook Messenger. She also referred me to their brother, Jessie Johnson, whom I also spoke to on the phone.

Adrienne and Jessie shared the following with me about Bryant’s life:

Bryant was born on November 7, 1973. For one year during his childhood, Bryant and his family members lived in Los Angeles, California before returning to New Orleans, Louisiana. Bryant was raised in Algiers along with his sisters, Adrienne Ingram and Jovanna Thompson, and brothers, Darryle and Jessie Johnson. Jessie remembers that Bryant attended O. Perry Walker High School in Algiers. He was the youngest of his siblings, and Adrienne noted that he was “the baby of the family.” She and Jessie both remarked that Bryant and their mother were incredibly close.

When Bryant was young, he was an active member of a Baptist church in Gretna, of which Adrienne is still a member. Bryant and his siblings sang in the choir, and he was baptized as young as seven or eight years old. His obituary referenced both Regular, Mt. Pilgrim, and Evening Star Baptist churches. Jessie noted that Bryant was very helpful around the house when they were young. While Darryle and Jessie worked to support the family, Bryant was eager to clean or assist with household chores, and to help in whatever way he could. Adrienne said that Bryant always did what she told him to do when they were kids. His siblings described him as an incredibly loving, family-oriented person who never got into trouble.

When Bryant was around nineteen years old, his mother pressed him to pursue a profession. Bryant really enjoyed cooking and wanted to learn more about it. To further his interest, he completed a two-year culinary arts program through Job Corps. He particularly enjoyed cooking gumbo and other seafood dishes for his family. After completing the program, he worked at the Drury Inn, and possibly at Art Catering, where he applied his knowledge of and love for cooking. Around two months before his death, Bryant started working offshore. Both Jessie and Darryle were working offshore, and this sparked his interest in pursuing that line of work.

Bryant had many talents. For example, he loved to skate when he was young. Adrienne mentioned that, even if she wanted to go somewhere else, the family would take him to Skate Park so that he could practice during their childhoods. In addition to skating, he was fond of movies and had an expansive knowledge of them. When one would come on TV, he could usually name every actor in the film. Action films were his favorite, and he often watched movies with his mother. Bryant was also a gifted rapper. He was just getting started with rapping before he died and would often freestyle at family gatherings. Adrienne described his ability to look at someone and start freestyling with or about them on the spot.

Jessie and Adrienne both emphasized that Bryant was a very dedicated family person and spent most of his time with his companion and children. He and his girlfriend, Theresa Dunns, had three children together. While his two sons, Brandon and Bryant Jr., were alive at the time of Bryant’s death, Theresa was pregnant with their daughter. Bryant’s third child was born in January 2001, three months after he died. Bryant was very loving towards and protective of his children. His life was moving in a very positive direction before his death. Jessie said that Bryant was doing well with his new job offshore and that he had a home and a very happy family life.

During our phone conversations, Bryant’s family members primarily discussed the circumstances surrounding his death. Officials ruled Bryant’s death a suicide, but family members disagree. Adrienne remembers that Bryant was arrested for having an open container, which in the few years following his death was no longer a crime in Orleans Parish. Officers took Bryant to Orleans Parish Prison.

The family’s grief was compounded by their search for answers and justice for Bryant. Jessie described the frustration and pain associated with this experience. When they were informed Bryant was dead, they went to the jail and then were told that he wasn’t in the jail, but instead at a hospital. When the family questioned Bryant’s whereabouts, OPP officials told them that Bryant was dead, but was in the hospital because only doctors at the hospital could pronounce his death. When Bryant’s family went to the hospital, officials would not allow them to see his body. Jessie described how agonizing it was not to know if it was even his brother who was there. It was not until two weeks later that Bryant’s family was permitted to see his body.

Further, the family waited outside the courthouse to speak with people who were released from OPP the following Sunday. They told Bryant’s family that he was given a red armband, which designated a prisoner as high-risk for having committed a violent crime. They also told Bryant’s family that he verbally disputed the high-risk designation with officers, which resulted in three deputies jumping on him in a cell.  Bryant’s family has not been able to successfully locate any of the individuals they spoke to since that time.

These events warranted the family’s distrust of OPP officials. They hired a pathologist from out of state, who reached a different conclusion regarding Bryant’s cause of death than the coroner in Louisiana. Bryant had a gash in the back of his head, which supported the theory that he had been thrown into a wall and was consistent with the remarks of others present in the jail. Bryant also had scratches on the tops of his hands. Adrienne noted that the pathologist pointed to a joint in the neck that had been severed, which does not harden until the age of forty. The out-of-state pathologist’s findings, and the version of events that others in the prison described, compelled the family’s conclusion that Bryant had been beaten by deputies for disputing the arm-band designation, and picked up by his throat, resulting in his death. Despite the report from the out-of-state pathologist, Bryant’s death was judicially determined to have been a suicide.

This was a period of extreme emotional anguish for Bryant’s family. Bryant supported Theresa and their children before his death, and Theresa was emotionally and financially devastated when he passed. His children lived with Bryant’s mother for a period. However, prior to Bryant’s death, his mother became disabled from a car accident, and his father was battling cancer. Adrienne assisted with Bryant’s children as well. She mentioned that his death had a severe emotional impact on his children. His son, Brandon, was only five years old when Bryant died. His daughter is now twenty years old and has turned to Adrienne for information about her father, whom she never had the opportunity to meet. His oldest son passed away around Christmas time last year and struggled throughout his life with the loss of his father.

Bryant’s mother suffered immensely from the loss of her son. Both her injuries from a car accident and the loss of her youngest child created unbearable grief. Adrienne said her heart was absolutely broken. She cried and grieved Bryant’s death often. His mother’s grief did not subside before her death in 2010. What Bryant’s family members want most is justice for him.

Author: Jovian Scafati