Federal judge keeps Smithfield, drops Johnston school board, DA from conspiracy lawsuit

Johnston County school board member Ronald Johnson can proceed with his federal lawsuit against the town of Smithfield. But a federal judge’s order Thursday dropped school board members, the district attorney, and all but one individual plaintiff from the case.

Johnson filed suit in June 2023, naming Smithfield, the school board, and 19 individual defendants. The case focused on Johnson’s claims of sex discrimination, defamation, and conspiracy to remove him from office. Johnson is seeking reinstatement to his Smithfield police job, along with back pay and compensatory and punitive damages.

US District Judge James Dever’s order Thursday limits the case to Smithfield and one individual, David Marshburn.

Voters elected Johnson to the school board in 2016 and 2020. He’s seeking a third term this fall. Johnson advanced to the November general election after finishing as his district’s top vote-getter in the March 5 primary.

Johnson joined the Smithfield Police Department in 2005 and was promoted to detective in 2012. He worked for the department until October 2022, when town officials fired him for what was described as “detrimental personal conduct.”

Dever’s order allows Johnson to pursue four claims against the town. Two involve claims that Smithfield officials engaged in retaliation that violated his rights under federal Title VII and the Americans with Disabilities Act. The other two involve claims that the town impermissibly interfered with paid leave Johnson used under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act.

Johnson can continue his defamation claim against Marshburn, who criticized Johnson in 2022 in public webcasts. Marshburn described Johnson as a “predator” who engaged in blackmail.

Dever threw out all other claims of defamation and conspiracy that Johnson leveled against Smithfield’s town manager, human resources director, and police chief. Thursday’s order also dismissed all complaints against Johnson’s county school board colleagues, a former school board attorney, the Johnston County district attorney, and two other county prosecutors.

Much of the judge’s 65-page order details controversy surrounding Johnson’s school board activity.

The Johnston board censured him twice in 2022. Colleagues cited his secret recordings of closed-door sessions, along with texts during board meetings commenting on the appearance of a female school employee. He also faced accusations of interfering with two special-education students because of a personal dispute with a parent.

Smithfield fired Johnson from his police detective’s job shortly after the second censure.

In April 2023, Johnson faced criminal indictments on charges of extortion, felony obstruction of justice, and willfully failing to discharge his duties. Those charges were related to accusations involving a congressional candidate, DeVan Barbour. Authorities say Johnson threatened to reveal a damaging recording of Barbour in 2022 unless Barbour pressured a woman to back off statements about having an affair with Johnson.

The woman, Angie McLeod, was listed among the original defendants in Johnson’s lawsuit. Johnson accused McLeod of sexually assaulting him and pressuring him into a sexual relationship. His sex discrimination claims stemmed from accusations that Smithfield authorities wouldn’t believe his story because he is a man.

The post Federal judge keeps Smithfield, drops Johnston school board, DA from conspiracy lawsuit first appeared on Carolina Journal.


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