ESPN suddenly canceled the nationwide release of a film lauding Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson after a video was released showing a teenaged girl whom Johnson has been accused of having molested nearly 20 years ago.
Down in the Valley, a documentary that is part of ESPN’s prize-winning “30-for-30” series, depicts Sacramento’s success when the city kept the Sacramento Kings from moving to Seattle, an effort led by Johnson. Its premiere at The Crest Theater in Sacramento Monday night was planned to lead the nationwide release on October 20, according to the Sacramento Bee.
Instead, hours before the premiere, ESPN canceled the nationwide release after a video made by the Phoenix Police Department was posted on YouTube last week.
Monday night, preceding the showing of the film, Johnson spoke to a crowd outside the theater, asserting that there was no “there there” to the allegations, adding that ESPN had the right to cancel the nationwide release but he expected the release to eventually happen. He said, “When you’re in politics, you take hits. The people of Sacramento knew about these allegations, and I was lucky enough to be elected anyway.”
The 1996 video showed Mandi Koba, then 16, speaking to a police officer, detailing Johnson’s alleged molestation of her. Johnson was 29 at the time.
Although Koba’s claims have been known for years, they had lain dormant until she went public with her side of the story to Deadspin in September. The initial police report stated that Johnson fondled Koba, showered with her, and rubbed his penis against her thigh before suggesting they pray and ask for forgiveness for what he had done. The report added that they should make a “pinky promise” that she would remain silent. Because no physical evidence was found, no charges were filed against Johnson.
Johnson allegedly paid Koba roughly $230,000 for her silence.
Although the story of the alleged molestation had been reported, Johnson was elected mayor, then re-elected in 2012.
One friend of Johnson’s told the Bee that Down in the Valley director Jason Hehir consulted with ESPN as to whether the alleged molestation should be mentioned in the film; the ostensible reason for its absence was that the charges were unrelated to the primary narrative of saving the Kings.
Johnson, who has also been accused of cementing a coup in the National Conference of Black Mayors (NCBM) by using his staff and volunteers so he could take over the organization, had asked the Sacramento City Council to postpone its meeting October 20 so people could view the film that night. Johnson withdrew the request after the Bee reported it.