LAKE CHARLES – It was a shocking allegation in a city still relying on good will to help rebuild after last year’s hurricanes. In June, a Cajun Navy Ground Force volunteer in Lake Charles was said to have been pulled from her car, beaten and subjected to an attempted rape in a suspected racially motivated attack over her work for the organization.
But the 45-year-old woman supposedly assaulted has now been arrested and accused of filing a false report. Police said Monday in their first detailed comments on the case that her allegations did not match up with video surveillance and interviews conducted by investigators.
The woman, Rebecca Johnson, declined comment when visited at her home on Monday. Rob Gaudet, director and founder of the Cajun Navy Ground Force, one of a number of organizations that use the Cajun Navy name, said he was awaiting the outcome of the case and did not want to comment directly on it.
Gaudet did, however, speak about his organization’s volunteer work in the wake of Hurricane Laura and said he did not regret defending Johnson following her allegations. The group published a strong statement on Facebook after the alleged incident, claiming the two attackers were White and may have been seeking to stop Johnson, who is also White, from helping the African-American community in Lake Charles.
Police were guarded in their comments, but made clear that they saw “multiple inconsistencies” in Johnson’s allegations and noted the investigation was continuing.
“Of all the video that we've looked at, we were not able to find a single shred of video evidence of attackers, nor were we able to locate a witness who saw the attack,” Lake Charles Police Chief Shawn Caldwell said.
Deputy Chief Franklin Fondel said “through these interviews and video surveillance obtained from multiple sources, detectives were able to establish a timeline of Johnson's movement. This timeline, in addition to a number of statements obtained over the course of the investigation, revealed multiple inconsistencies in the information Johnson provided in her original victim's statement and follow-up interviews.”
Johnson was arrested Friday on one count of filing and maintaining a false public record. She was released on $25,000 bond.
Caldwell said he would not characterize her story as completely made up since “she was indeed injured,” but added that her account “did not line up with the evidence that we found.” He said he could not comment further on how the injuries may have occurred.
The supposed incident happened in the afternoon on June 21 in a supermarket parking lot in Lake Charles near McNeese State University. Photos said to have been from the time showed Johnson with what appeared to be serious cuts and bruises on her face.
After responding to a 911 call from what police described as an “associate” of Johnson’s, officers were told that she was attacked by two men in a white extended cab pick-up truck. While the Cajun Navy statement later alleged that she was subjected to a rape attempt, police said that allegation was never made formally.
The group’s statement and Gaudet have said that the attack seemed to have been racially motivated because of racial slurs said by the perpetrators.
The group’s statement and the allegations raised concerns and questions in Lake Charles, where a number of volunteer groups are helping throughout the city as the community struggles to rebuild after Hurricanes Laura and Delta in August and October last year.
Caldwell and Mayor Nic Hunter issued a statement at the time assuring an investigation was being conducted.
On Monday, Gaudet said he had not spoken to Johnson since her arrest.
“The story I was told was a pretty serious story and I had no regrets about standing up for her,” said Gaudet, who is also a software development manager originally from Lake Charles. “The whole community stood up for her. And I think in that situation, we would stand up for them again until we're told otherwise."
He spoke of his group’s efforts following the hurricanes helping clear roads, provide food and assist with roof tarping, among other volunteer work. He said the group counted dozens of volunteers in the days and weeks after Laura, and that Johnson had taken in those with nowhere else to go. He said she had started volunteering for the organization in January.
“Becky’s done a lot of good. I would say that,” Gaudet said. “She’s done a lot of good things.”