by Travis Mateer
On Monday, August 9th, around 5:45pm, I was on my way to my studio in downtown Missoula when I saw a shirtless man walking with his hands up, both pointer fingers sticking up at the sky like he was readying himself for some imaginary holdup. He was walking on the north side of West Broadway, away from the Poverello Center, which was about a block away, behind him.
I recognized this man as Johnny Lee Perry, the assailant supposedly responsible (but never formally charged) for the death of Sean Stevenson after a fight ensued in the men’s dorm at the Poverello Center.
During the month of Sean Stevenson’s death (January, 2020) I was trying my best to understand the dynamics involved between “Johnny B” and the criminal justice system, like this post from January 14th, 2020, titled Johnny Lee Perry Spends Another Night In Jail, Still No Charges Filed For Killing Fellow Resident At The Poverello Center.
At this early point in the mystery surrounding what happened to Sean Stevenson, I had yet to connect with any members of the Stevenson family. Because of these early details I caught in the booking history, that soon changed.
Fast forward to May, 2020. Someone I highly suspect to be Johnny B (due to the email used) made a comment on my blog that I have not released until today:
If it’s difficult to read the screen shot, here it is again: “That’s my brother we have 16 brother his not a bad Larson just mentally off“
I didn’t release this comment because I had no clue what I was dealing with and didn’t want to allow some unstable person to deter anyone reading my blog from coming forward.
On the anniversary of Sean Stevenson’s death, which was two days after Johnny B allegedly assaulted him (January 5th, 2020) and occurred as the result of Sean being removed from life support WITHOUT his family being notified, I posted my interview with two members of Sean’s family, Jejchelle and Angela.
During all this time I’d get bits and pieces of gossip from street conversations. Some good about Sean, some not so good. And mostly good impressions about Johnny B.
Would I ever get a chance to actually talk DIRECTLY to this young man?
Yes, on April 29th, 2021, I was biking near the Poverello Center when I saw someone I thought was Johnny near the side street where Montana Glass is located (business location of mayoral candidate Shawn Knopp, ironically enough). I called out his name and he responded, so I stopped my bike.
I offered to buy Johnny some food in order to separate him from his peers, who all thought I was a cop when I rolled up on them camped by their automobiles. I get this a lot, since I started taking on cop-like characteristics due to my job at the Pov, so I’m quick to dispel the obvious looks of suspicion I get.
While walking to Tia’s I made note of the cop who got out of his cruiser to watch us walk by. I’m sure he suspected a possible drug deal and not the interesting conversation I ended up having with this man from Oakland alleged to have killed another man the previous year.
I didn’t ask Johnny B anything specific during that first conversation about the evening Sean Stevenson was attacked. We talked about spiritual matters and the concept of being a TI (targeted individual). A friend of Johnny’s even rolled up and we all wished each other well upon leaving.
It was with this context in mind that I approached Johnny last Monday, but prepared this time to better document my interaction, since his behavior seemed to be somewhat escalated, though not in crisis (a distinction I am able to make from 7 years working at the homeless shelter).
What I ended up recording caused me enough concern that I left the scene and immediately called 911.
That was Monday.
During the 911 call I was VERY emphatic that law enforcement follow up with me after making contact with Johnny Lee Perry. When I heard nothing back on Monday I got frustrated, and when I heard nothing back on Tuesday I got upset. That’s when I called the Public Information Officer, Lydia Arnold, who connected me to the Sergeant shift officer.
In order to address my concerns, the Sergeant looked up my call and indicated that contact was made, but there were no notes logged about the interaction. Later in the day I spoke with the officer who made contact and got some additional context to what had been allegedly happening before my contact with Johnny Lee Perry on August 9th.
I’m not going to get into the details of all my conversations with law enforcement, but I will say I usually make a point to emphasize my respect for the near-impossible task they have interacting with people like John Skinner, who I also have had a long history with.
But Johnny Lee Perry? Who is this 29 year old black man from Oakland and why is he openly stating to some man on the street that he can KILL AT WILL?
That direct quote is NOT a portion of the video I’m willing to share at this point. The clip I’m including here is an edited portion, with title graphics added for context.
This is the man the Stevensons have been told is responsible for the death of their family member.
I think it’s worth asking anyone reading this a basic human question: how would YOU feel seeing footage of your loved one’s killer just strutting down some busy street making threats against police?
What kind of questions would you be asking yourself about WHY this man is allowed to do this?
As I’ve been thinking and talking to people about this footage, I’ve arrived at some community impacts this one man is having and NOT having that might be worth considering.
If Johnny B is NOT charged with a serious crime for his part in killing another human being, then his demographic data (29 year old black man) will obviously NOT be added to the already disproportionate representation of minorities in Montana’s prison system. Another thing that would be avoided is the COST of incarceration, which Missoula County is busy litigating the state of Montana over for short-changing the County over its rate of reimbursement for inmates.
But what about the fallout from leaving someone on the streets who appears to be struggling with drug abuse and mental health issues? Especially someone who likes to drop N-bombs all over town?
I bring up Johnny’s use of the N-word because I was aware that the use of this word may have been a contributing factor in whatever altercation is alleged to have occurred between Johnny Lee Perry and Sean Stevenson. But it wasn’t until I showed this footage to a local business owner that I understood just how quickly Johnny appears to call people, even white dudes, a n*%#@r.
Is there any conceivable benefit to allowing a person like this to roam the streets for law enforcement?
Maybe not for boots-on-the-ground cops and other first responders, who have to deal with people like this every day, but it sure makes the argument for more police funding easier, doesn’t it?
Because what do people who feel unsafe in their own community want, LESS money for cops, or MORE?
If you don’t understand that’s a rhetorical question, just rewatch Missoula’s mayoral forum and you will see how broadly supportive ALL our candidates are of more money for police.
Which brings it all back home to PUBLIC SAFETY and the questions that never went away about violent crimes not being charged in Missoula while a local activist faced years in prison for using threatening WORDS.
When I was being video taped recently during my William Skink BMM performance, I loudly proclaimed my support for BOOTS ON THE GROUND realities that the ivory towers aggressively ignore.
The same aggressive ignorance that bound Republican and Democrat presidents for over two decades to America’s longest war in Afghanistan is playing out locally among housing first advocates and harm reduction specialists.
But there’s hope!
I was skeptical just based on the title, but there are gems like this:
Victimology takes the truth that it is wrong for people to be victimized and distorts it by going a step further. Victimology asserts that victims are inherently good because they have been victimized. It robs victims of their moral agency and creates double standards that frustrate any attempt to criticize their behavior, even if they’re behaving in self-destructive, antisocial ways like smoking fentanyl and living in a tent on the sidewalk. Such reasoning is obviously faulty. It purifies victims of all badness. But by appealing to emotion, victimology overrides reason and logic.
Maybe this is the final piece. Maybe, under this cognitive fog of victimology, a demographic game is being played by the County Attorney’s office while the ensuing chaos can be leveraged by other nodes of the criminal justice system for bigger budget expenditures.
Or maybe I’m totally wrong and just unduly bothering this troubled man who simply had a bad day, which just happened to collide with another man’s bad day, and alcohol, and drugs, and one thing led to another, and WHOOPS, flatline, goodbye, sorry it was the weekend and we couldn’t reach you.
I wouldn’t accept that if it was my family member.