Darrell Johnson, a member of jailed R. Kelly’s inner circle, stepped down as the singer’s crisis manager after walking back a potentially damaging comment he made on CBS about not leaving his daughter alone with someone accused of pedophilia.
“I should have worded it better,” Johnson told USA TODAY, adding that he meant to say, “I would leave my daughter with Kelly because I do not believe he is a pedophile.”
A short while later Johnson confirmed he no longer worked for Kelly as a crisis manager or spokesperson. “This has nothing to do with Mr. Kelly it’s for my (own) person(al) reasons,” he said in a statement to USA TODAY.
Johnson sat down with Gayle King on Monday’s “CBS This Morning,” saying that Kelly is not doing well in custody.
“I am concerned about Mr. Kelly,” he told King in the interview, saying that he would “assume at this point” that Kelly is under suicide watch. He said Kelly can’t busy himself with books in his cell because he can’t read or write.
Kelly has been held without bond at the federal Metropolitan Correctional Center in Chicago, after being arrested July 11 on separate indictments by the Northern District of Illinois and the Eastern District of New York, which is based in Brooklyn.
Johnson’s role on Kelly’s defense team had been unclear for months. When he first appeared on the scene in Chicago after Kelly’s first arrest on state sex-crime charges, the media referred to him as a “publicist” or a Kelly “spokesman.”
He has been a contentious figure: He got into an argument with the father of one of the R&B singer’s girlfriends during a news conference earlier this month in Atlanta.
Several of Kelly’s attorneys have previously told USA TODAY that Johnson is neither a lawyer nor a member of Kelly’s defense operation, with Steve Greenberg, who heads Kelly’s legal team in Chicago, saying that Johnson “has been acting as a PR person.”
Nicole Blank Becker, one of Kelly’s lawyers on the state sex crimes charges, told USA TODAY earlier this month Johnson offers “spiritual advice” to Kelly.
Greenberg affirmed Monday evening that Johnson was taking “some time off,” but thanked him for his “tireless assistance,” saying in a statement posted to Twitter that the defense “looks forward to his return.”
On Monday, billed as the singer’s crisis manager, Johnson said he was worried about Kelly’s state of mind, calling him “a mess. I’ve heard (statements) that he’s happy that this is going on, that he wanted to be at this particular place. That’s absolutely not true. Nobody wants to be locked down for 24 hours, no TV. He can’t read and write, so he can’t read a book. It’s almost like a jury has already convicted him.”
When King asked him if he was worried about Kelly harming himself, he replied, “I am, absolutely.”
Elsewhere in the interview, King asked Johnson whether he’d leave his own 20-something-year-old daughter with Kelly, with Johnson surprising the host by answering no.
“Absolutely not,” he said. “I wouldn’t leave my daughter with anybody that’s accused of pedophilia. Period.”
“That doesn’t seem like a contradiction to you?” King asked. “You’re defending R. Kelly but at the same time, saying you wouldn’t leave your own daughter with him?”
“I wouldn’t leave my daughter with anyone,” Johnson replied. “I’ll say it again, (anyone) that’s accused of being a pedophile.”
Later, Johnson acknowledged he left the wrong impression with that comment.
“I wouldn’t be here if I did not think Kelly was innocent,” he told USA TODAY.