On May 15, the WNBA suspended Brittney Griner and Glory Johnson—two married all-stars for the Phoenix Mercury and Tulsa Shock, respectively—for seven games apiece, calling the behavior of both parties equally “unacceptable” in a statement. However, contrary to what was originally reported, evidence provided by Johnson's attorney, Howard Snader, suggests that Johnson was the target rather than the perpetrator of the incident.
On April 22, Griner and Johnson were arrested in Goodyear, Ariz., after police were called to a residence for a domestic dispute. Many of the details of the incident remain murky, but in a medical evaluation conducted two days after Johnson was arrested—according to records provided by Johnson’s lawyer—Phoenix-based orthopedic doctor Thomas C. Fiel noted that Johnson had been struck twice “on the back of her head by a hard carrying case.” A CT scan corroborated that Johnson had experienced head trauma and suffered a concussion. The CT scan also found evidence of spinal trauma. Griner, according to the police report, suffered only minor scratches.
Attorney Jane Bambauer, who is a professor at Arizona’s James E. Rogers College of Law and teaches and writes about criminal procedure, wrote in an email to SI.com that the police report and Johnson’s medical reports clearly indicate to her that Griner “was the aggressor” even though each woman was referred to as "The Victim" in separate probable cause statements taken at the time of their arrests.
“If I’m being fought,” Johnson said during an exclusive interview with SI.com last Thursday. “I’m not just gonna sit back … there’s probably a better way to handle it. But at the time … you’re just thinking of protecting yourself and doing what you need to do to stand up for yourself.”
Despite having access to all of the legal and medical information, the WNBA still decided to punish both spouses equally.
“[The WNBA] definitely knew about it,” Johnson said, referring to her injuries and how they occurred. “And that’s another reason it surprised me that they came up with the same conclusion. I’m not going to throw Brittney under the bus … and she’s not going to throw me under the bus … [but] what the [
WNBA] did not say in the statements they released was that I pled not guilty … So for them to release a statement saying that we were both guilty in the situation, it’s not right. It’s not correct … Brittney pled guilty … Brittney understands why I pled not guilty, and I understand why she pled guilty … she was even willing to speak to whoever she needed to, to get the point across.”
Johnson, who is 6'4" said police officers told her she was being arrested along with the 6'8" Griner (despite the fact that neither wanted to press charges) due to official policy. When domestic disputes occur between a man and a woman, the officers said, it's not automatic to arrest either party, but that “when it’s two women … they take both.” Lieutenant Scott Benson of the Goodyear police department says that the same-sex policies conveyed to Johnson were either "misunderstood or misrepresented. There's not anything with male or female in domestic violence laws," he says. "When there's a dual arrest made, [it's because] we can't determine who the aggressor is."
According to Stacey Long Simmons, director of public policy and government affairs at the National LGBTQ Task Force, the dual arrest policy Benson describes is part of a larger problem in police protocol. "While we are unable to comment on the facts of [Johnson's] case, we find that local police departments still lack sufficient knowledge and cultural competency of LGBTQ couples and their families," Simmons wrote in an email to SI.com. "For example, in cases related to intimate partner violence involving same-sex couples, local officers still continue to arrest both parties."
Bambauer agreed that dual arrests create problems for victims like Johnson. “After looking at these [documents],” Bambauer wrote, “I suspect the ‘primary aggressor’ issue is pretty relevant and important. If police (or the WNBA, for that matter) do not put in the work to figure out who the first, or most dominating, aggressor is, victims are doubly punished—first by their partner, and then by the state.” From a legal standpoint, Bambauer wrote, “the treatment of Johnson is a real source of liability for the Goodyear prosecutors. They, and the WNBA, deserve some criticism over their handling of this sad incident."
The Tulsa Shock issued a statement agreeing with the
WNBA’s “due diligence.”
When asked whether his position on the suspensions had changed in light of the circumstances surrounding Johnson's concussion, Steve Swetoha, president of the Shock, said that he stood by the statement he made
after the WNBA's decision was released. Meanwhile, a representative from the Mercury told SI.com, "We're a little bit confused about it because [this new information] wasn't in the findings of the police report. It wasn't in the findings of the WNBA investigation." Griner's agency did not return calls seeking a comment. A popular player among fans, Tulsa’s Facebook,
Instagram and Twitter pages featured photos of Johnson up until her arrest. Images of Johnson are noticeably absent from these pages now.
Although Johnson admits to being confused and disappointed by the league’s decision, her feelings about Griner haven’t changed. Throughout last Thursday’s phone conversation, she laughed whenever Griner’s name came up—there was a lightness in her voice, even when she was describing something difficult between them. She remains committed to her spouse, and said that one of the stressors leading to their altercation—on top of the strain of moving, buying a house, planning a wedding, and dealing with health crises in both of their families—was that the two were also meeting with fertility doctors to begin planning their own family.
“A lot of people know we were considering the process—a lot of friends, anyway. But with two women, you know, it’s not like you can get somebody pregnant overnight. It’s a very huge process.
"A lot of people were telling us that we rushed the wedding," she continued. "But if we had done it Brittney's way, we would have gone somewhere without telling anybody, and we would have done it way before anybody knew—which is something that I really like about her. She doesn't care what people think." In spite of the media storm surrounding her arrest, Johnson said she is enjoying being a newlywed and looking forward to playing against her spouse this season. "Our schedules are really hectic, and we might meet up maybe four times the entire season. It's tough at times, so [I need to] take advantage of each time [I] see her."