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NAACP seeks FBI's help in death investigation

(ran SS edition of Metro & State)

The Hillsborough County chapter of the NAACP on Wednesday asked the FBI to investigate the death of a 24-year-old black man in Temple Terrace as a possible hate crime.

In a two-page letter to FBI Tampa division chief Carl Whitehead, chapter president Sam Horton portrayed the circumstances surrounding Damien Johnson's death as suspicious.

An employee at a business park off Fletcher Avenue found Johnson hanging from a tree in the woods on Sept. 22. Johnson was 5 miles from his boarding house near the University of South Florida.

Two days later, the Temple Terrace Police Department ruled it a suicide, a conclusion that drew criticism from some residents who said police should have spent more time investigating the case as a possible homicide.

They say it is suspicious that his wallet, which friends and relatives said he always carried, was missing. Police, however, found $150 in his pockets.

Detectives and medical examiners say they found no signs of a struggle or bruises on Johnson's 6-foot-5 frame.

The case has generated enough attention to draw in the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which agreed last month to review the Police Department's investigation. That hasn't satisfied critics, including Johnson's father, Joseph Johnson Sr., who said the FBI is the only agency that can conduct a fair investigation at this point.

"There are too many unanswered questions," said Johnson Sr., who said he thinks his son was murdered.