NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – A CEO, fired after being accused of publicly ridiculing a male high school senior for wearing a dress to prom, is speaking out about the incident.
Cell phone video taken on April 24 and posted to several social media platforms shows Dalton Stevens, a senior at Franklin High School, being ridiculed by a man later identified as Sam Johnson, the then-CEO of a local telemedicine company, VisuWell.
The video shows Johnson saying “you look like an idiot” to Stevens.
VisuWell terminated Johnson on Monday, two days after the incident.
News 2 reached out to Johnson for his take on what occurred. He originally agreed to be interviewed on camera before changing his mind. The former CEO later agreed to answer written questions submitted to him by News 2.
The following is a transcript of the questions News 2 posed to Johnson and the responses he sent back.
News 2: Was this incident about Dalton’s attire?
Johnson: Absolutely not. It had nothing at all to do with his attire. It was all about their behavior originally. They made it about the attire. They were being obnoxious and profane in one of my favorite restaurants. Many of us in the restaurant were appalled and I was the only one willing to say something about it.
Johnson (cont.): If you visit the facility, the direction I was walking (in the video) is toward the restaurant door. I was calmly leaving the scene, when they intentionally escalated the conversation.
News 2: Many people/comments have called you “homophobic”. How do you feel about that?
Johnson: There’s not a homophobic ounce in me at all. I employed gay and transgender people.
Johnson (cont.): I already apologized to Dalton for calling him an “idiot” on Twitter private message, but he has not responded.
News 2: What has this done to your family?
Johnson: My family is under severe attack right now, but we are all determined to not allow cancel culture to win. We have a right to stand for decency and morality.
News 2: Is there anything else you want people to know?
Johnson: I want them to know that I intend to continue just as I was before, active in my community, defender of my family, and a proponent of decency.
Both Johnson and Stevens shared with News 2 screenshots of the apology sent by the former CEO.
News 2 also reached out to Franklin Police regarding the incident Saturday night. Lieutenant Charles Warner said officers responded to the Harpeth hotel after management called to report an “unwanted person.”
The officers spoke with hotel staff, who explained that a man had been involved in a confrontation with teens in the courtyard and that those teens had already left. The staff asked officers to remove the man from the property. When officers spoke with the man, later identified as Johnson, about the complaint he denied any involvement in a confrontation.
No charges have been filed at this time. Lt. Warner said that if the involved parties did decide to pursue the matter further, the department would investigate and assist them with all applicable next steps.
On Wednesday afternoon, Stevens and his boyfriend Jacob Geittmann released a joint statement to News 2, denying Johnson’s accusations that they were “being obnoxiously loud or screaming profanities” and that they were sad that Johnson continued to deny approaching Stevens “with any intentions other than to harass and provoke.”
“We were saddened to hear that Mr. Johnson has continually denied the allegations of approaching Dalton Stevens with any intentions other than to harass and provoke. Johnson has stated multiple times in interviews with The Daily Wire and Greg Kelly that we methodically edited the video when this simply is not true. The video that millions of viewers from across the world have seen is raw, unedited footage of the altercation that took place at the Harpeth on the evening of the 24th.
Dalton, myself, and a group of our friends and some of their parents were at the Harpeth simply to take pre-prom photos, nothing more, nothing less. Although Dalton did expect to get a few looks due to the taboo of his attire, none of us came to the venue with the intention of causing a scene. Our group was not, despite Johnson’s statements, being obnoxiously loud or screaming profanities. Before, during, or after the altercation, Johnson never mentioned our noise level or use of profanity to us or the chaperones, and we are sure the hotel staff can attest to this as well.
Before the video was taken, Dalton and I repeatedly asked Johnson calmly to walk away and remove himself from our conversation, and Johnson persisted that he “was good where he was”. Dalton can be seen in the video walking away from Johnson, and Johnson insists on following Dalton to the door, which Johnson has refuted, saying he was trying to re-enter the hotel and return to his table, whether or not this is true, it was shown that Johnson did not remove himself from the situation and continued to provoke Dalton.
Johnson did privately address Dalton on Twitter, apologizing for calling Dalton an “idiot”, the only insult that can be heard in the video. Johnson has not addressed any language or harassment that occurred before the video was taken. What we captured on video was several minutes after the altercation had begun. A family member of Johnson reached out to us via social media and gave an in-length apology and explanation for Johnson’s actions.
A statement made by one of the chaperones perfectly captures how we feel. She stated: “I do not believe that anyone should have their entire life condemned based on their worst moment. However, it is clear from Mr. Johnson’s response to the article that kindness is missing from his vernacular.”
We truly appreciate all the love and support we have received and to anybody viewing this, remember that you are beautiful, and you should feel comfortable and confident in whatever you decide to wear.”