Supporters of an Austin funeral operator accused by a family of botching the services of an infant child have rushed to his defense, saying they don’t believe the accusations against him.
Rev. Mitchell Fluker, pastor of New Progressive St. James M.B. Church, 911 S. Kedzie, said he’s familiar with the case of the infant but couldn’t address any specific charges because he doesn’t know the family making them.
And the pastor also said that the accused operator’s name is Devell Johnson, former owner of Johnson Funeral Home at 5838 W. Division, and not Lavell Johnson as originally confirmed to Austin Weekly News by the operator himself.
The family of 2-month-old Messiah Steven Wynn, who died on Jan. 21, leveled several charges against Johnson, 33, including telling them that the body was embalmed on a certain day when in fact in was not. Though Johnson said he couldn’t remember what day the child was embalmed, he responded to or disputed some of the family’s other charges.
“This is an assault on my character. I was in contact with the child’s grandmother the whole time. Only one family member is making complaints,” he said of the accusations.
Fluker maintained that Johnson has done many funerals for members of his church over the years, including three so far this year, and with no complaints. The pastor added that Johnson has former customers with other West Side churches as well.
“He has a long list of people he’s provided services for and helped. He’s put himself out there to help people.”
Fluker said that Johnson has paid out of his pocket for some funeral charges for families. Johnson, he added, is a longtime funeral operator on the West Side and that it’s not unusual for an operator to work out of different locations or for a funeral parlor to rent to three or four operators at a time. One of the claims from the infant’s family is that Johnson conducted business with them at three different locations on the West Side.
The pastor added that neither he nor his church would be involved with someone who’s crooked.
Austin Weekly News received more than a dozen calls from supporters of Johnson following last week’s published story. Many said that Johnson has done funeral services for several family members and is frequently referred by former customers. None had any complaints or concerns about his services. Pastor Fluker added that Smith and Thomas Funeral Home, 5708 W. Madison, bear some responsibility concerning the confusion about Johnson and his former parlor. Smith and Thomas bought the business last year but has kept Johnson’s name on it.
“It’s a known brand name on the West Side,” the pastor said. “When people hear Johnson Funeral Home, they don’t think of Smith and Thomas, they think of Devell Johnson.”
West Side resident Darlene Chriss recalled Johnson performing funeral services for her father two years ago and her mother and nephew five years ago.
“He does wonderful work; always comforting and concerned,” she said. “He’s not a hassler about finances. Mr. Johnson would bend over backward for your family in their time of need.”