ATLANTA — The family of Kendrick Johnson, a 17-year-old who was found dead in a rolled-up wrestling mat at his high school in 2013, announced a new lawsuit Tuesday.
While multiple investigations by law enforcement have concluded his death was a freak accident, Johnson’s family refuses to believe it.
As previously reported, Johnson’s body was found Jan. 11, 2013 in South Georgia. Investigators from the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office said he died in a freak accident, saying he fell headfirst into an upright mat and was trapped.
His body was found by school officials.
At the time, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s Chief Medical Examiner said the death was an accident.
Still, in the intervening years, Johnson’s family has maintained they believe he was killed.
The state medical examiner said he suffocated after reaching for a shoe that fell into the mat. However, a second autopsy ordered by the family found the teen had a blow to the neck.
The case was reopened by the sheriff’s office in 2021, after the Johnson family brought forward what they said was a potential confession and other new evidence.
The case was later determined closed.
Now, the family is suing. They said they compared the Lowndes County Sheriff’s summary of the investigation to old testimony and say they found inconsistencies.
“I always tell them they killed the wrong child but they got the right parents cause we’re going to continue to keep fighting for Kendrick,” Jacqueline Johnson, Kendrick’s mother, said.
Johnson’s parents spoke outside of the federal courthouse in Atlanta, after filing a federal lawsuit against both the GBI and the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office.
As noted above, sheriff’s office investigators ruled Johnson’s death was an accident and that he’d fallen inside the mat, the Johnson family instead disputed those conclusions and call the situation a cover-up.
“Sheriff Ashley Paulk said there was no bruising on Kendrick’s face or his body,” Kenneth Johnson, Kendrick’s father, said.
According to the family, photos from the crime scene given to them by investigators show otherwise.
“The only thing that can make those marks is a taser or a stun gun,” Mr. Johnson said. “You see he has bruises on his stomach.”
The family also said there were inconsistencies between the sheriff’s summary, and where the shoes were found near Johnson’s body.
“If Kendrick was on top of the shoes like the synopsis says, and blood drips down, then there should be blood on top of the shoes,” Jonathan Burrs, a supporter of the Johnson family, said.
Johnson’s family promised to keep fighting, hoping that new evidence will come to light.
“He’s just another child that they just want to sweep under the rug,” Mrs. Johnson said.
“We shouldn’t be the grievers and the investigators,” Mr. Johnson said.
In response to the new lawsuit by the Johnson family, the GBI said they stand behind the results of their initial investigation.
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