Case of Kendrick Johnson, Georgia Teen Found Dead in Rolled-Up Gym Mat, Is Reopened by Sheriff's Office
Kendrick Johnson's family has remained steadfast throughout the years that they believe foul play was involved in the 17-year-old’s death, but local and state investigators ruled Johnson’s death an accident.
The case of Kendrick Johnson, a Georgia teenager found dead inside a rolled-up gym mat at Lowndes High School in 2013, is being reopened and will receive additional attention, the Lowndes County Sheriff announced. His family has remained steadfast throughout the years that they believe foul play was involved in the 17-year-old’s death, but local and state investigators ruled Johnson’s death an accident.
Sheriff Ashley Paulk told Channel 2 Action News Tuesday that he reopened the case into the death of Johnson after federal investigators gave him documents requested in the case from two years ago. Paulk added that there are approximately 17 boxes of documents, including computer towers and computer drives, from the case.
Paulk said he will treat the case as if it’s brand new and the investigation could take up six months.
“We ain’t cheering, but we know this is the only path that we can get for justice for Kendrick Johnson,” family spokesman Marcus Coleman said, according to AJC.com
After Johnson's death, authorities determined that he had died from positional asphyxia after falling inside the gym mat while reaching for a pair of sneakers. But another autopsy, commissioned by Johnson's family, determined his cause of death was "unexplained, apparent non-accidental, blunt-force trauma" to the neck.
In a wrongful death suit in 2015, Johnson’s family claimed that two of his classmates killed the teen and that there was a cover-up that included the Lowndes County superintendent, the police department and an FBI agent who was the father of the two classmates.
An investigation by the Lowndes County sheriff’s office into those students found both had solid alibis and one of them was seen in school surveillance footage on the other side of the campus at the time of Johnson's death. In 2015, the attorney for the FBI agent's family told CNN: "This is yet another frivolous lawsuit filed by [the Johnson’s attorney] Chevene King in connection with the death of Kendrick Johnson. It contains allegations against [my clients] that he and his clients know are untrue and defamatory."
The agent also remained active and fully engaged in his duties as a special agent, Atlanta Special Agent in Charge J. Britt Johnson wrote in a statement to CNN. The Sheriff's Office and the city also said the accusations made in the suit were unfounded, meritless and baseless. An attorney representing Lowndes County Schools had no comment at the time.
The family later dropped the $100 million wrongful death lawsuit against all parties, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
In 2016, federal investigators determined that there was “insufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that someone or some group of people willfully violated Kendrick Johnson’s civil rights or committed any other prosecutable federal crime.”
Paulk initially requested information on the case be released to the sheriff’s office in April 2019, but that request was denied by federal investigators in July 2019.
"My plan is to see if there are any discrepancies between the reports," Paulk told CNN Wednesday.
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