A second investigation into the death of Kendrick Johnson, a 17-year-old found dead inside a wrestling mat at Lowndes County High School in 2013, has been ruled an accident by Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office. CNN reported Lowndes County Sheriff Ashley Paulk said there was nothing to indicate anything criminal.
Johnson’s family believe the police department is covering up a murder. The federal investigation that began in 2016 found ‘insufficient evidence to support federal criminal charges’ reported CNN. However, a pathologist who was hired by Johnson’s family to conduct an independent autopsy found Johnson’s cause of death was blunt-force trauma to the neck and that some of his organs were missing.
That initial investigation concluded that Johnson accidentally slipped into the center of the mat while reaching for a shoe and got stuck. An autopsy conducted by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation determined the cause of Johnson’s death was accidental positional asphyxia.
But inconsistencies in official reports on the condition of Kendrick’s body and other discrepancies led the family and community to question the official cause of his death. Johnson’s parents have said they think their son was killed.
Per the new Finding Kendrick Johnson documentary, students found Johnson’s body on a school day morning. The documentary also noted there were gaps found in the surveillance footage of the gym where he was last seen. The FBI investigation reported brothers Brian and Branden Bell were persons of interest but were never charged. Their father was also an FBI agent who resigned after his home was raided for evidence, reported The Guardian.
Social media circulated an image of Johnson’s bloated and mutilated body demanding justice for what looked like an obvious murder case. Johnson’s mother, Jacquelyn, said she would’ve never posted that image yet she wanted to remind the public what happened to her child, via The Guardian.
Sheriff Paulk reportedly requested the evidence from the investigation in April 2019 but was not granted permissions until the following year, via CNN. From the grand jury testimonies to the autopsies and digital evidence, he still found no evidence of criminal intent behind Johnson’s death.
“We have not had faith in Lowndes County. We knew what the outcome would be from the very beginning,” Kendrick’s father, Kenneth Johnson, told CNN. “You can’t do an investigation with the same investigators who covered it up. They’re not going to uncover something that they covered up.”
CNN has requested a copy of the synopsis of the sheriff’s report. The office was not able to immediately send a copy, but verified the authenticity of a copy posted by the Valdosta Daily Times newspaper.
“I am quite sure that there will still be a contingent that will believe there was foul play,” the sheriff wrote in the report. “I encourage everyone to study ALL the evidence in this file before forming an opinion.”
Director Jason Pollock called Johnson’s death ‘our generation’s Emmett Till,’ via The Guardian. Johnson’s family told CNN they plan to hold an event outside the sheriff’s office to respond to the final report.