‘A weird accident’: Police say death of teen found in rolled-up school gym mat was not a crime

Kendrick Johnson, 17, was found in the gymnasium of Lowndes High School in 2013.

Sravasti Dasgupta
Friday 28 January 2022 14:56
<p>Georgia teen Kendrick Johnson’s parents criticised sheriff’s report that concluded that his death was not a crime </p>

Georgia teen Kendrick Johnson’s parents criticised sheriff’s report that concluded that his death was not a crime

An investigation into the 2013 death of a Georgia teenager who was found rolled up in a gym mat in his high school has been closed with no charges filed.

Kendrick Johnson, 17, was found dead in the gymnasium of Lowndes High School on 11 January 2013.

An investigation by state law enforcement officials had concluded that his death was an accident.

Georgia Bureau of Investigation had said that Mr Johnson had suffocated while reaching inside the mat for a pair of shoes.

“After extensive investigation into this tragic event, federal investigators determined that there is insufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that someone or some group of people wilfully violated Kendrick Johnson’s civil rights or committed any other prosecutable federal crime,” the US District Attorney for the Middle District of Georgia had said in 2016.

In March last year, the Lowndes County Sheriff’s office reopened the investigation amid mounting pressure from Mr Johnson’s family who had alleged that his death had been covered up by the school superintendent, an FBI agent and a former sheriff.

The family had also accused two brothers who were students at the school of killing their son.

The sheriff’s office report released on Wednesday by sheriff Ashley Paulk said that there were no attempts of any coverup in the case.

“All of the evidence, testimony, interviews, grand jury testimony and even the blunt coercion and intimidation of some persons being questioned does not produce anything to prove anything that would have resulted in the death of Kendrick Johnson,” says the summary of the report by Mr Paulk as quoted in the New York Post.

The summary of the report added that it was “disturbing and unethical” that the investigation turned into a witch hunt after the initial probe was closed without any criminal charges.

“Any person who looks at this case objectively would know that it would be impossible to conceal any evidence,” the report added.

It also addresses “rumours and accusations” and says that an FBI investigation had also found no conspiracy in the case.

Mr Paulk was not in office at the time of Mr Johnson’s death.

The sheriff’s re-investigation was based on around 17 boxes of files provided by the US attorney for Northern Ohio.

The documents included material from the Justice Department, the FBI, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. attorney’s office for Middle Georgia and several other law enforcement agencies.

Grand jury testimony of 58 people along with additional autopsies by a doctor hired by the teenager’s family were also included.

Speaking to CNN, Mr Paulk called the teenager’s death a “weird accident.”

“There is nothing to substantiate a homicide.”

“Nothing criminal happened,” he added.

At a news conference on Thursday, the teenager’s family reiterated that they believed that their son’s death was being covered up.

“I will fight as long as I have to uncover what exactly happened to Kendrick Johnson,” said, Kenneth Johnson, the teenager’s father.

“We have not had faith in Lowndes County. We knew what the outcome would be from the very beginning,” Mr 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.”

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