Family of Kendrick Johnson, teen found dead in a gym mat, sues officials for $1B

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Credit: Instagram/@findingkjmovie

By TheGrio Staff/Originally published by Thegrio

The family of Kendrick Johnson, whose body was found rolled up inside a wrestling mat a decade ago at Lowndes County High School in Valdosta, has filed a $1 billion federal lawsuit against the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office.

Authorities ruled Johnson’s 2013 death a freak accident from asphyxia and said he did not fall victim to foul play. Federal officials closed the case three years later, saying inspectors “found insufficient evidence to support federal criminal charges,” Fox 5 News Atlanta reported.

However, Kenneth and Jackie Johnson believe someone murdered their son – and they’re suing over what they claim is “false information” linked to his death investigation.

“It’s a shame that we have been having to fight for 10 long years, and nobody seems to care about Kendrick,” said Jackie Johnson, Kendrick’s mother, Fox 5 reported. “He’s just another child that they want to sweep under the rug.”

After filing the lawsuit on Tuesday at the federal courthouse in Atlanta, Kenneth Johnson said one example of alleged false information is the Valdosta-Lowndes County Crime Laboratory submission that there was no trauma or significant bruising on his son’s body.

He alleged that photos of the deceased showed damage from what appeared to be a Taser or stun gun. The Johnsons also claimed a GBI medical examiner “butchered” and “mutilated” their son’s body during his autopsy.

Last year, Lowndes County Sheriff Ashley Paulk released a synopsis of the case file, saying investigators maintain the teen’s death was accidental. Authorities determined that Johnson got stuck inside the upright mat and suffocated while trying to retrieve a shoe.

The Johnsons dispute the sheriff’s conclusions and believe it’s a “cover-up” by school officials and law enforcement. Paulk shot down the notion, calling it “impossible to conceal” evidence because of the involvement of multiple local, state and federal agencies.

The sheriff refuted allegations that Johnson and a classmate were at odds following an alleged confrontation on a bus before a football game in 2011. The FBI also concluded that a rumor that the same classmate retaliated against Johnson because of his connection with another student had no evident basis.

After the initial closing of the probe, Paulk cites many instances of “blatant coercion and intimidation” from the family.

Frustrated with the community’s response to the investigation results, Paulk has offered a $500,000 reward for information leading to the capture of an alleged killer.

The Johnsons and their lawyers hope to “address the materially false information” in Paulk’s synopsis as part of the new lawsuit.

The parents, who gave their perspective on the case in the 2021 documentary “Finding Kendrick Johnson,” said they’re not giving up on getting justice for their son — and will take their fight to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary.

“Nobody really cares. Nobody wants Kendrick to get justice,” said Jackie Johnson. “It’s just like, ‘Shut this family up,’ sending them on their way, but what they didn’t realize is the Johnson family is not going anywhere.”