New lawsuit in gym mat death alleges cover-up, contradicts evidence


The parents of a Valdosta teen found dead in a rolled-up gym mat have filed a third lawsuit alleging a massive conspiracy to cover the true cause of death.

Kendrick Johnson’s body was discovered on Jan. 11, 2013, in the old gymnasium at Lowndes High School. The state medical examiner ruled the 17-year-old died of positional asphyxia after he got stuck in the mat, presumably reaching for a pair of sneakers.

Johnson’s parents continue to believe their son was murdered despite considerable evidence to the contrary. After extensive investigations, the FBI and the U.S. Justice Department found nothing to substantiate their claim.

IN-DEPTH: FBI report raises serious questions about gym mat death investigation

The Johnsons’ first lawsuit, filed in Lowndes County and later withdrawn, led a judge to order they pay the legal fees of brothers Brian and Branden Bell — who the Johnsons allege killed Kendrick — and the local and state officials named in the lawsuit as co-conspirators.

Last month, the Johnsons’ federal lawsuit alleging the same cover-up was dismissed after their attorney failed to meet several deadlines for filing court paperwork.

The newest suit, filed in Bibb County, also alleges photographs and “moving images” captured on school surveillance cameras were either doctored or withheld. But a video analysis by the FBI, culled from surveillance cameras on the Lowndes High School campus, included time stamps that adjusted discrepancies between multiple video systems used by the school. According to the report, those discrepancies were caused by the systems not being synchronized.

The analysis concluded Brian Bell and alleged accomplice Ryan Hall “were in different areas of the LHS campus during the time in question.” 

Brian Bell, the analysis determined, was en route toward the “D Wing” for class when Johnson was last seen entering the school’s old gymnasium. Hall was seen in the school’s parking lot heading toward another wing of the sprawling campus, according to the FBI report.

Branden Bell, Brian’s older brother also named in the Johnsons’ suit, was also cleared by the FBI. Multiple witnesses confirmed that he was attending a wrestling tournament in Macon at the time Kendrick was seen going into the gym.

The Justice Department concluded in June 2016 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.”

According to the Johnsons’ lawsuit, which mirrors their previous legal claims, Kendrick was attacked by the Bell brothers and Hall. Then, FBI agent Rick Bell, father of Brian and Branden, along with Lowndes County’s school superintendent and a former sheriff, rolled Kendrick’s body in the gym mat and devised a plan to make his death look like an accident, the suit alleges.

Among the 45 defendants accused in the Johnsons’ suit of violating the state’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act: two of the school superintendent’s daughters, allegedly enlisted by their father to “discover” Johnson’s body.



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