Justice Delayed: Parents of Kendrick Johnson Drop $100M Wrongful Death Lawsuit Alleging Massive Cover-Up By State, Local Officials

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Associated Press
Associated Press

When a young Black person is found dead in the South, the circumstances surrounding that death seem to remain a mystery, shrouded in controversy and uncertainty. This was the case with Emmett Till, Sandra Bland and Kendrick Johnson.

Johnson’s parents have dropped their $100 million wrongful death lawsuits, with a plan to revisit the litigation, as the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.   On January 11, 2013, Johnson, 17, was found dead, rolled up in a gym mat in Lowndes High School in Valdosta, Georgia.  While county investigators ruled the death was accidental, a pathologist hired by Johnson’s parents concluded the teen died from  a homicide through blunt force trauma. On October 31, 2013, Michael Moore, the U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Georgia, announced an inquiry into Johnson’s death.

Jacquelyn and Kenneth Johnson filed two lawsuits — one against Brian and Brandon Bell, the sons of an FBI agent they believe was involved in their son’s death, and another alleging a massive cover-up and conspiracy by state and local officials, the police, and the medical examiner’s office to protect those who were involved in the killing.  The Johnsons claimed that a female lured their son into the school gym, where the two sons of FBI agent Rick Bell beat their former classmate to death at their father’s behest.

According to Chevene King, lawyer for the Johnson family, the motion for a dismissal of the case is a procedural move.

“We will be refiling in the coming months,” he told CNN. “We understand the federal investigation is ongoing and this gives us an opportunity to strengthen our case.”

“We certainly want to take advantage of the additional time,” King added.

“I do believe the Johnsons will revisit the matter,” Marcus Coleman, spokesman for Kendrick’s parents, told The AJC, noting the move was a strategic one. “We did not want the civil matter to be the primary focus.”

Coleman added that he believes the investigation is almost complete, after which time he expects the Johnsons to refile their wrongful death suits, as the law requires they do within six months.

Meanwhile, the Bell family counter-sued the Johnsons, in a case that still remains.

“I’ll see them in court,” Karen Bell, mother of Brian Bell, told The AJC on Tuesday.

Valdosta has been noted for its long history of racism that has continued to the present day. As USA Today reported, on Monday evening, 30 to 40 Black students were ejected from a Trump rally at Valdosta State University, which had remained a whites-only campus until 1963.

With a federal investigation ongoing, the case of Kendrick Johnson is a curious one.  In early 2015, all seven judges in Georgia’s Southern Judicial Circuit recused themselves from the Johnson lawsuit on the grounds that they could not be fair.  U.S. Attorney Michael Moore resigned, and the federal case was transferred to the Northern District of Ohio.  Steven Dettelbach, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio, resigned in February, according to CNN.  The federal probe continues to be led from Northern Ohio.

In the meantime, when Black people are found dead, it is always an accident, or a suicide, but never foul play.  Perhaps we will get closer to the truth in this troubling and baffling case.

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