After being called a liar, a south Georgia sheriff offers to pay $500,000 of his own money to anyone that could prove he is not telling the truth about his findings regarding the death of a Black high school athlete nine years ago. The parents of the deceased child have rejected official reports that say their son’s death was an accident.
Lowndes County Sheriff Ashley Paulk released a statement saying he would give half a million to anyone that provides information that can lead to an arrest and conviction in the death of Kendrick Johnson. This statement comes days after he stated that he and two other officers reviewed all the evidence (17 boxes full) associated with the case and concluded no crime had been committed.
Johnson’s death nine years ago and the investigation into it drew a national spotlight to the county near Georgia-Florida border.
Last year renewed attention to the case was sparked with the release of the documentary “Finding Kendrick Johnson,” directed by Jason Pollock. The film questions the truthfulness of several law enforcement officials working on the case and, with the support of the family, suggests two white brothers killed Johnson, a claim that has been debunked by federal investigators.
In 2013, Johnson, an African-American teenager from Valdosta, was found dead inside a rolled-up gym mat at his high school gymnasium.
His mother, Jacqueline Johnson, told the Guardian that when the family reported that he had not returned home from school no one searched for him. Her youngest child was found head-down in a rolled up wrestling mat standing vertically in the gymnasium at Lowndes High School at about 10:30 a.m. on Jan. 11, 2013.
In four months, after what the Johnson family considered a sloppy investigation, the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office closed the case declaring it a “weird accident” caused by the victim who climbed inside of the mat to retrieve his sneaker. However, Johnson’s relatives did not believe this explanation.
After viewing a surveillance video from the gym, the family noticed what they claim are gaps in the footage. Also, they claimed that the county coroner was not called to the school until six hours after he was found by the students and the administrators were notified. Georgia law requires the family to be immediately notified.
On Thursday, Jan. 24, Paulk released a 16-page document that affirmed the original declaration that the teen’s untimely demise was accidental, citing a state medical examiner who ruled in 2013 the cause of death was “positional asphyxia,” brought on by him configuring himself upside down, in the mat which stopped him from breathing.
Kenneth and Jacqueline Johnson said they have proof that he is lying.
The New York Times reports, the family independently hired William R. Anderson, a forensic pathologist to review their son’s autopsy. He found that the teen actually died from blunt-force trauma to the right side of the boy’s neck, near the jaw.
The father said, “The truth is the truth. You can’t make an accident out of a murder.”
Both examinations, Anderson’s and the one done by the medical examiner at the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, were done five months apart.
Paulk rejected the family’s report, saying that yet another report done by the Office of the Armed Forces Medical Examiner came to the same conclusion as the GBI’s. OAF originally said Johnson’s death was accidental and caused by asphyxiation, but was amended. The cause of teen’s death, currently, reads on their report as “undetermined.”
On Monday, Jan. 31, the sheriff released a statement doubling down on the validity of his findings.
“After the release of my synopsis of the Federal files on the Kendrick Johnson case, his parents have called me a liar and continue to state that Kendrick was murdered,” the release began.
The statement continued, “Because of these statements, I am personally — with my own funds — offering a reward of one-half million dollars ($500,000.00) to anyone who comes forward with information that results in the arrest and conviction of a person for the alleged murder of Kendrick Johnson at Lowndes High School.”
The sheriff’s reward, in his opinion, is a gesture to edge him towards the pearly gates. In addition to his $500,000, he is suggested that others interested in adding to the pot should do so. He did not list where those dollars could be sent.
Paulk maintains the validity of his report is supported by his inclusion of findings 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.
Among the material submitted as evidence are testimonies from 58 people given in front of a federal grand jury and the two additional autopsy reports from Anderson and the Defense Department.
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