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Ex-FBI agents: End investigation into Ga. teen's gym-mat death

VALDOSTA, Ga. -- A group of former FBI agents are asking U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch to put an end to the investigation into the death of Kendrick Johnson, the Georgia teen found dead inside a rolled-up gym mat in his high school gymnasium over two years ago.

No charges have been filed in the case. The local sheriff's department ruled the 17-year-old Johnson's January 10, 2013 a freak accident, saying he fell head-first into an upright mat in the gymnasium at Lowndes High School in Valdosta while trying to retrieve a shoe, and became trapped. An autopsy conducted by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation agreed, citing asphyxiation as the cause of death.

Johnson's family, however, insists there was foul play involved. They had their son's body exhumed for a second autopsy and it was then that a private pathologist found the teen died of blunt force trauma to the neck.

A federal investigation initiated in October 2013 by U.S. Attorney Michael Moore is ongoing. Just last month, Moore's office sought access to Lowndes County Sheriff's Office e-mails regarding the case and government agents executed search warrants for evidence of witness tampering or obstruction at the homes of several people named in a wrongful death lawsuit filed by Johnson's family.

Kendrick Johnson CBS Atlanta

The $100 million suit, filed in January, alleges Brian and Branden Bell -- two brothers who were schoolmates of Johnson -- were encouraged by their father, FBI agent Rick Bell, to "violently assault" Johnson, leading to his death. The suit also alleges local officials tried to cover up the crime.

According to the Valdosta Daily Times, Rick Bell and his sons were issued target letters last year to appear before Moore's grand jury, but refused. U.S. Marshals last month executed search warrants at the Bells' home, as well as Brian Bell's college dorm room.

The residence of 18-year-old Taylor Eakin, Brian Bell's girlfriend, was also searched, according to Paul Threlkeld, an attorney representing the Bell and Eakin families, and, according to the Valdosta Times, the home of 19-year-old Ryan Hall was searched as well.

Brian and Branden Bell, ages 18 and 20 respectively, have remained tight-lipped throughout the course of the investigation, but just last week, they spoke out publicly for the first time.

"I want everyone to know the truth," Branden Bell told WSB-TV in an on-camera interview. "They can ridicule me and they can say whatever they want. But in the end, the truth will prevail and everybody will find me and my brother are innocent and have always been innocent."

"His death was at his own hands, and we're very sorry for what happened to him because him and Brian were best friends."

Jacquelyn Johnson, center left, with her husband, Kenneth, right, at a "Who Killed K.J." rally in memory of their son, Kendrick Johnson, Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2013, in Atlanta. AP Photo/David Goldman

The Lowndes County Sheriff's Department has stood by its finding that Johnson's death was accidental and maintains that one of the Bell brothers -- Branden -- was not on their high school's campus when Johnson was last seen alive, and that Brian Bell was in another part of the building.

Johnson's family and their attorneys, however, contend both Bell brothers were on campus when Johnson was last seen alive. Furthermore, they say the brothers had motive to harm Johnson since one of the brothers - Brian - had previously been in a fight with him on a school bus about a year before Johnson's death.

But Brian told WSB-TV that the school bus fight was "so small," he "can't even remember" what it was about.

In response to the wrongful death suit filed by the Johnson family, the Bells have filed a countersuit alleging defamation.

In an August 11 letter made public by the Valdosta Times on Tuesday, Ellen Glasser, national president of the Society of Former Special Agents of the FBI, asked U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch to urge U.S. Attorney Michael Moore, of the Middle District of Georgia, to complete his investigation into Johnson's death.

"Mr. Moore's review began more than twenty-one months ago, and it has taken a huge personal and professional toll on Special Agent Bell and his family. They have had to face many challenges as a direct result of Mr. Moore's review," the letter says.

It adds that the Bells have been "subjected to a steady stream of threats while a cloud of suspicion hangs over them."

"Absent a finding that Johnson's death was a homicide, the continuing and relentless targeting of a dedicated FBI agent and his family sends a disturbing message to the law enforcement community," the letter continues.

The Society of Former Special Agents of the FBI is made up of 8,500 former and active FBI agents and operates independently of the FBI.

Current FBI agent Rick Bell, the father of Brian and Branden Bell, is a member of the organization.

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