VALDOSTA, Ga. - The parents of Kendrick Johnson, a Georgia teen found dead inside a rolled-up gym mat in his high school two years ago, have filed a $100 million lawsuit alleging a local FBI agent encouraged his sons - who were schoolmates of Johnson - to "violently assault" the teen, leading to his death.
The lawsuit filed Monday in DeKalb County Superior Court on behalf of Kenneth and Jacquelyn Johnson names 38 defendants, including the local FBI agent, his two sons, and another schoolmate of Johnson. Also accused are several officials with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, the Valdosta Police Department, the city of Valdosta, the Lowndes County Sheriff's Department and the Lowndes County School District, all of whom the family alleges conspired to cover-up their son's murder.
The Lowndes County Sheriff's Office ruled that the 17-year-old Johnson's January 10, 2013 death was a freak accident, saying he fell head-first into an upright mat in the gymnasium at Lowndes High School 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, insisted there was foul play involved and had their son's body exhumed for a second autopsy. It was then that a private pathologist concluded the teen died of blunt force trauma to the neck and said his organs were missing and the teen's body had been stuffed with newspaper.
Since then, Johnson's family and their attorneys have zeroed in on two brothers - the sons of the local FBI agent - who the family contends were on campus when Johnson was last seen alive, and who they say had motive to harm their son since one of the brothers had previously been in a fight with Johnson on a school bus about a year before his death.
The Lowndes County Sheriff's Department has stood by its finding that Johnson's death was accidental and maintains at least one of the brothers was not on campus when Johnson was last seen alive, and the other was in another part of the building. No charges have been brought in the case.
In October 2013, U.S. Attorney Michael Moore initiated a federal investigation into Johnson's death. Moore said last week that the investigation has "proven more complicated and taken longer" than he had anticipated.
The lawsuit filed Monday is the latest legal action taken by the Johnson family. They already have another lawsuit pending against the Lowndes County Sheriff's Office, two pending wrongful death suits against the Lowndes County School District, and another against the funeral home that handled their son's remains.
The latest suit alleges the local FBI agent "encouraged" his two sons to attack Johnson with the help of another schoolmate and an unnamed John Doe and Jane Doe. The lawsuit says the Jane Doe "induced" Johnson to enter the gymnasium where he was then met by the two brothers and another student who fatally beat Johnson and then placed him in the gym mat.
"The evidence that we have, we feel very confident it will prove exactly what we have alleged," Chevene King, an attorney for the Johnson family, told the Associated Press, while declining to describe exactly what that evidence is. "What we found impossible to believe was the (authorities') explanation for his death."
Brice Ladson, an attorney for the FBI agent and the agent's sons, called the lawsuit "frivolous," according to AP.
James Elliott, who represents the sheriff's department as the attorney for Lowndes County, agreed, saying the accusations "are unfounded and lack any basis in law or fact."