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Attorney for family of Georgia teen found dead in gym mat announces $1B federal lawsuit against investigators, sheriff's office

No arrest has ever been made in the case of Kendrick Johnson, who was 17 at the time he was found dead in 2013.

VALDOSTA, Ga. — The family of a Georgia teen who was found dead, rolled up in a gym mat at his south Georgia high school is suing several law enforcement agencies in a new $1 billion federal lawsuit.

Kendrick Johnson was 17 at the time of his death in 2013. The suit was announced in a news conference in front of the federal courthouse on Tuesday. 

"It's painful. It's hurtful. It's a shame that we have been having to fight for 10 and a half long years," said his mother, Jacquelyn Johnson. 

11Alive has reached out agencies including the Lowndes County Sheriff's Office, Lowndes County Medical Examiner and Georgia Bureau of Investigation for a response.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation responded to the federal lawsuit with the following statement: 

"The GBI Medical Examiner’s Office conducted a thorough autopsy on this case.  The case is closed, and we stand behind our original findings."

Johnson was found dead on Jan. 11, 2013, in a vertical rolled-up mat inside his high school gym. 

He was last seen alive the day prior, records show. Johnson's family has consistently said foul play was involved in their son's death. A sheriff's office synopsis of the investigation indicates there's no evidence that's the case. 

"We should not have to be the grievers and investigators," said his father, Kenneth Johnson at Tuesday's news conference.

The case was reopened in 2021, and nearly a year later again ruled accidental. When the case was reopened, Lowndes County Sheriff Ashley Paulk previously stated they would review the case thoroughly.

“We’ll go through every bit of it. If we found a contradiction, we're going to resolve any contradiction," Paulk previously said. “I want to start fresh with it and look at all the way through. I think the community deserves it."

RELATED: Kendrick Johnson's death ruled accidental, again: Report

The sheriff's synopsis covers evidence and reports from nine investigative agencies, federal grand jury testimonies and autopsies. 

Investigators said the Valdosta teen tried to reach into the rolled-up gym mat at Lowndes High School to grab his shoes. An initial autopsy ruled his death accidental by asphyxiation, records show.

The family however believes he was murdered by schoolmates, and had two subsequent autopsies conducted, both of which they said showed blunt force trauma as the cause of death.

Johnson's body was exhumed in 2018 for the third autopsy. The findings showed the cause of death was "apparent non-accidental, blunt force trauma." It also showed some of Johnson's organs were missing.

In 2021, an audiotape also surfaced with what appeared to be a confession to the murder of Johnson. Sherrif's office records debunked the call, saying it was a hoax. The tape was sold to the Johnson family for $1,000.

The sheriff's office report states several witnesses testified that it was practice for students to leave shoes within the gym mats. 

The teen's death was previously ruled accidental in May 2013. 

"We are going to continue to keep fighting for Kendrick because his life mattered," said Jacquelyn.


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