The family of Kendrick Johnson has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against school officials claiming their lack of action led to his death at the hands of a fellow student.  Johnson’s body was found in a rolled-up gym mat in the Lowndes High School gymnasium in Georgia on January 11th of last year.  His parents previously filed a negligence lawsuit against the school district claiming negligence and violation of constitutional rights based upon race.  Johnson was 17 when he died.  His death was ruled accidental, the result of positional asphyxia.  His family has disputed the ruling.

The new lawsuit accuses the Lowndes County Board of Education, the superintendent, and the high school principal for ignoring reports that Johnson was being attacked and harassed by a white student.

“As a direct result of and proximate result of defendants’ aforesaid actions and omissions, on or about January 10, 2013, Kendrick Lamar Johnson was violently assaulted, severely injured, suffered great physical pain and mental anguish, and subjected to insult and loss of life, all of which took place at the hands of one or more students while on the property of Lowndes High School and during its normal hours of operations,” the lawsuit said.

The complaint alleges that school officials knew about a previous attack with possible racial motivation during a school bus trip earlier in the year.  The lawsuit alleges that the other student “had a history” of bullying Johnson.  The lawsuit also alleges that his parents complained several times about the attacks.  After Johnson was “improperly accused and blamed for instigating” a school bus fight, school officials refused to let his mother see the bus surveillance video.  Johnson was “subjected to undeserved punishment, humiliation and various forms of mistreatment by members of the coaching staff” of the football program, leading to his decision to quit the football team, the suit said.  The lawsuit also alleges that the older brother of the student who allegedly attacked Johnson confronted Johnson and said “It ain’t over.”

“This failure to act despite actual knowledge that Kendrick Lamar Johnson was being harassed departed from the defendant Lowndes County School System’s own established procedures dealing with harassment and mistreatment, including racial discrimination,” the suit said.

The lawsuit alleges that the school did not properly investigate the incident.  School officials also failed to “properly monitor the activities of students throughout all areas” of the campus and to “maintain a properly functioning video surveillance system.”  Some of the security cameras in the gymnasium where Johnson died were not functioning or improperly pointed.

The Sheriff’s Office concluded that Johnson climbed into the center of the gym mat to retrieve his shoes and got stuck.  They stated their investigation showed students at the school often did so.  Kenneth and Jacquelyn Johnson maintain that Kendrick was beaten to death.  An independent autopsy found “unexplained apparent non accidental blunt force trauma” to the neck.

The U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Georgia launched an ongoing investigation into the case in the fall of 2013.


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