Ebony magazine is facing a $5 million libel lawsuit over its 2013 reports by Frederic Rosen about the mysterious death of Kendrick Johnson, 17. Johnson’s body was found in a rolled-up gym mat at his high school, Lowndes High School in Valdosta, Ga., in January 2013. His parents, Kenneth and Jacquelyn Johnson, believe he was beaten to death, but the coroner ruled his cause of death to be accidental asphyxiation. Johnson’s parents have filed lawsuits against the school principal, superintendent, and board of education, as well as the school district. The FBI is currently investigating the case.
The lawsuit was filed by the parents of two other students. The parents’ claim that Ebony made “completely untrue” statements that their sons “played a part in Johnson’s death and their father was involved in a conspiracy to cover it up.” The boys’ father is an FBI agent. The boys were given fake names in the Ebony article, which was published on November 19, 2013, but it wasn’t hard for other students to identify them and they proceeded to bully and “ostracize” the boys.
The boys’ mother told the Daily Times earlier this year about the case that “If you dare to stand up for what is truthful, you become a target for bullying and harassment.”
The boys’ parents say neither of their sons were near the gym. They claim in their lawsuit that the publishing company nor the author made any effort to “verify” their story before publishing. Rosen’s articles have been unpublished, it is not clear when.
The parents are being represented by Brice Ladson, “This lawsuit is detailed and includes our demand letters. We look forward to clearing our clients’ names and recovering damages appropriate to the harm from a fair and impartial jury.”