All seven judges in Georgia’s Southern Judicial Circuit have recused themselves from a lawsuit filed by CNN against Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office and from a lawsuit filed by the parents of Kendrick Johnson.  Johnson was found dead inside a rolled-up gym mat in the high school gymnasium in January of 2013.

In a letter written earlier this month, Chief Judge Harry Jay Altman II wrote, “Given the fact that officials with whom the judges in the circuit deal with everyday are involved, it is not fair to the parties for any judge in this circuit to rule…”

Johnson’s parents, Kenneth and Jacquelyn Johnson, sued Lowndes County Sheriff Chris Prine in June of last year to obtain the department’s un-redacted case file, including school surveillance video from around the time of death. Judge Altman ruled in favor of the Johnsons in October of 2013 and the case file was made public.

CNN filed its own lawsuit to obtain clones of hard drives containing original records.

The Johnsons have filed an amendment to their civil suit accusing two sons of a local FBI agent who went to school with Kendrick of causing his death.  The suit also suggests that the local sheriff’s office conspired with other government officials to cover this up.

The Johnson family also has two other pending lawsuits against the school system.  Those lawsuits are currently in federal court.

Johnson’s, 17, death was ruled an accident.  The police department said that he fell head first into the upright mat while trying to retrieve his shoe and became trapped, suffocating.  An autopsy conducted by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation concurred, citing asphyxiation as the cause of death. The family insisted that their son was murdered and arranged for a private autopsy.  Kendrick’s body was exhumed and a private pathologist concluded that the teenager died of blunt force trauma to the neck. Since then, the family has accused two brothers.

The Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office stated that their investigation shows that at least one of the brothers was not at school at the time. The family says that the bus taking one of the brothers to a wrestling match didn’t leave until after their son’s death.  The brothers have not been charged and maintain their innocence.

A federal review of Johnson’s death, which began in October of 2013, is still ongoing.

U.S. Attorney Michael Moore said that the investigation has “proven more complicated” than he anticipated.

Relatives of Kendrick Johnson appeared recently before a federal grand jury investigating the case.  Several members of the Johnson family and current Lowndes HS students were seen walking into federal court recently.

Despite concluding the investigation in May of 2013, the local sheriff’s office has conducted interviews in the case as recently as last month.  They interviewed about 24 current and former high school students who were on the school’s wrestling team the day that Johnson disappeared.  His body was found the next day on January 11, 2013.

According to the Johnson family, a former student who was a member of the wrestling team and previously threatened their son over a confrontation Johnson had with that student’s brother.

“The Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office initiated the interviews of the Lowndes High School wrestling team coach, the bus driver and wrestling team members in response to claims made known to the sheriff’s office that the wrestling team was still on the school’s campus when Kendrick Johnson was last known to have been alive,” according to a statement provided by the department’s attorney, “Investigators have tried unsuccessfully to contact some wrestling team members and will continue to attempt to reach those team members.”

“The information gathered thus far indicates that the bus carrying the wrestling team had left the school’s campus prior to the time that Kendrick Johnson was last known to have been alive.”

Several of those interviewed stated that the former student was on a school bus en route to a state wrestling tour in Macon, Georgia at the time Johnson disappeared.  Some of the witnesses said the bus left before 10 a.m., others said noon, and still others said 12:30 p.m.  A school bus schedule released by an attorney for the school has a completely different time, 4 p.m.  Johnson was last seen alive at 1:30 p.m. Analysis of the wrestling coach’s cell phone shows that the last call made in the area was at 11:28 a.m., the next call was made at 1:53 p.m. 90 miles away from the school area. An employee at the hotel where the team stayed told investigators that the team checked in at 4 p.m.

The brothers’ parents filed a libel and slander lawsuit against the publishers of Ebony magazine and journalist Frederic Rosen.  The suit states that the stories published by the pair and on insinuate that the brothers played a part in Johnson’s death and that their father was part of a conspiracy to cover it up.

The Johnson family lawsuit also alleges that the FBI agent “encouraged” his two sons to attack Johnson with the help of three unnamed people.  The lawsuit goes on to allege that an unnamed girl “induced” Johnson to go into the gymnasium where he was attacked by the two brothers and an unnamed third person.  After he was fatally beaten, he was then thrown into 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.


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