The latest in a case involving a Black Georgia teen found dead in a mat in a high school gymnasium involves the coroner in the case slamming how the incident was handled.
In January, Kendrick Johnson, 17, was found dead inside of a gym mat at Lowndes County High School in Valdosta, Ga. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) said Johnson suffocated himself while trying to get a sneaker. While authorities said the death was an accident and closed the case, the family believes otherwise.
The family has enlisted the help of attorney Benjamin Crump, best known as the attorney for the family of Trayvon Martin. Surveillance tape footage has been added to the evidence in the case. Johnson’s body was exhumed and his body cavity was stuffed with newspaper and his organs were removed before his burial for unexplained reasons. His body was reportedly found head-first in the gym mat.
Lowndes County Coroner Bill Watson said in a written report that the handling of the case was very poor and that proper procedure was not followed.
“I was not notified in this death until 15:45 hours. The investigative climate was very poor to worse when I arrived on the scene. The body had been noticeably moved. The scene had been compromised, and there was no cooperation from law enforcement at the scene. Furthermore, the integrity of the evidence bag was compromised on Jan. 13, 2013, by opening the sealed bag and exhibiting the dead body to his father,” he wrote.
Surveillance tapes that the family requested have been released, but Johnson’s family says there are discrepancies there as well. Time codes on the tape are missing, while there are also gaps and blurry images, and the camera is out of position. The crucial part of the footage, when Johnson died, is hard to see, the family says.
Attorneys for the school say the video is raw, unedited footage.
“The Lowndes County Sheriff’s Department, the DA’s office, they convict people all the time inside this courthouse,” Johnson’s father, Kenneth, said in one report. “Should they not be held responsible for the lies they are telling and for the corruption?”