Gym mat death investigators seize phones, computers of FBI agent & sons

Federal agents on Tuesday seized computers and cell phones belonging to an FBI agent, his wife and their two sons as part of an ongoing investigation into the 2013 death of a Valdosta teen whose body was discovered in a rolled-up gym mat.

Last November, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported exclusively that Brian and Branden Bell had received notification from U.S. Attorney Michael Moore that they were targets of the federal grand jury's investigation into Kendrick Johnson's death. That probe is nearing its second year despite the brothers' alibis that, while challenged, have yet to be contradicted.

Phones and computers belonging to Brian Bell’s girlfriend were also seized during Tuesday’s raid.

“(Tuesday) at 3:30 am, the Bell family was awakened at their home by government agents, executing search warrants in a federal grand jury investigation about the death of Kendrick Johnson which is almost 2 years old – a case in which no one has been indicted and in which there is no evidence to implicate involvement of the Bells or any member of the Bell family,” said the family’s attorney, Brice Ladson.

Ladson said the computers and phones contained “privileged communications” between himself and the Bells, including conversations revolving around their defamation suits filed against Ebony Magazine, its publishers and members of Johnson’s family.

In March, the Bells countersued Kendrick's parents, Kenneth and Jackie Johnson, who filed a wrongful death suit earlier in the year alleging a vast cover-up implicating the GBI, local law enforcement and school officials.

In their suit, Jacquelyn and Kenneth Johnson’s attorneys allege an unnamed female lured their son into the old gym at Lowndes High where he was fatally beaten by the brothers at the behest of their father, FBI agent Rick Bell. The Johnsons seek $100 million in damages.

The Bells denied the allegations in their counterclaim, accusing the Johnsons of using “others as their authorized agents to post messages on various social media, including Facebook, Twitter, blogs, instant messaging, and the like, that were defamatory of the Bells.”

Brian and Branden Bell were cleared by local and state investigators who concluded Johnson died accidentally. Subsequent testimony placed Branden Bell on a school bus headed to a wrestling tournament in Macon at the time Johnson was last seen alive, while surveillance cameras showed his younger brother Brian was in class, across campus.

“The case is built solely on suspicion, innuendo and rumor, not evidence,” said Ladson, adding that his clients will take “every legal step available to protect their constitutional rights and their ability to work and pursue litigation necessary to restore their good names. “