Parents: Superintendent, sheriff aided in gym mat death cover-up

Credit: Provided to media by family

Credit: Provided to media by family

For months, the parents of the Valdosta teenager found dead inside a rolled-up gym mat have alleged a cabal of powerful interests conspired to cover up their son’s murder.

Last Tuesday, under a court order to provide specifics in their $100 million wrongful death lawsuit, the attorney for Jackie and Kenneth Johnson filed an amended complaint alleging the Lowndes County sheriff, school superintendent and an FBI agent placed Kendrick Johnson’s body inside the mat to make his death look like an accident.

But on Friday, Chevene King, the Johnsons’ attorney, notified the court that the allegations stemmed from “a typographical error,” according to a report in The Valdosta Daily Times. The Johnsons, according to their spokesman, Marcus Coleman, had no knowledge of the latest court filings.

“It looks as if the team is just throwing out allegations, but the Johnsons’ stance has been consistent,” Coleman said. “We believe that Kendrick met with foul play from some students who had influential parents.”

Coleman said the Johnsons do not believe those parents participated in the actual crime, just the cover-up.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office has been conducting a probe into Johnson’s death, ruled an accident by local and state investigators. Brandon and Brian Bell — the son of FBI agent Rick Bell, named in the amended complaint — were informed last year that they were “target(s) of the grand jury’s investigation.” Both have alibis supported by witnesses and surveillance video.

Jackie and Kenneth Johnson and their attorney, Chevene King, have repeatedly alleged in court documents that virtually everyone involved in the investigation into their sons death — including GBI agents and the state medical examiner — conspired to protect the Bell brothers.

The amended complaint names even more conspirators, including school superintendent Wes Taylor’s daughters. They discovered Johnson’s body on Jan. 11, 2013 while in gym class. But the lawsuit alleges that was by design.

King did respond to a request for comment.

The most recent court filing also alleges that Johnson may not have been killed in the school’s old gymnasium, where his body was found. According to the amended complaint filed Tuesday, the Bells, assisted by their friend Ryan Hall, assaulted Johnson in an unspecified area on the Lowndes High School campus then notified Rick Bell, Taylor and Lowndes County Sheriff Chris Prine.

The amendment to that amendment clears Rick Bell but alleges Taylor and Prine allowed the killers to gain access to the old gym to stuff Johnson’s body in the gym mat. Why Taylor and Prine would agree to participate in covering up a murder is not explained in the filing.

“The amended complaint sets forth myriad false, outrageous, scurrilous and scandalous allegations of criminal conduct, based solely ‘upon information and belief,’ against Sheriff Prine, his deputies and many others,” the Sheriff Office’s attorney, Jim Elliott, said in a statement. “In over two-and one-half years, the Johnsons and their lawyer have never identified a single witness or a shred of evidence to support any of what they say or claim.”

Elliott also notified the Johnsons and King that, if they don’t drop their complaint within 30 days, the Sheriff’s Office reserves the right to sue under Georgia’s abusive litigation statute.

The Bells counter-sued the Johnsons in March, accusing them 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.”

“Such a massive and complex conspiracy is ridiculous and unsupported by any credible evidence,” said the Bell’s attorney, Brice Ladson. “The Johnsons’ suit, which wrongfully condemns much of the Valdosta community, will be dismissed as frivolous as soon as judicial procedures allow.”

Last month, federal agents, using no-knock warrants, seized computers and cell phones belonging to Rick Bell, his wife Karen and their sons as part of their investigation. There’s been no indication from the U.S. Attorney’s Office when their probe will conclude.

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