Kenneth and Jackie Johnson, front, on Wednesday filed an amended complaint in their wrongful death suit against school officials, law enforcement. Christian Boone / cboone@ajc.com

Parents of teen found in gym mat allege time of death manipulated

With a ruling expected any day that could cost them nearly $1 million, the parents of Kendrick Johnson on Wednesday added a new wrinkle to their wrongful death suit that continues to evolve.

In the latest amended complaint, filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court, the Johnsons claim Lowndes County school officials, colluding with local and state law enforcement, “deliberately and fraudulently misled plaintiffs Kenneth and Jacqueline Johnson as to the true time and date of the death of Kendrick.”

Kendrick Johnson’s body was discovered in a rolled-up mat on Jan. 11, 2013, in the old gymnasium at Lowndes High School; local and state investigators concluded the 17-year-old died accidentally.

Last summer, the U.S. Department of Justice, completing an investigation that spanned nearly three years, said it was unable to “prove beyond a reasonable doubt” that any one person or group “willfully violated Kendrick Johnson’s civil rights or committed any other prosecutable federal crime.”

The Johnsons have contended from the beginning their son was murdered by brothers Branden and Brian Bell, the sons of a FBI agent, despite alibis placing them away from the old gym at the time of Kendrick’s death. Another Lowndes High student, Ryan Hall, along with two unnamed defendants, assisted them and participated in a cover-up, according to the new filing.

Kenneth and Jacqueline Johnson were ordered last year to pay the attorneys’ fees of parties — including the Bell brothers — named in a wrongful death lawsuit they have since withdrawn.

They are staring a $900,000 debt in the face, if Lowndes Superior Court Judge Richard Porter orders them to pay the full amount requested by the defendants named in the first wrongful death suit. A hearing on that issue was expected to conclude Thursday.

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