Valdosta Daily Times

Kendrick Johnson

October 31, 2013

Judge grants ‘KJ’ family access to videos, reports

VALDOSTA — “We are one step closer to getting to the truth,” said Benjamin Crump, attorney for the parents of Kendrick Johnson, whose death on the Lowndes High School campus in January has left the family with many unanswered questions.

Crump made the statement Wednesday following more than two hours of deliberation in the chambers of Southern Circuit Judge Harry Altman concerning a suit brought against Lowndes County Sheriff Chris Prine to release previously redacted and omitted material that was not included in the family’s open records request for all information relating to their son’s case.

Initially, the sheriff’s office withheld the information, according to their attorney Jim Elliot, due to concerns over protecting the rights of minors who would be identified with the release of the information.

“Yes, [protecting identifying information of minors] was a primary concern in our decision to initially hold that information until a court could make a decision, and we expressed those concerns to the court. The court heard those concerns, and at the same time determined that the information should be made public.”

Elliot said, “There was identifying information, some records that we believe were schools records, and there were some cell phone records that we reasonably believed  contained many minors’ phone numbers. Our overriding concern is to protect the interests of minors.”

Kenneth and Jacquelyn Johnson, Kendrick’s parents, waited with family, friends and supporters in courtroom 5D at the Lowndes County Judicial Complex to hear the decision. Just before noon, Crump and Chevene King, another lawyer for the Johnson family, emerged from the judge’s chambers.

“We have been most successful,” said King. “The court has granted an order to give us all the material we had previously requested.”

Those gathered in the courtroom erupted in shouts and cheers at the news, and their excitement echoed through the halls and stairwells of the complex as the crowd gathered outside in front of the steps to address the media.

King and Crump announced they will soon have copies of school surveillance videos they believe will lead to alternate theories about what happened to Kendrick Johnson the day he died. The lawyers were clear that they do not believe the videos will show Kendrick entering a wrestling mat.

“The family’s lawyers now have complete copies of all the records including the unredacted information, and they were given two DVDs of some video images of students, but that contained limited information. There is other video camera footage that is stored in such a way that makes it difficult to reproduce. We are determining a way to make that available and it should be by the end of the week,” said Elliot.

Elliot also said the area were Kendrick’s body was found is “not visible on any of the surveillance footage that I have seen, and I don’t have any reason to believe that it is visible in the footage left to unpack. The additional information that has been made public today, I don't believe provides anything substantive that hasn’t been seen or considered before. Its primarily information that identifies minors. The video information from the gym cameras is not demonstrative of anything that touches on the issue of what happened to Kendrick Johnson.”

The family and lawyers hope there will be enough evidence to reopen the investigation and involve the Department of Justice.

When the documents and videos are turned over by the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office, the Johnson family, their lawyers, CNN, who was also a party to the suit, and others who complete an open records request will have access to identifying information of Lowndes High students.

Crump said that there were concerns expressed in chamber about people potentially using the information that will be released to cause harm to individuals who appear on video but were not involved in Kendrick’s death.

Warren Turner, Lowndes County Schools attorney, said all items are being provided to the family by the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office. No materials are being provided by Lowndes High School or the county school system.

“I think it’s important that all legal entities that receive identifying information of minors use great discretion before releasing information concerning those children,” Turner said. “I hope they would treat that info as if it pertained to their minor children, family members or children of neighbors.”

Crump stated that he expects to hear more Monday about the family’s petition for a coroner’s inquest that was filed last week in Lowndes County Superior Court.

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Kendrick Johnson
  • KJ’s parents claim racial bullying in lawsuit

    The parents of Kendrick Johnson have sued the Lowndes County School System, claiming officials neglected to protect their son from racial harassment and bullying that they said led to his death.

    May 15, 2014

  • Anonymous email in KJ case based on rumor, says author

    The teenage girl who authored an anonymous email claiming someone had confessed to murdering Kendrick Johnson says it was strictly a rumor that she felt conscience-bound to share with the sheriff’s office.

    March 27, 2014

  • keyboard.jpg Authorities: Confession in KJ case not credible

    An anonymous email claiming a former classmate of Kendrick Johnson had confessed to killing him was investigated and determined not to be credible, the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office said Thursday.

    March 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • social.jpg Mom says sons harassed, threatened in KJ case

    Karen Bell has had it with the rumor-mongering about her family’s connection to the death of Kendrick Johnson on social networking sites like YouTube,  Twitter and Facebook.

    February 9, 2014 1 Photo

  • Johnsons file civil suit against funeral home

    Kendrick Johnson’s parents have filed a civil lawsuit against the Harrington Funeral Home, claiming it negligently handled their son’s remains and deliberately withheld information about the condition of his body.

    February 6, 2014

  • 140121-Floyd_Rose001.jpg No response to KJ reward

    A local civil rights leader returned reward money to its donor Tuesday after it failed to yield any significant information pertaining to the death of Kendrick Johnson.

    January 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • State capitol rally today for new KJ probe

    A three-hour rally for a new investigation into the disputed death of Lowndes High student Kendrick Johnson 11 months ago is planned today on the front steps of the Georgia Capitol building.

    December 11, 2013

  • Kendrick_Johnson.jpg Where was Kendrick?

    About this series
    This is the third of four stories by the Valdosta Daily Times reviewing the official police file on the investigation into the death of Kendrick Johnson. Today’s report is about the confusion surrounding Kendrick’s whereabouts the day before his body was found, explains police handling of a report that a person was attacked and falsely accused of killing Kendrick, and tells about the dissatisfaction of Lowndes County Coroner Bill Watson with how authorities handled the immediate investigation.

    November 23, 2013 1 Photo 2 Stories

  • kendrick-johnson.jpg Finding Kendrick

    The Times continues its in-depth look at the investigative case file into the January death of Kendrick Johnson at Lowndes High School.

    November 22, 2013 1 Photo

  • kendrick-johnson.jpg Kendrick’s Final Walk

    A review of Lowndes High School video footage shows more than the moments Kendrick Johnson entered the old gymnasium where his body was discovered Jan. 11 in a rolled wrestling mat.

    November 21, 2013 1 Photo

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