Valdosta Daily Times

September 6, 2013

U.S. Justice Department: no civil rights violation in Johnson death

Adam Floyd
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — The U.S. Justice Department has decided not to move forward with a civil rights investigation into the death of a Lowndes High student found dead in the school’s old gymnasium earlier this year, according to an agency spokesperson Thursday.

The statement follows the release of an independent autopsy this week into Kendrick “KJ” Johnson’s death; sponsored by the Johnson family and supporters, the second autopsy was conducted by Dr. William R. Anderson, a pathologist with Forensic Dimensions in Heathrow, Fla.

The Criminal Division of the Justice Department acknowledged that the victim’s family and community members have concerns regarding Johnson’s death, but did not find “sufficient indication of a civil rights violation” to initiate a civil rights investigation, according to the agency spokesperson.

“We obtained the state investigative file from United States Attorney Michael Moore, of the Middle District of Georgia, who referred the matter to the Civil Rights Division for review. We reviewed the investigative file and carefully considered whether the allegations involve a prosecutable violation of federal criminal civil rights statutes,” according to a DOJ spokesperson.

The Department of Justice said it will continue to monitor and evaluate the matter, including the second autopsy report, in cooperation with U.S. Attorney Moore, who has said his office is reviewing the case but has initiated no formal investigation into the student’s death.

The second autopsy performed by Anderson directly contradicted the initial autopsy conducted by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. The GBI concluded that the death was accidental as a result of positional asphyxia after Johnson fell into a rolled wrestling mat head first and became stuck.

Anderson’s findings stated that Johnson’s death was a result of “unexplained, apparent non-accidental, blunt force trauma, right neck, involving right mandible, and soft tissues, including the area of the carotid body, consistent with inflicted injury.”

Autopsy results released by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation on May 2 states “no significant injuries” were shown in an x-ray of Johnson’s head and post-mortem examination.

Anderson has previously contradicted an official finding with a similar conclusion. According to a 2004 Orlando Sentinel

article, Anderson, a former

pathologist with the

Orange-Osceola morgue in Florida, joined two other colleagues questioning the official cause of a 1998 death of a Rollins College student.

The chief medical examiner at the time ruled the death as a result of an accidental overdose of prescription drugs. Anderson reviewed the records and concluded that the death was due to “blunt-force trauma to the neck,” according to the Orlando Sentinel.

At the time of the article, all three pathologists were no longer with the morgue. Anderson resigned his position in a dispute over work related issues, a second pathologist was fired, and the third retired after the State Medical Examiner’s Commission ordered him to stop performing autopsies due to repeated errors, according to the Sentinel.