Valdosta Daily Times

Local News

April 13, 2013

Chief: No laws broken by demonstrators

Family of Kendrick Johnson hopes rallies spur action

VALDOSTA — Some parents have complained about the impromptu forensics lessons they’ve had to give their young ones while commuting downtown or shuttling their kids to the county’s high school, but Valdosta Police Chief Brian Childress said Friday that Kendrick Johnson’s family and supporters have broken no laws waving posters containing images of the Lowndes High School sophomore’s swollen post-mortem face to passersby each day this week.

The group politely obliged when the police chief asked if they’d move their demonstrations a few blocks to the north, offering downtown commerce a relief from supportive horn honks and providing less distractions for motorists flowing in and out of the city’s core.

“The image is graphic and hard to look at,” said Childress. “But as long as they’re not blocking the sidewalk or committing anything consistent with disorderly conduct, they’re not committing a crime.”

In January, Kendrick Johnson was found dead in the old gymnasium on the LHS campus. Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office proclaimed no foul play in the case on the same day as the teen’s body was discovered. Authorities believe Johnson was alone in the gym, reached for a loose shoe and fell into a rolled-up wrestling-type mat, became trapped, and died from being upside down for an extended period of time.

The family does not agree with this finding and

believes Kendrick was killed. Family and supporters

believe the photo of Kendrick’s face after death supports their claim. The official autopsy has not yet been completed.

The family hopes the rallies will deliver justice for the teen’s death. While the group has apparently been blameless by legal standards, many parents have expressed disdain for the shock and awe the group has employed to provoke another inquiry into a case that has been tentatively ruled an accident.

Joanna Phelps and her daughter saw the image of Kendrick’s lacerated and bloated face the other day. Phelps said she felt like the image has been doing more damage than good, especially considering that many LHS students have had to re-live the unresolved death of their classmate as they start school each day.

“My daughter said to me, ‘mama, it’s horrible,’” Phelps said. “These are young children and some are not old enough to handle that. I feel for the family and their child, I really do, and I hope they find answers soon. But you have to draw the line somewhere. That’s a horrible image for a child to look at.”

As controversial as the image may be, Chief Childress said supporters have been well mannered and he’s found nothing to support accounts that described the group as being a bit testy at times. Childress said he has witnessed nothing wrong as he’s checked on the rallies several times, cloaked by the anonymity of unmarked government cars.

Childress also emphasized that the city police department has not been involved in this investigation. The case is within the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office jurisdiction since it happened on the county school’s property. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation has also been involved in the case, but the county has never asked the VPD to participate in the investigation.

“We had two of our crime scene technicians help the county investigator with some measurements, but nothing more,” said Childress. “I’m not trying to pass the buck here. I’m simply stating the facts.”

Childress offered his department’s assistance to the sheriff’s office on the day Johnson’s body was discovered, but his help was declined, Childress said. Both the county and city may respond to incidents at Lowndes High School, but Childress said the sheriff’s office usually responds to the campus both out of tradition and their deputy presence there.

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