Valdosta Daily Times

May 15, 2014

KJ’s parents claim racial bullying in lawsuit

Adam Floyd
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — 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.

Johnson’s body was found upside down in a rolled-up gym mat at Lowndes High School in January of 2013. A state autopsy ruled the 17-year-old’s death accidental. The Johnson family insists their son died of foul play.

The civil lawsuit was filed in Lowndes County Superior Court Tuesday afternoon. It stated school officials turned a blind eye to repeated badgering by a white student who once fought with Johnson and that bullying “at the hands of one or more students” contributed to his death.

The suit asserted these specific accusations:

• Negligence by school officials in their supervision of students and in training of faculty and staff to address harassment and bullying at the high school.

• Infliction of emotional distress on their son because of bullying.

• Violation of their son’s civil rights by failure to provide him equal protection as an African-American against personal attacks.

• Responsibility for his death in the high school’s old gymnasium.

Warren Turner, the attorney representing the school system, said officials had not yet been served with the civil complaint. Thus, he added, “it would be premature and inappropriate to make a public comment on this matter at this time.”

The suit asks the court to assess punitive and compensatory damages, including funeral expenses in excess of $5,000.

It was the parents’ second lawsuit this year in connection with their son’s death. In February, they sued the Harrington Funeral Home regarding the manner in which his remains were handled.

The dispute over Johnson’s death caused the U.S. Attorney’s office in Macon to open an inquiry last fall into the circumstances surrounding it.

The federal prosecutor later submitted  the case to a federal grand jury for review. The grand jury has yet to release its findings.