Valdosta Daily Times

Local News

November 8, 2013

Johnson family appealing judge's decision

VALDOSTA — “I think the tapes show that there is some conspiracy to conceal the truth from this family and to the public as to who killed Kendrick Johnson,” said Benjamin Crump, lawyer for the Johnson family.

Crump announced at a press conference Thursday that Kendrick’s parents, Kenneth and Jacquelyn Johnson, will seek to obtain the hard drive that contains the original surveillance video files from Lowndes High School that were copied and released to the family following a judge’s order that unredacted footage be made available.

The family will also file an appeal of Judge Harry Altman’s decision to put a hold on the family's request for a coroner’s inquest into Kendrick’s death until after U.S. Attorney Michael Moore finishes his review of the investigation.

Crump made the announcements in front of the Lowndes County Judicial Complex along with Chevene King, another lawyer representing the Johnsons. King said that the Lowndes High School surveillance video they have been given does not include time stamps and that they “don’t have any way of making sense of what it purports to show.”

The surveillance videos were transferred from the video security system to large capacity hard drives. Two copies were provided to the Johnson’s attorneys. Copies were also given to CNN, NBC, AP, ABC, FOX, Inside Edition and the Times in compliance with open records requests, according to Jim Elliott, council for the sheriff’s office.

The video files obtained by the Times do not have time codes. The files are organized into folders indicating which camera took the footage.

King presented enlarged copies of stills from the surveillance videos that did include time stamps. King said the photos were a part of the case file given to them by the sheriff’s office. He questioned why it was possible to produce stills of the videos with a timestamp but not possible to provide videos with the same information.

The absence of the timestamps, along with blurry images and what appears to be students suddenly disappearing from footage, has led Crump to believe that a “conspiracy” has taken place and that the videos have been altered.

Elliott released the following statement concerning the footage:

“The Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office has not altered or edited the video that was received from Lowndes High School and provided by our office to the Johnsons’ attorneys.  The surveillance cameras in the gym operate on motion sensors.  The field of vision of the cameras is greater than the range of the motion sensors.

“Someone’s motion may activate a camera but when that person moves outside the range of the motion sensor, the camera will stop operating even though the person remains within the field of vision of the camera.  

“I understand the cameras are not video recorders but actually take still images at the rate of one image per second.  When these images are replayed, they do not have the same appearance as video recordings.”

King acknowledged that he was aware that the cameras were motion activated, but stated that he believed the cameras should have been able to capture images of anyone moving within the frame and believes the credibility of the videos as evidence “is in doubt.”

King also said that it is “not a coincidence” that the footage from the camera capturing the area nearest to where Kendrick’s body was found is blurry and is positioned in such a way that no footage of Kendrick entering the wrestling mat can be seen.

He was unclear whether he thought the camera had been tampered with before Kendrick’s death to obscure the recording or if he thought that the video footage was altered after his death.

“The Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office and the D.A.’s (district attorney’s) office, they convict people all the time in this building, and they should be held responsible for the lies they are telling and the corruption,” said Kenneth Johnson. “How come when you tell them a lie, they arrest you? How come when they tell us lies, we are supposed to take it? This one family is not going to take it.”

Sheriff Chris Prine previously stated to the Times that he welcomes the U.S. Attorney’s review of the investigation and that “the investigative staff at the Sheriff’s Office, the Valdosta Lowndes Regional Crime Lab and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation conducted a complete and thorough investigation.”

Kendrick Johnson’s body was found inside a rolled up wrestling mat in the old gym at Lowndes High School on Jan. 10. The death was ruled accidental due to positional asphyxia after an autopsy conducted by the GBI.

Crump said the family has always maintained that the official “manner and cause” of Kendrick’s death has been a “lie.”

“They know that their child did not climb into a wrestling mat, get stuck and die,” said Crump.

That belief prompted the family’s decision to seek an appeal in Judge Altman’s decision to put a hold on the coroner’s inquest until the U.S. Attorney’s office finishes a review of the investigation.

“We believe the two (investigations) are mutually exclusive of each other,” said Crump, “We cannot wait to get to the truth.”

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